Looking Back And Ahead

The close of the 20th century and approach of a new millennium are prompting people everywhere to reflect on the history they have witnessed and to consider changes likely to occur in coming decades and beyond.

Southern Maryland Extra invites you to share your musings and memories of this century in our region, as well as your hopes for what the future holds for Southern Maryland.

Send them to us by e-mail at smextra@washpost.com or to The Washington Post, 100 N. Oak Ave., La Plata, Md. 20646.

As this year ends and the new century begins, we will publish your reflections and predictions on Sundays in our Letters to the Editor.

Transfer Tax Is Needed

After attending the League of Women Voters Legislative Hearing on Nov. 16, I decided that a historical perspective was in order. Here is my personal version:

I moved to Huntingtown in late 1974. There was no movie theater--only a drive-in in Prince Frederick. There were three stoplights in Calvert County. Unemployment was around 13 percent to 14 percent. It was a rural community of farmers, watermen and people who loved Culvert (as they pronounced it) County. The migration was just beginning: young people like me who were looking for quality of life in an affordable area with low traffic within commuting distance of metro D.C. Within six months a neighbor got me involved in a local zoning dispute where the bigger issue was the viability of Route 4 as a transportation artery. Virtually everyone said "progress" (meaning residential growth) was inevitable and Route 4 was going to be one long strip mall. We didn't buy that defeatist attitude.

Twenty-five years later, the majority agree that rampant residential growth is not sustainable and that Route 4 must be preserved as a lifeline. Now the argument is who will pay for it, and how.

The delay has cost us. Prevention would have been a lot cheaper than the cure will be.

Now we have those who think that we can put everything else on hold while we pay for land preservation. . . . we must pay for schools and community needs along with land preservation. But how? There simply is not enough money for both.

Like the majority of the commissioners, I strongly oppose increasing either property taxes or the piggyback (income) tax. . . .

Increasing property taxes or piggyback taxes affects the least wealthy and the most vulnerable among us the most. It hits the longtime county resident who has not contributed to the growth in any way and who is living on a fixed income. It hits the young people who are just starting out.

The money must come from the growth sector. Impact fees (charged for each new house built) help with capital costs for schools. Increasing the recordation fee (recently approved by the county commissioners) will help fund land preservation. Leveraging the costs of agriculture preservation (currently under consideration) will help spread the cost over a longer time period (while helping some farmers with taxes). So the county is finding a way to pay for land preservation. But what about other community needs, especially school operating costs, which eat up the largest portion of our tax revenue? We have to educate our children at the same time we try to cut future cost increases by limiting growth. The answer is to enact a transfer tax.

A transfer tax is collected when property is transferred. Not having one now makes it less expensive to buy a home in Calvert than in surrounding jurisdictions, which adds to our residential growth. Yes, you and I will have to pay the tax once when we transfer property, but not each and every year and not each and every hour we work as we would with property or piggyback taxes. . . . The transfer tax money should be designated and not just dumped into the general fund . . . .

I heard two old arguments at the legislative hearing: 1. We don't have economic development; and 2. Everyone should pay.

First, we have had an amazing amount of business growth in Calvert County. . . . The business growth just cannot keep up as a percentage of the too-rapid residential growth. Further business growth will rely to a large extent on high-speed data transmission capability, which we currently lack. Yet, I have not seen the telecommunications industry sitting at the economic development table.

Secondly, everyone will pay. We are already paying with slow traffic on Route 4 and devastating accidents. We pay when our children have crowded classrooms and no place to go after school. We are paying with increased juvenile delinquency rates and increasing police, courts and fire protection costs. The question is not whether we will pay, but how regressive the payment will be and how much our quality of life will suffer in the process.

I applaud our elected officials for their bold moves to address the residential growth problem. A property transfer tax is needed to finish the job. Our children cannot wait.

SUSAN ELLSWORTH SHAW

Huntingtown

Do Not Deny Gun Rights

A report released on Oct. 20 from the Office of the Attorney General is good reading until you get to the last paragraph. I will quote from the report: "[Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph] Curran demands that our ultimate goal be to outlaw handgun ownership except for those with demonstrated law enforcement and recreational purposes. 'Only by turning off the spigot will we really end this nightmare,' he said. 'It cannot happen overnight. But I look to a time when--ten, twenty, thirty years from now--people will look back and say: That is the moment when they turned it around--the violence began to stop.' "

You can find this report at http://www.oag.state.md.us/ Press/pr289.htm. Now I will quote from another person, you may have heard about him. "This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!" This statement was made by Adolf Hitler in 1935.

Can you see the similarity? Hitler wanted registration. Curran wants to disregard the Constitution and confiscate all handguns. I think that Mr. Curran is misguided if he thinks that taking away all handguns will stop people from getting killed. If I was a bad guy and I knew that there were no guns in any houses, I would rob and probably have to kill someone who resisted, because as a felon I would have a gun and they will not have any protection. Guns will be like dope. The government and the states have not eradicated narcotics and they will not stop the buying of illegal guns.

Mr. Curran has good intentions, but he must know that he can't stop the murders in the state of Maryland. I can live with a law that would ban buying more than two handguns a year. I can live with a law that would require fingerprinting and a full background check. But I can't live with a law that would deny me my rights that are guaranteed to me under the American Constitution.

JAMES P. THOMAS

Mechanicsville