Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


From the Desk of
County Commissioner Lennie Thompson

(10/09) To those concerned about increases in their property tax bills, I offer the following:

You represent what I used to believe was the "silent majority." I'm no longer confident that you are still in the majority.

I retain the old fashioned and apparently outdated belief that the first order of business is to set the property tax rates at a reasonable levels commensurate with the ability of ordinary folks to pay those taxes and spend accordingly. If people find that property taxes in Frederick County are too low, there are plenty of high tax jurisdictions the dissatisfied, high-tax folks can relocate to.

Instead, governments generally figure up how much money is required to satiate the insatiable demands of the whiny special interest pressure groups, their lobbyists and political action committees, who claim that we will all die if their spending requests are not fully funded. Tax rates are set in order to generate these funds. The circumstances of those who pay more into government coffers than they get out are seldom taken into account. People like myself who prefer a low-tax, low-spend form of government are looked upon as some sort of freak of nature.

As a result, and whether intended or not, we are forcing an exodus of middle and working class people from Frederick County. If the trend continues, we will resemble the major metropolitan areas, where only the very rich (not as affected by the regressive nature of property taxes) and the very poor (who receive the benefit of numerous government programs) can afford to live.

Meanwhile, State, County and local governments subsidize (in the form of such corporate welfare handouts such as property tax credits; low interest, tax free loans; grants, etc.) the operations of out-of-county and out-of-state private business entities whose top executives pay themselves millions of dollars in salaries, bonuses, stock options, golden parachutes and deferred compensation. While there is no longer any debate about the need for a social safety net, there is considerable debate over the appropriate height and width of the net. While I stand firm on my belief that the social safety net should not be made so high and wide to accommodate out-of-state and out-of-county private business entities, I acknowledge that I often stand alone.

As long as Board of Education ("BOE") spending remains out of control, your general real property tax bill will continue to spiral upward. I attribute this phenomena to the following:

  • The political strength of the unions who represent BOE & Frederick County Public School ("FCPS") employees and the political action committees ("PACs") affiliated with those unions. During the 2002-2006 term, three (3) County Commissioners (including myself) voted to: i) cut the general real property tax rate; and ii) place a bill in the County's legislative package that would have required negotiations between the BOE/FCPS and it employee unions to be open to the public. These 3 Commissioners finished 1,2,3 in the 2002 general election. During the 2006 general election, the leadership of the BOE/FCPS public employee unions targeted these 3 Commissioners for defeat because of these votes. These Commissioners finished 5th, 7th & 8th. While there were certainly other issues involved in the election, the political and campaign finance activities of the union PACs were a factor.
  • Apathy on the part of those who do not draw a BOE or FCPS paycheck. Those having concerns about the BOE/FCPS spending & budget practices and choose to participate in the budget process will be outnumbered at least 100 to 1.
  • The ability of the BOE/FCPS to employ its vast, taxpayer-financed public relations machinery to recast justified concerns about its spending and budget practices into attacks on public education, thereby enraging its the various unpaid stakeholders (parents, students, volunteer groups, PTAs, etc.).

The rate of increases in the amount of money spent on fire, ambulance and rescue services are totally out of control. Group dynamics and human nature suggest the day will never come when the individual fire companies, the Frederick County Fire & Rescue Association, the firefighters’ union and PAC collectively tell us that they have enough trucks, ambulances, rescue squads, buildings, money and career personnel. That is why increases in fire tax bills and the amount of public funds spent on fire, ambulance and rescue service are far out of proportion to increases in population. If present trends continue, the rate of increase in the fire tax will continue to outstrip the rate of increase in the general real property tax. It is only a matter of time until the lines cross and the average homeowner's fire tax bill will exceed the average homeowner's general real property tax bill.

While ordinary folks are facing increasing property taxes, the County government continues to provide handouts and tax breaks to out-of-state private businesses. Here are a few recent examples:

Back in June, after spending the six months telling everyone that the County government was in the most dire financial situation since the Great Depression, a majority of the County Commissioners voted to give a $25,000 handout to Life Technologies Corporation, a multi-national, multi-billion dollar Delaware corporation whose top executives pay themselves millions of dollars a year in salaries, bonuses, stock options, golden parachutes and deferred compensation.

In August, we found out that Emergent Biosolutions, Inc., a Delaware corporation, was walking off with $300,000 of county economic development funds even though it did not do anything it had promised to do to get the money. Those involved are trying to keep the whole thing quiet by sweeping the matter under the rug.

In September, after whining about more budget cuts from the State and raising the specter of employee layoffs, salary cuts and furloughs, a majority of the County Commissioners voted to provide a $600,000+ tax break over 20 years to Keenan Fort Detrick Energy LLC ("Keenan"), yet another a Delaware entity. Keenan refused to pay its property taxes that were due July 1, 2008. Keenan’s property should have been sold at the May, 2009 tax sale.

I acknowledge that my views on the appropriate role of government are out of step with the modern political economy. Regrettably, it seems that the wealth of society is increasingly allocated on the basis of politics, not thrift, initiative & hard work.

Read other articles from Frederick County Commissioners