- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
On Tuesday, the Charles County commissioners unanimously adopted a budget 5.7 percent larger than last year’s. But one commissioner abstained on the vote to raise the taxes to pay for it.
The board’s decision to include raises for Charles County sheriff’s deputies, public school teachers and county government employees in the fiscal 2013 general fund budget was a major factor for an increase of $17.4 million, to $325.1 million, over last year’s budget.
To close a resulting budget deficit of $10.3 million for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, the commissioners raised the property tax rate by 5.45 cents, an increase of 5.1 percent. The new rate is $1.1210 per $100 of assessed value. Each 1-cent property tax increase raises the taxes paid by the owner of a home worth $200,000 by about $25 a year, according to county government projections.
Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) voted to raise spending but abstained on the vote raising taxes. After the vote, he read aloud from a prepared statement declaring that while he lauded deputies, teachers and government workers, and supported paying them what they had asked for, he did not want to help “put in place one of the largest property tax rate increases in recent Charles County memory.”
“I fault myself for two things,” he said in the same statement, for not pushing for another answer during budget work sessions with other commissioners and county staffers, and for not succeeding in luring businesses, with their tax revenue, to Charles County.
Collins stuck with the budget itself because he thought the spending was necessary, he said in a brief interview after the vote.
“My issue was the actual [property tax] rate. I don’t have a strong argument because I think, in terms of the actual spending and the actual priorities, they’re important to the future development of the county. Where I fault myself .... I wasn’t able to fully come up with an argument to look at alternatives other than raising the tax rate at that level. that’s why I kind of differentiated the two,” Collins said in a brief interview after the vote.
People in the audience weren’t as conflicted, bursting into applause when the new budget was adopted. Many wore the uniforms of Charles County sheriff’s deputies, and at least one represented the teachers’ union.
Last week, Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) had sought to increase the budget further by including a $310,000 budget increase requested by the College of Southern Maryland, to be used to help operate a recently expanded business building at the La Plata campus and to inaugurate institutes devoted to supporting nonprofits and increasing diversity.
But Tuesday, she asked that the request be considered later, and the board unanimously agreed.
County Fiscal and Administrative Services Director Deborah Hudson expressed relief that the decision was made just before the deadline.
“I’m so very happy. This has been a long process this year, longer than usual. I’m glad to finally adopt the budget today,” she said.
A special session of the Maryland General Assembly, during which legislators decided to pass part of the costs of public school teachers’ pensions on to local governments, somewhat delayed the process of drafting the budget.