MCTL President Joan Fidler testified in Annapolis against a proposal to create a special taxing district to finance transportation needs along Rockville Pike. The League opposes this bill because it is just another way for the county to bypass the voter-approved limitations on the budget.
Her testimony on HB 1279 was given on March 6, 2014, before the House Ways and Means Committee:
I am Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, and I am here to share with you our utter dismay and disappointment with HB 1279, Special Taxing Districts, Transportation Improvements and Exemptions from County Tax Limitations.
We register our opposition to the bill for several reasons but mainly because it provides yet another mechanism which, very subtly, does an end run around spending limits set by Montgomery County voters in 2008. It alters the definition of “cost” as it relates to taxing districts; it includes “certain” operating expenses; it allows a county (such as Montgomery) to set special rates for “any” class of property in a special taxing district and “under certain circumstances” it allows the county to set a property tax rate that is higher than the county tax limitation. But, of course, you are aware of all that.
This bill is, in effect, an insidious way to raise property taxes by cloaking it in the garb of transportation. So let’s look at the definition of “cost”; it will now include operating expenses. Let’s look at “certain” operating expenses; as we all know operating expenses like Tennyson’s brook can go on forever. So if, for example, some of our transportation projects require landscaping, the maintenance of landscaping will be an operating expense and can be added to debt service, a gift that will keep on giving for 30 years.
Next: Setting special rates for “any class of property” which will now include residential property. Will residential property owners be left holding the bag for the operational expenses of developers? Witness the special taxing district of White Flint where businesses volunteered and then reneged on paying for improvements – who stepped into the breach? Taxpayers.
But worst of all, the bill allows counties to set a property tax rate higher than the county limitation. The voters of Montgomery County expressly set a high bar for all property tax rate increases above the charter limit. This is an unconscionable attack on the express wishes of the voters of Montgomery County. Yes, we realize that most of the endorsers of this bill are from Montgomery County and we are also aware that it is our delegates who played fast and loose with charter limit rules for the flawed Maintenance of Effort law. Is it any wonder that our trust is at such a low ebb?
HB 1279 does not merely expand existing authority, it explodes it. Leave well enough alone. You just might regain our trust.
Joan Fidler, President
Montgomery County Taxpayers League
Bethesda, MD 20817