It may be a little premature, but we think it’s time for all local governments as well as the folks in Annapolis to pledge property taxes will not be raised next year to help balance budgets.
With current fiscal year shortages a reality for some and future projections being presented weekly, the severity of the financial mess facing local governments with their next budget cycles is becoming fairly clear.
There’s no question now that the policy of “preparing for the worst, hoping for the best” was wise for local governments to take when working through their current spending plans. The unfortunate reality is the worst is here, and it’s here to stay as far as government goes for at least three years in most cases.
In Snow Hill, the County Commissioners were presented with some disturbing figures at last week’s meeting. The long-range forecast is grim because property assessments are expected to continue to decline for the next three years in the county’s northern parts, the government’s main source of cash. Additionally, in the short term, the county needs to find about $1.5 million to cut immediately as revenues from property taxes did not meet projections.
2010 is an election year, removing more than likely the possibility of a tax increase or risk being removed from office by voters. Any official that supports a tax increase of any sort in Annapolis, Ocean City, Berlin or in the county next year will be subject to the poison pen on this page. Raising property taxes for local residents cannot be an option and would clearly be an example of officials not being able to make the tough decision. Last year’s decision by the Ocean City Mayor and Council to actually lower taxes beyond the suggestion of the city manager should serve as an example it can be done when tough decisions are enacted.
To increase the burden on taxpayers, already overwhelmed with an increased cost of simply living, would be political suicide at this time. More importantly it would break the back of some families finding it hard to pay their bills, let alone save for their future or their kids’ education.
With the uncertain state of the economy, there should be no talk of raising the tax rate by any government body during budget talks. The only talk should be decreasing the tax rates. The worst-case scenario would be leaving the rates unchanged. It’s no secret the state has cut significant amounts of local aid to make up for an enormous budget deficit, leaving the county and municipalities in precarious positions, but tough decisions will have to be made and creative financing utilized.
Spending cuts are the only consideration. It will be interesting to see if increasing expenditures through more taxes is on the minds of any official. It would be worthwhile to know if any of them will publicly broach the topic. Privately, that would likely be a consideration if it weren’t an election year. The reason mainly begin the fact the county must fund the school system at the same level as last year at a minimum. That ties the county’s hands in some ways.
Nonetheless, all governments face their own hurdles, but we do not see increasing taxes as an option to overcome them. We would like to see the area’s governments, as well as state lawmakers, make an early pledge that increasing the burden on property owners is off the table. Some will surely not be willing to make that promise, but it would be a nice holiday assurance.