EASTON — Easton Mayor Robert Willey and members of the Easton Town Council are looking to regulate tax abatement requests on a stricter basis.
Willey advised council members on Monday evening, Aug. 5, of more than $500,000 in tax abatement requests submitted by local nonprofits and other government groups after the town’s budget was set.
The Town of Easton handles such requests on a case-by-case basis.
“We need to set up a procedure for how we want to handle these requests in the future,” Willey said. The policy would apply to businesses, government entities and not-for-profits.
Town officials also face increasing pressure to offer local police and fire departments competitive starting salaries, along with expensive water maintenance repairs popping up around town.
“... We should have, as a governing body that approves our budget, a set of criteria that we can at least use as a guide for if these (requests) should be approved or not, I don’t think we have that at this point,” Easton Town Council President John Ford said.
Local not-for-profits — including the Neighborhood Service Center, Habitat for Humanity, Avalon Foundation, Talbot Historical Society and the Talbot County Free Library — have submitted tax abatement requests to the town. More specifically, the Neighborhood Service Center recently requested to abate this year’s property taxes. Talbot schools also requested to partially waive building permit fees last fall for the new Easton Elementary School, but the request was denied.
“You don’t have to have an overly active imagination to see a need for raising taxes in the town to meet public safety requirements in the not-so-distant future,” Ford said. “It behooves us to have a pretty good handle on what abatements we’re doing and have a set of criteria we use for approval or not.”
Councilman Ron Engle agreed for the need to create a criteria to evaluate tax abatement requests.
“We can’t lose of the sight of the fact that we just threw ourselves on top of a very slippery slope on keeping up with public safety ... When we step up, it’s going be a big step up,” Engle said.
These are “worthy requests, but we need to be judgmental,” Ford said.
Easton Police Chief David Spencer also gave a report at the meeting, including that two Easton police officers recently resigned after accepting positions with the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office and the Queen Anne County Sheriff’s Office.
The Easton Police Department now has five vacancies, and applicants were interviewed this week.
“Being five officers down is concerning when, as this council knows, that puts a lot of pressure on scheduling for the different shifts at the police department and places an extra burden on the officers that are here,” Ford said.