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Town Government Re-approves Tax Increase & Annexation Petition

 Chris Patterson

At Monday’s monthly town meeting, the mayor and board of commissioners have approved a 20 percent property tax increase for fiscal year 2002-03 for the second time, after the first vote by the former mayor and board of commissioners was voided due to problems with the original public notices.

The original notices for the proposed six-cent tax increase were posted in the newspaper for an April 30 special meeting, but the font on the advertisement was too small, town manager David Haller told the new board at Monday night's town meeting. Though the former board approved the rate and accompanying budget at the public meeting, the vote had to be taken again Monday after the notices were properly published.

With very little discussion, the board unanimously approved the new rate of 36 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which represents a six-cent or 20 percent increase from last year's tax rate of 30 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Newly installed commissioner Ted Brennan said he normally would not approve a tax increase but because the previous board had approved the increase he agreed to vote for it. The other commissioners concurred.

The new budget includes $ 1.87 million in revenue/expenditures. Haller told the new board that the former board voted for the increase in order to avoid cutting back on services.

In an interview Tuesday, new mayor Jim Hoover said the budget is going up this year mostly because of a substantial increase in the town's debt service and in transfers to capital improvements. The town's bond debt is increasing from $207,887 last year to $369,940 this year. Transfer funds to capital improvements is increasing from $139,118 to $219,602. Those two items together contribute $242,537 toward the $316,387 increase in budget.

Both the debt service and the transfer to capital improvements are the result of numerous major capital improvements including the construction of the new water plant which is currently under way, park improvements such as the replacement of the old caboose with a new concession stand/bathroom, replacement of old water and sewer lines, and the new office to begin construction around July or August, Hoover said.

Last year's budget actually contained a decrease from $1.8 million to $1.5 million due to a then anticipated reduction in water and sewer fees, according to a publication on the city's web page written by former Mayor William Carr. Because of the change in the way the state assesses property taxes, Carr wrote, residents' bills showed no significant change. This year, however, residents may notice the increase.

The new rate will become effective July 1, 2002.

In other matters, the board unanimously voted to increase the combined water and sewer hook-up fees from $6,000 to $7,000. Town manager Dave Haller said the new rate should be considered a bargain because Middletown's rate is $3,000 more and Brunswick's rate is $5,000 more than the $7,000 fee he recommended to the board. The Town of Thurmont's combined fees equal $5,000. Haller also said the increase would make it possible for the town to finance a new water pressure tank that would build "a great deal of redundancy" into the water system.

Another annexation was on the agenda Monday and this required commissioner Patrick Boyle to recuse himself from voting. Boyle is one of the property owners named in the annexation petition.

Ed Smariga of Buckeye Development said he is considering purchasing about 62 acres, including Boyle's property, to be developed into a combination of townhouses, single family homes and a small portion of commercial use. The properties lie along the northwest side of North Seton Avenue with the largest parcel owned by Silver Fancy Farm, Inc.

Haller told commissioners that state law required the commissioners to vote to accept the petition for review but that voting to accept the petition does not in any way mean the board is approving the request for annexation. The board then voted 3-0-1 to accept the petition, with Boyle abstaining from the vote. A public review by the planning commission and ultimately the board of commissioners is required prior to any approval.

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