by Geoff Fox
An upcoming pubic hearing will allow Washington County residents to weigh in on a proposed increase to the county’s real property and income taxes.
The proposed increases would see real property tax increased in the fiscal year 2020 and again in 2021. Income tax would rise 0.20% in fiscal year 2020 and another 0.10% in 2021.
The increase would be the first tax increase in almost two decades.
County Commissioner Wayne Keefer sat down with The Hancock News to explain what those increases mean and also some of the other things in the county’s 2020 fiscal year budget.
Keefer, who voted against the proposal that included a tax rate increase
that is to go to a public hearing, said the current income tax rate is 2.8% with the proposed increase taking the rate up to an even 3.0%.
“That alone is expected to bring in $2.6 million of additional revenue,” Keefer said.
However, Keefer said an easier way to get that money would to be to cut the county’s discretionary spending by 2%.
The county currently has a $230 million operating budget. Of that, $100 million goes to Washington County Public Schools. That expenditure cannot be decreased even though the county’s budget can fluctuate.
Keefer said if they could find that 2% to cut in spending “across the board,” the county would have the $2.6 million it would need to hold off on a tax increase.
One way Keefer thinks the county can combat the increase is to shift employee responsibilities around. When county employees retire, their responsibilities could be divided among other employees, he said.
“My concern with increasing income taxes is that’s less money in people’s pocket,” Keefer said. He noted the economy is starting to improve and there are competitive hurdles in neighboring states as reasons the increase wouldn’t be good for the county.
If a person lives in one of the eight municipalities in Washington County, Keefer said the real property tax is .823 cents per $100 of
assessed value. Outside those municipalities, the real estate property tax is .948 cents per $100.
The projected increase would see those rates jump five cents per $100 in 2020 and another four cents in 2021.
For the current budget, Keefer said average taxpayer would see their taxes, both property and income, go up $240 a year and $500 over the next two years
Keefer said the county shouldn’t want to give residents another reason
to leave Maryland for neighboring states. He said the minimum wage and gun laws are one reason for migration out of the state.
A tax hike wouldn’t just affect property owners, said Keefer.
“If you rent, there’s a good likelihood your landlord might adjust the rent to compensate for the additional income tax,” Keefer said.
Keefer said the increases would also impact the seniors in the county as they are on a fixed income.
While younger residents have the opportunity for growth in their incomes and possibly make up the difference. However, a senior living on a fixed income might not see their pension and retirement increase, but paying more in taxes, making it a burden.
“The people it will impact the most is a large percentage of our
population,” Keefer said.
In fiscal year 2019, Keefer said the county’s budget was the largest in the history of Washington County.
Keefer said the last time rates were increased, a different group of commissioners were in charge and the budget has grown $88.2 million with an increase in property assessments.
“Even though the tax rates the same, what we’re taxing is valued greater, so we’re bringing in more revenue,” he said.
The upcoming budget will see revenues being down from last year, but
it is also the second highest budget in history.
Keefer said over the next four years, Washington County commissioners will have spent $1 billion, the most ever spent.
The county’s public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, at 6 p.m. at Kepler Theater on the campus of Hagerstown Community College.
Keefer said there was a 3-2 vote to move the budget forward to the public hearing. He has encouraged people to come out. If people don’t want to speak at the hearing, Keefer said there’d be an opportunity to speak to commissioners afterward.
The following week, commissioners will take the vote on the proposed
The proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget can be viewed on the Washington County government website at: