Howard County community pools will not be getting property tax relief anytime soon.
The county council Thursday night voted 3-2 against legislation that would provide nonprofit swim clubs with a property tax credit, despite an attempt by the bill’s sponsor to garner support by proposing an amendment that would have lessened the credit.
“These pools have been in existence for 50 years and they’ve never asked for a dime from the county,” said Councilwoman Courtney Watson, D-Ellicott City/Elkridge/Hanover, before casting the final vote, the second in favor of the bill.
“And they’re not asking for a handout from the county now.”
Watson introduced the bill, which was co-sponsored by Greg Fox, R-Fulton, at the request of nonprofit swim clubs. The club owners wanted to address what they considered an inequity that resulted in their pools paying higher taxes than those that are part of a homeowners association, such as the Columbia Association.
Because of the way the nonprofit pools are zoned, Fox said, they were being assessed at higher rates than HOA pools, which are on land with open space designation.
But simply changing the zoning for the swim clubs so that their assessments were lower could also hurt the pools because “they still need the value of the land” to borrow against if they wanted money to make improvements, Fox said.
Calvin Ball, Kay Sigaty and Jennifer Terrasa, all democrats who represent Columbia, voted against the bill. Each said they appreciated the need that community pools fill, but that a different approach was needed to help support them financially.
Watson also introduced an amendment that would give the pools a 60 percent property tax credit as opposed to the full credit; it was unanimously voted down.
“The real question for me is, is the tax credit really the best way to help and is it the smartest thing for us to be doing at this particular moment in time?” Sigaty said before casting her vote.
Before casting his vote, Ball said there were still questions about the bill, but that there was an opportunity “for each of these swim clubs to engage in more rigorous fundraising, to challenge their assessments, to really do an honest evaluation of member fees.”
Ball also said County Executive Ken Ulman had sent a letter to the council saying that he would put together a group to study the issue and present recommendations in advance of next spring’s budget process.
Speaking to Ulman at a forum on Monday, Hammond Park Pool President Doug Dudek said a facility for about 200 families is paying more than $17,000 in property taxes.
“We’re running a deficit, which is where we’ve been the past couple of years," Dudek said. "Hammond pool has been around 50 years. This bill is where it’s at and we really would appreciate your support.”
Before casting her vote, Watson said that whatever comes of Ulman's study, "it is likely to cost the taxpayers more than this credit."