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As Long as We Remember...

May 24, 2007

All Aboard the Hypocrisy Express

John W. Ashbury

Back in the fall of 2004, then Alderman David Lenhart wanted to reduce the increase in property assessment on which City of Frederick taxes would be based by 50 percent. You'd have thought the world was coming to an end.

Until then residential property owners watched as the ever increasing assessments on their property were taxed at 110 percent of the previous year's value. Mr. Lenhart wanted to reduce that to 105 percent.

Mayor Jennifer Dougherty pronounced that such a reduction would be a violation of the city's charter because - she said - the city would be using a different assessment than the county and state use. She even cited an opinion from "her" legal staff that supported her claim.

Mr. Lenhart, not to be outdone on this issue, sought and got an opinion from an assistant Maryland attorney general that the mayor was wrong. Other jurisdictions across the state were already doing exactly what Mr. Lenhart suggested - including Mount Airy.

But the mayor and her allies on the Board of Aldermen, Donna Ramsburg and Marcia Hall, reacted vociferously, claiming that Mr. Lenhart's idea would force the city to slash programs and cut funding for others in the next year's budget - that the city couldn't afford such revenue reduction.

But Aldermen Bill Hall and Joe Baldi agreed with Mr. Lenhart and the proposal was adopted.

As budget talks progressed in the spring of 2005, Alderman Lenhart proposed a tax-rate reduction of three cents. Again Ms. Ramsburg and Ms. Hall raised the clamor to a fever pitch saying that the additional revenue reduction, in light of the already approved 50 percent downsizing of the amount on which the tax would be applied, would be disastrous for the city. Mayor Dougherty was even louder in her protests, repeatedly asking "What services do you want to cut."

The rate cut lost on a 3-2 vote when Alderman Baldi sided with Aldermen Hall and Ramsburg.

During both of these discussions Mr. Lenhart presented financial data which showed that in actuality city revenues would go up, not down - thus creating a surplus at the end of the upcoming fiscal year of about $3.5 million. When the city's books were audited at the end of that year there was a surplus of more than $4 million.

Now, after this review of the history, you may be wondering just where the hypocrisy of the headline above comes in?

Well, it seems that the efforts of Mr. Lenhart, along with the continued - and constant - growth in Frederick City over the past two years, has created a surplus of more than $10 million.

So, Marcia Hall proposed last week that the property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year be reduced by three cents, replacing the two-cent reduction sought by Mayor Jeff Holtzinger in his budget proposal.

The mayor argued against adoption of Ms. Hall's idea because the city is facing rising costs of trash disposal, as the county had just increased dumping fees at its landfill, and the skyrocketing price of gasoline.

Jonathan Angel, the city's budget officer, said - as he did in arguing against Mr. Lenhart's proposal 18 months ago - that other ongoing expenses, like the six new police officers Ms. Hall supports adding to the city's force, would lead to another search for revenues next year at budget time.

Alderman David Koontz went along with Alderman Hall and Ramsburg and voted for the three-cent property tax rate reduction. Republican Alderman Alan Imhoff and Paul Smith cast dissenting votes.

In this corner it is absolutely amazing that these two aldermen, who were always in the pocket of the former mayor, have now adopted Mr. Lenhart's fiscally conservative financial ideas. Two and a half years ago they claimed Mr. Lenhart's ideas were anathema and would lead The City of Frederick to bankruptcy.

Wonders never cease.

And another thing. Since when do Democrats propose tax decreases and Republicans oppose them as happened at the Mayor and Board of Aldermen meeting last week? The world is turning on its ear.

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