Mike Dunn: Time to give Revenue Cap a public review

In late 2016, the Greater Salisbury Committee, in keeping with its commitment to be a catalyst in the community, decided it was time for the Wicomico County Revenue Cap, which has been the law of the land since 2000, to be reviewed. So, a task force was commissioned. It was led by nine GSC members, including Salisbury CPA Bob Moore, the committee’s chair, and myself. It also included Dr. Memo Diriker, of BEACON, at Salisbury University, and a host of his top flight graduate students.

Over the course of 16 months or so, the Revenue Cap committee met on a regular basis – usually once every 6 weeks or so. At one of our very first meetings, we extended an invitation to members of VOICE, the (then) community group that spearheaded the Revenue Cap ballot initiative back in 2000. We figured that ANY examination of the Cap, and its impact, MUST begin with some discussion with those who brought it forward. VOICE members John Palmer and Jack Plummer were able to join us – and they shared their recollections of what the circumstances were on the ground, if you will, 18 years ago.

In 2000, for those who may not recall (or for those who have never known), the (then) Wicomico County Council passed two significant – and in today’s political climate, unthinkable and unimaginable – tax hikes. The first was a .46-cent property tax hike – a 24 percent increase over the previous year. The second was a 1 percent property transfer tax. Shortly after that, and as a direct result of those two tax increases, the above mentioned VOICE group was formed – and they went to work getting signatures to bring a Revenue Cap referendum to the ballot in 2000. They succeeded. The referendum passed overwhelmingly – giving us a Revenue Cap, and getting rid of the property transfer tax. Wicomico County is now one of only two counties in the state of Maryland which has a Revenue Cap (Talbot is the other.)

Fast forward to 2018. The Revenue Cap has been in place for 18 years, and GSC thought that it was, simply, an appropriate time to take a hard look at it and, more importantly, to attempt to educate the public about it. Our hunch, confirmed by our comprehensive look at the Cap, is that a significant portion of our Wicomico County voting public is unaware that the Cap exists as the law of the land. Why? Because many of that voting public is under the age of 40, and 2000 was long before they had to be thinking about tax hikes and referendums.

Our second hunch – also confirmed – is that the Revenue Cap is not easily understood.  It is not, in easy to understand parlance, easy to “explain to your neighbor.”

So, we’ve attempted to do something about that. Our study can be found online at the GSC website, greatersalisbury.org. Our work includes a white paper, which sums up the background of the Revenue Cap, and asks some questions that we think are pertinent in 2018. It also includes two different Power Points:  a “short version” of our study; and a longer and more comprehensive look.

The GSC study draws some conclusions, just as any comprehensive study should. We think there are some inherent challenges that exist in the current Revenue Cap, and we’ve recommended some thoughts on how to work through those challenges. In other words, our study concluded that, just as hundreds of counties across the country with Revenue Caps in place have learned, there are some adjustments that can – and we, think, should – be considered by our elected leaders to make sure that the identified shortcomings of our Revenue Cap can be corrected.

Mike Dunn is President & CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee.

 

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