There's no way around it. Tax hikes are coming to Baltimore County. But the specifics are still being worked out days before the Baltimore County Council is set to vote on them.
Council members and officials with the Olszewski administration are hammering out the final details of the tax package that will be put to a vote on Thursday. Now it’s all about putting them in a form that will pass the County Council. Democrats control the County Council with four out of seven seats.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski first proposed taxing cell phone lines a flat rate but there has been a lot of blow back on that. Council Chairman Tom Quirk said members are now considering making it a percentage of the monthly bill, so people with cheaper phones would pay less. That would make the tax less regressive and bring it in line with how the county taxes land lines. Land lines are taxed at 8% in the county.
Democratic Councilman Julian Jones said he expects that arrangement would reduce residents’ cell phone tax bills by 50% or more.
Jones said he lobbied to reduce the cell phone tax burden on residents, since nearly everyone has a phone.
“It’s not even a luxury,” Jones said. “It’s getting close to a necessity.”
Republican Councilman David Marks said he expects his proposal to charge developers impact fees will pass in some form. But Marks said one concession he has made is that it will not take effect until July 2020. Developers want that so projects currently in the pipeline won’t be affected.
“I would rather that it had been phased in,” Marks said.
Olszewski has said his proposal to raise the hotel occupancy tax from 8 percent to 10 percent likely will be reduced slightly to bring it more in line with nearby jurisdictions.
“Baltimore City for example is at 9.5% so looking at some tweaks there,” Olszewski said.
The proposed tax increase that is the biggest money maker for the county, hiking the income tax rate, has not been very controversial so likely will pass the Council as presented.
Olszewski in April proposed a package of tax hikes to deal with an $81 million deficit, as well as to help pay for new initiatives.
The debate over the budget has been the most contentious in memory. Republicans accused the Democrats of not doing enough to make cuts to Olszewski’s budget. Democrats countered the Republicans were ducking supporting the necessary tax hikes, knowing the Democratic majority would pass them and take the political heat.