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The Harford County Council Tuesday passed legislation to partially roll back a four-year-old impact fee tax on new homes.

The council voted 5-2 to approve bill 09-37 that will set the tax at $6,000 for a new single-family detached home; $4,200 for a new townhouse or duplex and $1,200 for all other new residential structures, including condos and mobile homes.

The current tax rates are $8,269 for a single-family home, $5,570 for a townhouse and $1,637 for all other units. The tax is added on to the cost of a new dwelling to help pay for school construction.

Prior to Tuesday’s council legislative session was a public hearing on the rollback legislation, which was introduced in early November. Two people spoke against it.

Morita Bruce, of Fallston, said the proposed reduction of 27 percent penalizes people who have already paid the full amount of the tax and likewise gives a false impression it would increase home building.

“A few thousand dollars won’t change somebody’s mind about buying house,” she said.

Another speaker, Ryan Burbey, of Aberdeen, a member of the board of directors of the local teachers union, questioned where the funding for education is coming from, particularly in the face of so many mandates being imposed on public education.

He said the county should direct more effort to encouraging construction of energy-saving, green homes and forcing developers to do the same.

“Let’s stop sending money out to businesses that are not putting money back,” he added.

The tax rollback bill started out with broad support among the council members, six of whom jointly introduced it last month after they defeated a bill sponsored by two council members, Dion Guthrie and Chad Shrodes, to repeal the tax completely. The rollback, on which only Guthrie was not a co-sponsor, was offered as an alternative to outright repeal.

While Guthrie voted against the rollback bill, so did one of its sponsors, Councilman Joe Woods.

“As much as I don’t like the impact fee, I have a hard time removing a funding source,” said Woods, whose Fallston and Abingdon is home to some of the county’s most overcrowded schools.

Guthrie noted he’s never been in favor of the impact fee, which he called “an unfair tax on a small segment of the population.” He added that reducing the fee does not solve the problem of imposing a tax on those who can least afford it. The tax took effect July 1, 2005.

The earlier impact fee tax repeal effort initiated by Guthrie had prompted a spirited public debate on the merits of cutting an unpopular tax in the midst of economic recession, one which critics say deters home construction, an important part of the county’s economy.

On the other side of the argument were those who feel the county needs every revenue source it can muster to pay for new schools and upgrades for existing buildings, especially with the state’s continuing cuts in local school construction funding.

The legislation passed Tuesday is an emergency bill that takes effect as soon as the county executive signs it. Because the bill passed with the requisite majority to overturn a veto, one is unlikely.

The council Tuesday was also expected to appoint members to a new Bipartisan Commission on School Construction, unanimously passed by a resolution last month.

The committee, whose membership will consist of state and local elected officials and members of the county’s board of education, will recommend long-term school construction funding alternatives. It will also evaluate the effectiveness of the impact fee tax.


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