Patch asked the candidates for the May 3 election to share their opinions on more than a dozen topics relating to the city.
In this installment, the candidates for Havre de Grace mayor—incumbent Wayne Dougherty and challenger City Councilman Mitch Shank—discuss taxes in Havre de Grace:
Dougherty is proud of his accomplishments with taxes while Mayor.
“The last four years I’ve been Mayor, I’ve lowered the taxes every year,” he said. “We’ve got a penny in this year for reduction. We’ll see how council handles that.”
Dougherty reflects back to when he was first elected, having had the foresight to start setting Havre de Grace up to survive the economic struggles that the entire nation has endured.
“Did we expect it? I could see the writing on the wall,” he said. “I saw it in 2007 when I became Mayor, and I started making cuts at that time without cutting services. That was the most important part. Taxes are inevitable. We’re not going to get away from it.”
Dougherty said the city’s services are tied directly to taxes, and it’s an expense he can live with.
“I feel our taxes give us a clean community, a safe community, and provides the service necessary,” he said. “I think our crews have clearly demonstrated that with the last two winters and our weather events. I think our employees clearly demonstrate that with the major events we have in our city. Public safety and cleanliness.”
Dougherty thinks the city has done well in lowering the tax rate over the last few years, but he sees the potential for another five cents to be cut.
“I’d like to see them go a little bit lower,” he said. “I look to one day seeing that tax rate down to about 55 cents. Right now, I’m doing everything that I can. We are cutting everything that we can. Hopefully, we are weathering this storm and we will weather this storm.”
Shank said the city needs some vision for taxes.
“We have to come up with a three-to-five-year plan,” Shank said.
Shank’s biggest issue with taxes is in terms of residential tax—where he feels Havre de Grace residents are paying a significant amount more than their neighbors in Harford County.
“Havre de Grace’s property taxes are 20 percent higher than for the exact same house in Bel Air. Their tax rate is 50 cents, ours is 60. That’s a 20 percent difference,” Shank said. “The people who are moving down here, all the sudden, are going, ‘Whoa.’”
Shank said the question potential residents need to ask is, are the city’s perks worth it?
“Those who live along the Susquehanna River, from the lighthouse north, pay an additional 10 percent property tax. Critical area,” he said. “We’re the only city left in the state that has a 5 percent boat slip tax. We have the highest business tax. In his budget, [Dougherty] is raising the ramp fee from $8 to 10. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a 25 percent increase.”
Shank sees the distributed expense from the water and sewer fund as a cover-up for enabling a tax cut.
“[Mayor Dougherty] is proposing a one-cent tax reduction and a 10-percent water-sewer increase,” Shank said. “That, to me, is almost a wash.”
Shank said there’s a general disrespect for the taxpayer within City Hall, and he has one long-term goal that could help solve that perception.
“One of the things I’d like to see is all the department heads required to live in the city,” Shank said. “I think that would change, it would take time, but it would change the way they think when they make recommendations.”
Other issues the candidates for mayor have addressed: