Frederick County Council members kept the county property tax rate level and adopted County Executive Jan Gardner’s (D) proposed operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2021 in split votes Tuesday.
After discussing both decisions for more than an hour combined, the council adopted a property tax rate of $1.06 per $100 of assessed value, the same rate as prior budget years dating back to fiscal year 2015, in a 4-3 vote.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R), along with council members Steve McKay (R) and Phil Dacey (R) voted ‘no’, arguing the council should drop to the constant yield tax rate of $1.0344 per $100 of assessed value.
But only Dacey was a ‘no’ vote on the overall budget: roughly $665.8 million on the operating side and $250.1 million on the capital side. There also was $115.5 million budgeted for special revenue funds—for agricultural preservation, debt service and many other areas—and $123.6 million for enterprise funds, like water and sewer service and solid waste services.
Dacey said Tuesday it was difficult to be “that guy” who opposed the budget, but he could not vote for it as many residents countywide are hurting due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I can’t, in good conscience support this budget,” he said. “I feel like it represents the certain areas of government [where] it’s a transfer of wealth from people who are hurting, to people who may not be.”
McKay, even though he voted against the property tax rate, said he supported the budget.
“I think you do your best to shape the budget, but at the end of the day, it’s your job to pass a budget,” McKay said. “Because if you don’t vote to pass the budget, then you can’t say you supported all the important things that the budget provides.”
Democratic members said the budget accounted for the pandemic and would have been larger, had it not been for Gardner and her staff adjusting it during the past few months.
“We know there are a lot of unmet needs in this budget,” Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) said. “It represents millions [of dollars] in cuts from what had originally been proposed, and I do think it’s important for people to realize that.”
Earlier in the meeting, council members spent nearly an hour discussing whether to keep the tax rate flat at $1.06, or drop it to the constant yield rate — the rate that would bring in the same revenues as the previous year.
Dacey said if council members weren’t going to reduce the rate now—with so many people hurting financially during the coronavirus pandemic—he found it difficult to see when they would ever lower it.
McKay said providing relief to taxpayers, no matter how small, was important. Blue sided with those arguments. Although he was a no vote, he said he heard an interesting argument from a customer that came into his auto repair shop—Brownie’s in Walkersville—last week.
“If you look at all the taxes you pay, those [property taxes] are the only one you can recoup over a period of time,” Blue said of that argument, noting selling the home at a higher value, for instance.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and other Democrats said it was important to consider the services Frederick County provides, and that property taxes provide funds for those much-needed services.
It also helps residents who need the most help, she added.
“The government provides a safety net under people during times like this,” Keegan-Ayer said. “And part of the money we’re going to collect, we need to make sure we’re able to provide that safety net that people expect in their government.”