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Commissioners approve budget, tax increases

 

Prince Frederick, MD – The Calvert County Commissioners voted 3-to-2 Tuesday, June 7 to approve the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget. The operating budget, which will take effect July 1, totals $246.7 million. The spending plan is balanced by a real property tax rate of $0.952 per $100—an increase from the previous year’s rate of $0.892 per $100—and an income tax rate which increases from 2.8 percent to 3.0 percent. The property tax rate is being increased for the first time since 1987.

Voting in favor of the budget and tax increases were Commissioners’ President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R - District 3], along with commissioners Pat Nutter [R - District 2] and Tom Hejl [R - At Large]. Commissioners Mike Hart [R - District 1] and Steve Weems [R - At Large] voted opposed.

Prior to the roll call vote, each commissioner spoke his piece. The three board members voting to approve the budget with the revenue enhancements had harsh words for county Republican leaders critical of the plan to raise taxes.

“I am a Republican, but when I campaigned it was for everyone,” said Nutter, who added the eight members of the Calvert County GOP Central Committee who criticized him for supporting a tax increase, “obviously, they have a holy grail.” Nutter indicated that the party leaders’ pressure reached its apex when he received a text telling him there were plans to mount a “robo-call” campaign against the proposed tax increases.

Calvert County Republican Central Committee Chairman Greg Ostrander later told The BayNet that the party did indeed phone the county's registered Republicans Sunday evening, June 5 with a recorded message.

The recorded message stated "Hello, this call is from the Calvert County Republican Central Committee. This coming Tuesday, the Calvert County Commissioners intend to raise property and income taxes on us in order to accommodate the liberal policies and reckless spending by the Democrats in Annapolis. Please contact your Calvert County Commissioners today and demand they vote no on the property and income tax increases and focus more on economic development in Calvert County. This call was paid for by the CCRCC, Carolyn Rice, Treasurer."

Ostrander said the purpose of the text message to Nutter was to give him a heads-up that the calls were going to be made.

Nutter stated the additional $7.9 million was needed in the operating budget in order to avoid the use of fund balance needed for emergencies, protect the county’s Triple A bond rating, provide needed equipment for and upgrade the facilities for Calvert’s fire and rescue services, finding a better location for the sheriff’s office and maintaining the public schools.

Hejl stated he wasn’t concerned as to whether or not his vote would cost him his seat on the board in 2018, he was going to “do the right thing.” He labeled Facebook posters who were writing negative comments about county government workers “despicable,” adding, “these [county government workers] are good people. This is a [career] choice they made.”

Slaughenhoupt affirmed that the sour economy and loss of revenue from state government made it necessary “to temporarily raise taxes in a smart way as well as make some cuts to make it work. When Dominion Cove Point is completed it will provide additional revenues that could help lower the rates as would a recovered economy. This board has been frugal. We haven’t stashed away a bunch of money from overtaxing people to deal with cuts in funding from the state.”

The commissioners’ president, who openly sparred with local leaders of his political party on social media, declared “those ‘Local Republican Party Leaders’ care nothing about citizens needing county services.”

Hart stated that too many residents in his district were feeling the pinch of the weak economy and he could not support any tax increases. “My area just can’t take another lick,” said Hart, who also declared, “I’m in favor of restructuring the government.”

The motion to approve the proposed FY 2017 budget with the tax increases came with the provision that the rates be reevaluated annually to determine “whether circumstances warrant their continuation.”

"I'm obviously disappointed in the vote," said Ostrander later. He added the local central committee might have an additional statement to make about the vote later.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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