Frederick County Councilmen Phil Dacey (R) and Steve McKay (R), in their first term of office, are perhaps best known to keep a close eye on county spending, asking several questions to county staff about budget items.
And this year, both will attempt to again lower the county’s property tax rate to the constant yield — something both elected officials unsuccessfully attempted to do last year.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D) proposed an operating budget for fiscal year 2021 at about $665.8 million, which includes a tax rate of $1.06 per $100 of assessed value, the same as the last six budget cycles.
But Dacey and McKay, in order to provide relief to county taxpayers during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, will argue for council members to adopt the constant yield tax rate of $1.0344 per $100 of assessed value. They both said they’ve gotten hundreds of emails from constituents and others statewide in favor of adopting the constant yield rate.
Budget Director Kelly Weaver said this week that if that rate were adopted, county officials would receive about $8.5 million less in property tax revenue.
Constant yield is the tax rate required to keep property tax revenue at the same level as the prior budget year. The state assesses about a third of the county’s properties each year.
Because many assessment values have gone up in recent years, residents may pay more in property taxes even though the property tax rate has remained the same, if their personal assessments increase.
Dacey said this week that no matter whether county residents view the uptick as a tax increase, he believed it was important to provide some financial relief for them due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The reality is more money is coming out of household budgets to pay for property taxes,” Dacey said. “However you want to semantically couch that, it’s more money.”
Gardner and Democratic members of the County Council have previously argued that the current tax rate, known as the constant rate, is needed to provide for an increasing demand for services in the county. Gardner repeated this argument in an email Thursday, noting the county’s population grew by about 4,000 people in the past year.
”During this health pandemic, there is an increase in demand for services while at the same time there are declining revenues,” Gardner said. “A reduction to constant yield would provide the average taxpayer with less than $4 a month [in] savings and most would not likely notice it.”
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said this week she was still leaning in toward the constant rate, but added further debate about the constant yield tax rate would happen at a public hearing next month and in further discussions between council members.
“I know there are some people who are hurting and hurting badly … [Council Vice President] Michael Blue is one of them so we get to hear how his business is doing every week,” Keegan-Ayer said about the current economy, alluding to the fact Blue owns an auto repair shop in Walkersville. “But the state and federal government is trying to plug those holes for people and make sure they’e compensated.”
In order to reduce the rate down to the constant yield, Dacey, McKay, Blue and Councilman Kai Hagen (D) have suggested keeping county employees’ salaries level for this year, but added they would like to review that option more with county budget officials.
That proposition is also complicated by the fact that some county employees are union employees and some are not, Weaver told council members this week.
No matter what tax rate the council adopts, McKay said that if residents disagree with work done by the State Department of Taxation and Assessments, they should contest those assessments.
He detailed one constituent in his district who contacted him last year. Upon further investigation, he found the resident’s property was overassessed for 13 years, as the state claimed the resident made improvements on his property that weren’t actually there.
”People should challenge their assessments, and it doesn’t mean, ‘I think you’re wrong,’” McKay said of the assessment process. “It just means you question it, and make the state show you in detail the basis for the assessment.”