For the second time in three years, the Annapolis City Council this week struck down a measure intended to provide tax relief to homeowners facing skyrocketing property assessments.
The city's tax revenue is determined by two factors: the taxable portion of property assessments, which under the state's homestead tax credit may increase by no more than 10 percent over the previous year's assessment for owner-occupied dwellings; and the rate by which the assessments are taxed. The city has lowered the tax rate each of the last three years but has seen an increase in revenue because of escalating real estate values. Property values in Annapolis rose an average 39 percent in the last round of assessments.
The measure, introduced by Alderman Sheila M. Tolliver (D-Ward 2), would have expanded the homestead tax credit, cutting the maximum increase in taxable assessments each year from 10 percent to 4 percent.
Tolliver and other supporters of the measure said it would provide needed relief for lower-income people and the elderly who have watched assessments on homes they bought before the real estate boom escalate beyond their ability to keep up with the associated rise in taxes. Supporters also said the revised homestead cap would lead to more accountability from government, forcing it to raise taxes to increase revenue or cut spending.
But opponents such as Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) and the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce said providing tax relief to just a select group of homeowners would be unfair to renters and businesses. The mayor and her staff have also warned that lowering the homestead cap could hurt the city's efforts to gain a AAA bond rating later this summer, though supporters of the measure said it would have no impact.
The city's fire and police unions also opposed the revision, saying it would leave the city subject to politically sensitive tax rate hikes to pay for public safety programs. Alderman Joshua Cohen (D-Ward 8) called the measure a "regressive" form of taxation, saying it would place a disproportionate burden on lower- and middle-income homeowners and provide the greatest benefit to the wealthy, whose home values are increasing the most. Moyer agreed, stating that the measure would have provided only a $66-a-year benefit to the median household.
The ordinance received a 4-4 vote, failing to get a needed majority. Tolliver and Aldermen Louise Hammond (D-Ward 1), George O. Kelley Sr. (R-Ward 4) and David H. Cordle Sr. (R-Ward 5) voted in favor. Moyer, Cohen and Aldermen Cynthia A. Carter (D-Ward 6) and Classie G. Hoyle (D-Ward 3) voted against. Alderman Michael W. Fox (R-Ward 7) was absent but, as head of the council's Finance Committee, had already voiced opposition in committee last week.
An identical measure failed in 2002.
It's unlikely the city has seen the last of the idea. Before the vote, Cordle promised to reintroduce it if it failed. At least 22 other municipalities and county governments in Maryland have lowered the cap below the state mandate, including Anne Arundel County, which has a limit of 2 percent.
The council this week also passed a measure requiring taxicab company drivers to wear uniforms or standard attire and to use hands-free technology when using cell phones. The measure also limited the number of independent cab drivers to 25 per year.