Volume XI, Issue 23 ~ June 5-11, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

Trickle-Down Taxes
Calvert and Anne Arundel pay up

Governor Robert Ehrlich’s kept his promise. He’s avoided the tax-and-spend ways of those Democrats he replaced. Now, we’re getting to see a new version of an old Republican principle at work: Trickle Down Taxes.

The governor’s May 21 veto of $135 million in corporate taxes — a House of Delegate’s strategy to increase revenues in a time when dollars are flowing into the state at a reduced rate — has left the state budget unbalanced. Counties, by law, can’t afford the luxury of unbalanced budgets. So, across the state, they’re biting the bullet Ehrlich spit out. And they’re fearing a second helping that will further eat away at bare-cupboard county reserves.

Even before the governor’s $135 million veto, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens “directed departments to make five percent cuts and really had to make tough decisions on what services were nice and what were necessary,” said spokesman Matt Diehl. “Tough” translates as raising taxes and fees, not salaries.

In Calvert County, too, “revenue sources were not keeping pace with expenditure levels” even before Ehrlich’s veto, according to county finance director Terry Shannon.

While the state dreamed about how to bring in more money quick, placing bets on slot machines, counties were figuring out how to make cuts in spending and hikes in revenues.

Now, they’ve made their decisions.

If you own a home in Anne Arundel County, you can expect to pay half a penny more than last year in property taxes. The county has inched the rate up to 95.5 cents per $100 of property value as assessed by the state. When the tax man cometh in 2004 after your property’s value has increased an estimated five percent, owners of a house assessed at $250,000 in 2003, will have to give up, say that $60 new water filtration system for the kitchen sink — unless they can find a creative way to bring in that much more money. Sorry, you can’t raise any taxes to recoup the $60.25 you’ll lose to the half a penny property tax raise.
Water might be scarcer in Anne Arundel households in coming months as another new increase — an 8.54 percent increase in water and wastewater fees — will amount to almost $47 more per year.

Losing the equivalent of a gizmo here or a gadget there won’t leave most AA homeowners high and dry. By the time the bills come, you’ll probably have forgotten them.

Small deal for residents but big deal for their county: those trickles will run to $6.5 million next year.

Residents of Annapolis fared even better, as Annapolis Mayor, Ellen Moyer, followed the lead of President George W. Bush by cutting taxes. State capital property owners will now pay 60 cents per $100 of assessed property value, down from 62.4 cents.

“Assessments went up, so the value of property went up,” said Jan Hardesty in describing how the city manged to cut property taxes stems in part from the city’s rising property values.

But in Calvert County, where taxes have also trickled down, you’ll see differences immediately.

If your warm weather itinerary had your days off filled with exciting Calvert carousals, you might find yourself relying on cheaper diversions now that the admission and amusement tax has been raised to a fun-thwarting 10 percent, up from a hardly noticeable one percent.

Calvert countians also will hand over a slightly larger portion of their paychecks. To make ends meet, the Board of Commissioners raised income taxes to 2.8 percent, up .2 percent from last year.

Even if you now stay home rather than enjoying a night on the town, you can’t escape taxes. Showing up on Calvert residents’ telephone bills will be a 10-cent 911 fee hike — from 40 to 50 cents— to help emergency services catch up with the increasing traffic travesties and tragedies on Route 4.

Consider yourself lucky if you live here, though, because other taxes will make it harder to move to Calvert — or even visit.

Visitors looking for fun in the county will be paying, on top of raised amusement taxes, a never-before-seen hotel tax of five percent.

For would-be new home buyers, the excise tax (which used to be called impact fee) for a single-family free-standing home has soared from $3,000 to $12,900.

From all these taxes, Calvert County expects to reap about $4.3 million in the next 12 months. The income tax hike won’t bring in full revenues until 2005. The excise tax will be paid in a three-year installment plan, and will bring in $2,250,000 a year from an estimated 750 building permits issued.

In the short run, Calvert Countians may have to take in a summer blockbuster during a more wallet-friendly matinee show time, and Anne Arundelians may no longer enjoy the luxury of letting the faucet run while brushing their teeth. But in the big picture, Calvert County’s excise tax hike excepted, Chesapeake Country’s new taxes are a trickle that run into big streams.
— Lauren Silver

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Take a Free Ride to the Shore
Lottery picks up Bay Bridge tolls Friday, June 6

Take a Free Ride to the Shore
Lottery picks up Bay Bridge tolls Friday, June 6
As you pack your kids in the car this season and head down to the shore, be prepared for a change in the scenery. The roads will still be crowded, and the Bay will still be huge and gray. Change comes at the point where you lift off of land and rise over the water. If you’re lucky or if you plan ahead, you may get a free ride over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Friday, June 6 opens a new era for Bay Bridge drivers. From 7pm to midnight, The Maryland Lottery will pay your way across the Bay.

Of course nothing is free; you save $2.50 at the eastbound tollbooths, but in return you’ll have to pay at least minimal attention to east and westbound billboards, signs on toll booths and literature handed out at the booths — at the Lottery’s own expense — during the week before the sponsored ride.

Don’t expect to see bright neon signs with lewd and crude pictures for the rest of the season. And don’t prepare to burn rubber through the gates. The signs will be tastefully regulated by the authority, and the speed limit will be enforced at 20mph during the five hours.

photo by Michael Kelley

No matter who the sponsor, nothing will appear on the signs that contains illegal or prejudicial reference, alcohol, tobacco or foul language. They must be “in good taste, high caliber to add to the prestige of the Bridge,” says spokeswoman Lori Vidil. Ads may stay up for only one week; at its end, they will be removed or covered by new ads.

Sponsored crossing are Maryland Transportation Authority’s bright idea to alleviate the stress of crossing to the beach. In the two months they’ve been seeking summer sponsors, the Lottery is the first to gamble.

The Lottery bought the June 6 sponsorship for $43,305, a price reflecting past years’ traffic and the current pattern of traffic growth. In return for its thousands, the Maryland Lottery hopes to gain more players.

Maryland Transportation Authority says that its promoting sponsorship not just to make money but as part of its mission to educate the motorists — commuters and vacationers — of opportunities to avoid congestion. Opportunities include free non-peak crossings and prepaid E-Z passes.

“Motorists have a choice,” says Vidil.

The authority is meanwhile considering its own choice for reducing congestion, including widening the E-Z pass lanes leading up to the tolls, improving the roadway between the toll booths and the bridge and introducing toll-plaza metering.

Other sponsors are bidding for the first Friday nights of August, though the response may depend on the success of this week.

— Stephanie Chizik

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Update: from Volume I, Number 3
Mrs. Mattie Johnson Still Snug; Herrington Village on the Move

photo by Sonia Linebaugh
Mattie Johnson in 1993.
Mattie Johnson never imagined, when she was a girl going to a one-room school, that one day just such a school house would be her home. Nor that she’d be going on 68 before she had her own running water, plumbing, bathtub, or washing machine.

“This is a miracle to me,” says she, of her translation from a ramshackle school that must “surely be filled with honey” to a mobile home full of modern conveniences instead of bees.

It’s been 10 years since Mattie Johnson moved from the school house that had been her home since 1979.

Johnson, 77, a share-cropper’s daughter who left school after fourth grade when her mother died, spent her working life cleaning, washing and ironing for other people. When a modern mobile home replaced her school house, it brought Johnson the first indoor plumbing of her life. Today, she doesn’t give the plumbing a thought.

From the sunny door-way of her well-kept trailer, she surveys on a large grassy lot surrounded by woods, saying, “It’s nice to live in the country but I can’t put up with it for many more years. One day I’m going to head to Annapolis city where I can get a few tokens and get on the bus. Transportation is hard here. A friend drives me. A lady picks me up for church on Sunday.”

Johnson admits that her nine children and countless grandchildren and great-grand children “love to come out here and party. And yesterday, I saw a big deer by the edge of the yard with a little one. I have pretty raccoons and stray cats. A pretty blue jay sat right on my rail.

“I like living here but for the transportation and the allergies,” says Johnson, adding again, “but I can’t put up with it for many more years.”

In 1993, the tiny frame building was dragged on wooden skids the short distance to Herrington Harbour North Marina to join two others as the basis of marina owner Steuart Chaney’s Southern Maryland village.

In the heart of all the masts, propellers, hulls and a commercial boat store lies a small village — a reminder of Chesapeake Country’s past. Herrington Harbour North is home to a small village of historic buildings saved from extinction.

“Something like 95 or 98 percent of people living around the Chesapeake lived in structures like the ones brought here. They are considered vernacular architecture,” said Steuart Chaney, owner of Herrington Harbour and caretaker for these old dwellings, which came near demolition.

“All the buildings were going to be destroyed because of development,” said Steuart Chaney. “I wanted to save them. They tell the story of the past. They are pretty to look at and can be educational.”

The village started with the two buildings Chaney saw down the road from the marina. One was an African-American meeting house, known as Holland United Brothers and Sisters

“The Holland house is one of the few remaining African American buildings in existence,” said Donna Ware, architectural historian and Anne Arundel County historical sites planner. “It was used by the Beneficial Society, which took care of the community during times of sickness and death.”
Ware determines the significance and history of such old buildings as Chaney’s. After buildings are moved to the village, she determines how to restore them.

Nutwell School — where Mattie Johnson lived from 1979 to 1993, and Steuart Chaney’s great aunt taught — was the second oldest building in Chaney’s new village.

Surrounding the two earliest saved structures are an outhouse, several small shacks and an old residence dating back to the 19th century.

Next to the historical village is St. Mark’s Chapel, another relic from the times owned by St. James’ Parish and still used for service.

Plans for the historical village include adding a Victorian well and slave quarters, which have been acquired but are not ready for viewing.

Tour the village during South County Festival June 7. On June 29, July 27 and August 24, Anne Arundel County’s South County Sundays (See “8 Days a Week”) stop at the Herrington Harbor Historical village.

— Sandra Martin updated by Sonia Linebaugh and James Clemenko

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Way Downstream …

In Dorchester County, a new federal grant of $33,000 will restore habitat for the Delmarva fox squirrel by clearing dead trees, the Star Democrat reported …

In Iraq, pet lions at the Saddam Hussein family game reserve will see a better fate than gazelles. U.S. soldiers sick of bland MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) have been shooting the gazelles for food, but nine lions belonging to Hussein’s infamous son, Uday, will be shipped to the South African bush, Reuters reported …

Our Creature Feature comes from the British seacoast, where it’s beginning to look like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. The seagull population is growing by 13 percent yearly, and many of the big birds have grown aggressive.

Reports of burgers snatched from people’s hands and scalps bloodied by swooping birds has whipped up “gull rage” for mass poisonings. But hotel worker Peter Metcalfe sounded fatalistic: “I know a lot of people call them rats with wings … but they are part of our seaside heritage,” he told Reuters.

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Last updated June 5, 2003 @ 12:57am