Cecil County Budget: Higher Fees, from Houses to Jukeboxes; Costs Rise under Moore Budget Plan

April 10, 2015

News Analysis

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore’s proposed budget would boost fees and taxes on many aspects of local residents’ daily lives, from buying a new home to living in a “manufactured” house, to playing a video game or a jukebox.

Some of the proposed fee hikes are modest, affect rather obscure services and haven’t been changed in decades. Others, however, are controversial and could have significant impact on individual homeowners, homebuyers and the real estate industry. All told, the proposed new fee schedule would generate over $2.6 million in revenues to the county.

And on top of those fee increases, Moore’s budget proposed a more than 2-cent increase in the local property tax rate, from the current 0.9907 to $1.0132 per $100 of assessed value. As a result, property taxes are estimated to yield $95,782,342 in revenues to the county in the new budget—an increase of over $4.1 million, due to the tax boost as well as projected higher property value assessments calculated by the state.

As part of the fee and residents’ expense increase segment of her budget, Moore would do away with a 2 percent discount currently offered property owners who pay their tax bills early, by July 31 each year. So, for example, on a home valued for tax purposes at $300,000, the changes could mean more than a $120 increase in out-of-pocket costs, including both the tax rate boost and the loss of an early payment benefit.

Killing the early payment discount for property owners will put an extra $1,051,396 in revenues into the county’s coffers.

For homebuyers, another Moore proposal could substantially boost closing costs and might make the county less attractive to some new residents. Currently, the county imposes a flat $10 fee to record a deed transfer to the new owner but Moore would change that to a value-based percentage—0.5 percent—to match the same percentage now charged by the state. So for a family buying a house for $300,000, it would cost an extra $1,500.

Closing costs are the responsibility of the buyer, but in some real estate transactions the sellers of a house agree to cover part of the closing costs—in effect, lowering the amount of money the sellers receive from the sale.

The new transfer tax would generate an estimated $1,554,878 in revenues for the county in Fiscal 2016, which begins 7/1/15. The old flat fee generated just $23,000 in the current year.

The transfer tax proposal has been greeted with so-far subdued dissent in the local real estate community but that could change quickly. Real estate operators and sales agents were already upset with another recent proposal by Moore to restrict “vacation home” rentals with a series of strict regulations that could have limited property owner’s use of their properties. After the Planning Commission refused to go along with Moore’s plan—produced after one Earleville resident complained about a neighbor’s property—she withdrew her proposal.

The new transfer tax could reduce one of the key attractions cited by real estate agents trying to lure new residents to the county: lower costs than other nearby areas. And depending on how a contract is structured—if a home’s sale price is lowered to reflect the fact that the buyers will have to pay higher closing costs—an agent’s sales commission could be reduced.

Meanwhile, residents of “manufactured” houses situated in “parks” in which they do not own the land, a little-known monthly “rental tax” would also be increased. The fee would rise from $20 a month to $22 a month, a rate that had not changed since 1992.

The fee is paid directly to the county each month by owners of trailer or manufactured home parks, on top of the property taxes park owners pay on their sites.

County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) announced to the Council this week that he would recuse himself from any consideration of the “trailer tax” issue during the council’s budget deliberations because he owns two trailer parks. (Hodge owns one park outside Cecilton and another on Route 213 south of Elkton.)

While emphasizing he would play no role in official discussions of the issue, Hodge explained in response to questions from Cecil Times that some park owners simply tack on the fee to the basic lot rental paid by tenants who may be unaware that the county collects a fee. Other owners itemize it on leases so tenants add it to their monthly rent and the landlord transmits the fee to the county. Either way, the county doesn’t deal with thousands of individual trailer park residents but instead the park owners are required to submit monthly reports and pay the total taxes due.

A legislative resolution introduced at the County Council on Tuesday, at Moore’s request, to implement the trailer tax includes a provision that would allow residents who own their living units and are senior citizens, or physically or mentally disabled, to apply to the county for a partial refund, amounting to about $39 a year, from the $264 in total trailer taxes paid. The measure did not specify how, or by whom, the county’s decisions would be made to review the age and physical or mental status of applicants.

While the increase might seem like nickel/dime, in fact the trailer tax is a significant revenue generator for the county, expected to yield $467,500 in Fiscal 2016.

And since the tax officially applies to “manufactured” housing and not just single-wide or double-wide trailers, a popular senior citizens’ community is affected. The Cecil Woods 55-plus community, off Route 40, consists of manufactured homes owned by individual residents. But they do not own their own land and pay monthly fees for ground rent and exterior property maintenance and other services.

Moore’s budget also proposes increased fees for “amusement machines,” such as public video games or jukeboxes, up from $75 a year to $100 a year, to generate an estimated $5,600 a year in revenues.

(We inquired if there might be an exemption or discount for jukeboxes that only play songs by The Moody Blues, and the answer was no. Another tourism draw lost???)

More important to the overall fiscal health of the county than these fee boosts is how Moore will address the persistent shortfalls in the landfill “enterprise fund” – which is supposed to be supported exclusively by user fees paid by people who use the facility rather than all taxpayers. But the landfill operation has drawn millions from general taxpayer funds in recent years.

That topic will be covered in an upcoming Cecil Times report.

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14 Responses to Cecil County Budget: Higher Fees, from Houses to Jukeboxes; Costs Rise under Moore Budget Plan

  1. BobbyG on April 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Typical questioning to leadership coming in to right the ship as the executive and Governor are doing. Let’s get the ship moving in the right direction.

    Now I know why some real estate agents comment on issues when I see their commissions are reduced. I was always pissed at seeing someone make 6% on my sale to just push papers around and showing me a home. Well deserved for the most part but I must say but there are good and bad times.

    Must say to the protectionists of the county trying to keep development and industry from the county that they have left everyone else holding the bag on just trying to keep up with the cost of the democratic leadership over the years. Move to Jersey or Chester County for real eye awakening costs.

    • Harold McCanick on April 11, 2015 at 7:23 am

      Mr.G,…”Jersey and Chester County”…are exactly what the conservatives of Cecil County are trying to avoid.Ironicly the Governor and the executive are going in opposite directions.

  2. Pam Thacker on April 10, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    First things first. I thought Republicans didn’t raise taxes? Of course they do if not literally they raise fees or come up with new ones. As for Mr. Hodge not discussing increased fees on mobile home owners in parks I get the impression it’s because he owns two. Not a good answer own up to it it is your job.

    Finally you want to flow more money into the state how about this: instead of deeming all hardships on tax payers how about take pay cuts.

  3. Harold McCanick on April 11, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Dear Mrs.Thacker,There are two ways government beaurocracy maintains budgets,cut costs(waste)or raise taxes.This budget and several before it hasn’t even tried to cut cost.Mr.Hodge does own two trailer parks and he is rekusing himself from that vote to avoid a conflict of interest as he should.Problem is that is not the only conflict of interest with this council.

    • Kelly Frost on April 16, 2015 at 10:23 am

      Mr McCannick – we agree. There is so much benefiting those that occupy the council seats – it’s jaw dropping and if one were to really dig and do the research– I can only imagine.

  4. Jeannette Houle on April 11, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Is Tari Moore out of her mind? The Republicans won the governorship and the US Congress because of the prior administration increasing taxes and overspending. Does she not understand trickle down economics? The trend is to cut costs, reduce government and spend only what you can afford. We have to do it at home and so does she.

    Maybe she doesn’t care about anything but her title and her power, she certainly has not lived up to her campaign promises and worse yet, she has become a Democrat in Republican clothing.

    The County Council has the power to reduce the budget, so let’s see if they have the backbone to do their job and not fall into her web of tax increases.

    Hodge seems to have quite a few conflicts of interests which puts him in a great place of not having to do his job. Step up to the plate, Hodge, and stop dodging doing your job. Remember what happened last election with your colleagues, they didn’t get re-elected. Do your job or you won’t be either.

    • Joe C on April 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      I requested that they all change party affiliation at the last council meeting. I even provided then the paperwork to do so. They all ran on a “no tax increase” platform. Stick to your word or resign!

      • RDF 001 on April 13, 2015 at 4:02 pm

        Encouraging elected Republicans to change party affiliation. Flip-Flopper!

        • Ron Lobos on April 14, 2015 at 6:08 am

          They are not really Republicans. Real republicans are conservative and live with the philosophy that we should tax less and have less government. Our Council and County Executive were elected to be Republicans and are given every opportunity to be one; the problem is that they are not living up to their word as stated in their mailers.

          I am not complaining as much as showing my disappointment for the decisions they are making during the budget process. You see, I campaigned for many of these people. When I see how many hours that I and many others worked to get these officials elected, based on a strong conservative philosophy, and then get thrown under the bus by special interest groups that show up at one or two Council meetings, I get sick to my stomach.

        • Joe C on April 17, 2015 at 12:15 pm

          They ran as Republicans but now are acting like Tax and Spend Democrats! Time for them to leave and not dishonor the party!

  5. Ron Lobos on April 12, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    My gut feeling tells me that any elected officials who vote for a tax increase on Cecil County residents are serving their last term in office. Although I do not support the bloated proposed budget brought forth by the CCPS, it is the tax increase that will do them in. That is the Achilles heel.

    I have a hard time believing that the elected officials think that the voters are only looking for less government and lower taxes from the State Officials. Why do they think Anthony Brown was defeated,[Delegate David] Rudolph lost his job and conservatives are gaining traction in government?

  6. Harold McCanick on April 13, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    ANY TAX or FEE initiated or raised should have every elected official’s name that supported it directly attached to it.

    • Joe C on April 17, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      Right! Moore Taxes!

  7. Dorothy on April 20, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Some of these fees going up might be justified– how many things have not increased in price in ten years, just go to the grocery store. But the bigger question is how much waste is going on in the entire county government or money spent for bad services that shouldnt get $ until they improve.

    Moore didn’t say a word about cutting the millions she is giving to the Buddy for Life people for animal control when the veterinarian on the Council went there and told about the terrible conditions he saw there. There’s a lot of money that could be saved there, and get better living conditions for the animals, too.

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