The Baltimore County Council has a little more than a week to decide whether to go along with tax increases being proposed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski. The county executive says the money raised is needed to deal with an $81 million shortfall, as well as fund new initiatives.
The Council and Olszewski are considering changes on two proposals: a cell phone tax and impact fees on developers.
Olszewski wants to be able to use the money collected from developers countywide, wherever it’s needed. Republican Councilman David Marks wants the money to be used for schools in the area affected by the development.
Following a council hearing on Mark’s legislation Tuesday afternoon, Marks said he expects his and Olszewski’s proposals will be merged, so that fees collected from residential construction will be spent nearby, while money from commercial construction could be used countywide.
Impact fees are not expected to be a big money maker for the county. Estimates range from $8 to $10 million annually. But Marks said it could be enough to plan new schools, so they are ready to go when the money comes available to build them.
“I think at the end of the day we’re going to have a piece of legislation that lays the ground work for funding schools in the future,” Marks said.
Marks was not happy that Olszewski has planning money in his budget for a new Lansdowne High School, but not for Towson High, which is in his district.
Phoebe Evans Letocha, who has an 11th grader at Towson High, told the council that students are the ones paying the price for no impact fees on developers.
Letocha said, “It’s our kids who have been sitting in trailers for 15 years at Towson High School. That’s a generation.”
But Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said the impact fee will end up being nothing more than a tax increase.
“This is a tax that will be paid by the home buyer or the renter,” Crandell said. “The developers are not going to pay for this. It’s going to be passed on as everything always does to the regular Joe Citizen taxpayer.”
Despite Crandell’s objections, it appears the impact fee legislation will have the votes it needs to pass next week. Marks said other changes could be made to give developers more time before they have to start paying it.
Meantime, a proposal to charge $3.50 a line on cell phones in the county likely is going to be changed. Council members have caught a lot of flak over this one, especially from families with multiple cell phone lines. T. J. Smith, a spokesman for Olszewski, said they are considering changing it so the tax would be on each account rather on each line.
Olszewski also is proposing raising the income tax rate and the hotel occupancy tax. Those two proposals so far have not proven to be controversial.
The County Council is scheduled to pass the budget for the coming year on May 23.