Study to Review Impact of Wicomico Tax Revenue Cap

In 2000, Wicomico County voters supported a property tax revenue cap, a controversial move that limits the amount of money the county can collect each year.

According to Delmarvanow,

Now a new study sponsored by the Greater Salisbury Committee will take a look at what impact it has had and how it may affect the future of the county.

“We think it’s appropriate to simply take a look at it,” said Mike Dunn, the group’s president and CEO. “We want people to know what the law of the land is.”

The cap limits new revenue from property taxes to 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. The CPI has been less than 2 percent during the past five years.

The study by Memo Diriker, director of the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network, or BEACON, at Salisbury University, and a group of graduate students is expected to be released this fall, Dunn said.

The revenue cap came about following a tax revolt led by a group called VOICE, or Voters Opposed to Increased County-City Expenditures, after the County Council in 1999 approved a 46-cent property tax hike and a 1 percent increase in the property transfer tax.

VOICE founders Don Coffin, John Palmer and Jack Plummer were successful in getting their proposal for a revenue cap on the ballot for the 2000 election. It was supported by more than 60 percent of the voters and went into effect the following year.

Dunn said Palmer and Plummer both met with Greater Salisbury Committee members who are serving on the committee looking at the revenue cap to offer a better sense of what happened in 1999.

Many younger county residents have no idea there is a revenue cap or remember the “great political battle” of 2000, including a lot of up-and-coming civic and business leaders under the age of 40, Dunn said.

“These people were literally in high school,” he said.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver and members of the County Council were all informed about the study when it got underway last year, Dunn said. Once completed, it will be presented to the Greater Salisbury Committee membership, then to Culver and the County Council.

Previous examinations of the revenue cap may have been politically motivated, but Dunn said the new study will take an unbiased look at the cap and the effects it has had.

Through the years, county officials have discussed the possibility of increasing the cap, especially when the Great Recession hit and the budget had to be cut by as much as 20 percent, said County Council President John Cannon.

But the County Council was politically conservative then as it is now, and resisted making changes to the cap, he said.

If council members wanted to change the cap or repeal it altogether, they would have to amend the county charter, said County Council Administrator Laura Hurley. The council would first have to approve the charter amendment and then it would go to referendum. If the majority of the votes are in favor of the charter amendment, it would go into effect 30 days following the election.

Cannon said so far no one seems inclined to seek a change in the cap.

 “I can’t see where it’s had a negative impact on the county,” he said. “We haven’t seen a need or desire to raise it above that level.”

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