Thanks to anticipated federal money due to the coronavirus relief bill recently passed by Congress, County Councilman Steve McKay (R) agreed to delay introducing a bill proposing property tax credits for disabled veterans countywide.
McKay, Chief Administrative Officer Rick Harcum and other county officials first realized that the legislation could theoretically put the county at risk of losing roughly $50.3 million in federal funding on Monday. Harcum told council members that although that outcome is unlikely, he and others would like to receive guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Because McKay’s proposal includes a tax reduction for some of the county’s residents, it could be — in the federal government’s strictest interpretation — seen as an overall tax decrease, making the county in violation of federal law, Harcum said.
One of the central questions, he said, is whether the U.S. Treasury considers tax credits to be a tax reduction.
“You may be causing yourself trouble, and you start your legislative clock ticking,” Harcum said, referencing that the council must vote on bills within 90 days of when they’re introduced, per the county charter. “I’m just trying to share information, it’s coming in fast, and we’re trying to make sure you’re aware of it.”
McKay wasn’t against delaying the introduction of his bill, and said he had conferred with the legislation’s co-sponsors—Council Vice President Michael Blue (R), Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) and Councilman Kai Hagen (D) — before Tuesday’s meeting.
It’s difficult to understand how up to roughly $1.6 million of tax credits could put $50.3 million at risk, McKay said—but the guidance is needed, he added.
“It’s mystifying to me, but let’s get some clarification on it,” McKay said.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said it was likely U.S. Treasury officials would respond in time for McKay to re-introduce his bill by April 6, the council’s next legislative day.
Frederick County is far from the only local government asking for guidance on the relevant language in the bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, Keegan-Ayer and Harcum said.
“We will put this off temporarily, but it is not forgotten,” Keegan-Ayer said of McKay’s bill.
Board of Health scheduled to meet next week
The county’s Board of Health—which includes the County Council, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county health officer—will meet next Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Keegan-Ayer announced that meeting during council member comments at Tuesday’s meeting. Councilman Phil Dacey (R) has asked for the board to convene and consider whether to lift some restrictions after Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced the loosening of many pandemic regulations last week.
The Board of Health could vote on whether to lift local restrictions, which include a 50 percent capacity limit on wedding venues, 25 percent limit on gyms, fitness centers and other similar businesses and a 25-person limit on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The last restriction does not include anything that falls under normal business activity, such as restaurants, retail or other similar businesses.