Questions sent to Mr. Rice in advance of the meeting of Jan. 16, 2014:
Topic: ” The Financial Picture for Montgomery County in 2014″
Speaker: Craig Rice, President, Montgomery County Council
1. As this is an election year and though fiscal projections for the year, while they have improved, continue to prove challenging, how do you think taxpayers will fare versus powerful special interests? Will there be a trend upward or downward for property taxes and energy taxes? Do you foresee any new taxes or fees in the offing?
2. Constrained as we are by the Maintenance of Effort law, fully funding the MCPS at the state-mandated level would require a reduction in spending for all the rest of the services provided by the county government. How much is this reduction projected to be? How do you plan to meet the increasing demand for services by the poor, the disadvantaged, and the unemployed? For instance, it was recently noted that the county paid over $ 650,000 to cover permanent housing costs for 15 homeless people? How will you continue to meet such and other needs, cover wage increases for county employees and maintain the current quality of services while balancing the budget?
3. A recent report by the Maryland Public Policy Institute claimed that Maryland state and local governments carry nearly $28 billion in unfunded retiree health obligations. For Anne Arundel county, the number is $1 billion creating an exploding health benefits liability. What is the number for Montgomery County and how are we addressing the issue?
4. (a) The Homeowners Property Tax Credit is a means-tested tax credit. It is our understanding that a very small percentage, perhaps 20%, of eligible residents claim the credit. How do you spread information about this tax credit to all eligible homeowners? With more residents aging in place all of whom face increasing property taxes many with fixed incomes, how do you plan to publicize the program and should the means-testing be updated to reflect reality?
(b) For years the Homestead Tax Credit has been 10% for Montgomery County homeowners, the maximum allowed by law. Only a few jurisdictions have the 10% with a vast majority having a much lower percentage. Would you consider reducing this percentage to 5% over five years noting that the real estate market is increasing and in many areas of the county has increased much more than 10%?
5. Given your experience as a delegate to Annapolis, how can you ensure that our current representatives to the State legislature look out for the fiscal interests of Montgomery County? For instance, could the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs publish the voting records of our delegation on the county website? The State website is not user-friendly.
6. Several years ago, there were reports in the press that some elected officials were in arrears on their state and federal taxes. As the Taxpayers League, we believe that all taxpayers should be current on their tax obligations. How can the taxpayers of the county be assured that all elected officials in the county are current on their tax obligations? Is this currently covered under financial disclosure requirements or ethics laws?