Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

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Questions prospective voters could ask candidates for county and state office.

Many voters have asked us to come up with thoughtful questions that they could ask of candidates for local and state offices.  Too often we hear the same promises of greater support for schools, better transportation and lower taxes.  But very little is said about how a candidate intends to achieve these goals.  Our questions below are designed for voters to ask candidates directly so they can get a specific answer as to how the candidates intend to fulfill their promises.

 

County Level:

1.  Now that debt service accounts for 10% percent of the county budget and is for all intents and purposes at its ceiling, how would you address school construction needs?

2.  The Department of Liquor Control is run by the county government and handles the purchase, warehousing and sale of liquor bringing in $28 million in revenue in a $5.5 billion county budget.  Do you believe that the county government should employ 442 county staff and cover their salaries and benefits or does this function belong in the private sector?

3.  The County Executive’s budget proposal for FY 2019 gives the school system $2.59 billion of which $19 million is over and above the mandated Maintenance of Effort level.

–  Do you believe that the school system, while it describes how it will spend the increase, should also show how the increase will produce results?  How would we know that such results have been achieved?

  • 45% of the MCPS budget is overhead (non-instruction), Should MCPS cut overhead costs before it gets an increase in county funding? By how much?
  • Public school budgets are created by non-elected public employees without formal input from the taxpaying public.  What would you do to make the taxpayers feel more confident that the schools are spending their tax dollars wisely? Is it time for an Inspector General for MCPS that would look not only at waste, fraud and abuse but also at program performance?

4.  According to Maryland’s State Department of Assessments and Taxation, there were just 19 new filing for new businesses in Montgomery County in FY16. In the year before there were 57 new business filings in the county. What specifically would you do, at the county level, to encourage business growth in Montgomery County?

5. In addition to reduced income tax forecasts, recordation/transfer and energy taxes are forecast to be lower than expected over the next 5 years.  What are some of the programs or services where you would reduce spending to balance the budget?

6.  County employees will get a 2% cost-of-living increase along with a 3.5% “step” increase in FY 2019.  Do you believe this comports with wages in the private sector in Montgomery County?

7. It has been said that collective bargaining gives unions an unfair advantage in arbitration, leading to pay raises way above market and the highest paid employees in the region.  Would you support changing the arbitration rules? Also would you support more transparency in collective bargaining negotiations so that the public is aware of the “going in” positions of labor and management and is allowed to express their opinions at a public hearing before the agreement is finalized?

8. County income taxes have varied significantly from forecast for the last 2 years.  Property taxes are less volatile, but stagnant, and subject to Charter limits.  Would you support increasing property taxes on home improvements by treating them as “new construction” and thus gaining more for the county in property taxes – without Charter limit restrictions? In other words, do you support the inequity of property owners of unimproved properties supporting those who have made major improvements to theirs?

9.  WSSC, the largest monopoly in the state of Maryland, has prepared a six-year fiscal plan that requires 6% rate increases to maintain the debt service it has accrued to meet its net revenues.  WSSC also has ad valorem taxing authority to raise county property taxes. What oversight would you propose to make WSSC an efficient and effective monopoly to avoid these annual rate increases or even an increase in property taxes? 

10. What specific experience do you bring to the office to which you wish to be elected which demonstrates your development or implementation of a program in the public sector.

State Level

1.  The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System has $20 billion in unfunded liabilities.  The last time the State fully funded the system was in 2000.  Further, the State pays $500 million a year to financial management firms to manage pension investments at no higher a return than low-cost index funds.  Should we continue to pay out $500 million a year to these firms?

2.  For every $1 that Montgomery County taxpayers send to Annapolis, we get 20 cents in return in direct aid.  Howard County, a wealthier county than ours gets 24 cents on every dollar.  How would you get us, at least, to Howard County levels?

3.  Our delegates to Annapolis inform us, every year, that they have passed a “balanced” budget.  True, in one sense.  However it excludes long-term liabilities which in pensions alone exceed 10s of billions.  How would you provide transparency in budgeting?

4. According to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation there were just nineteen new business filings in Montgomery County in FY16.  In the year before, there were 57 new business filings in the county.  What specifically would you do, at the state level, to encourage more business growth in the county?

5. Would you support Maryland Public Service Commission oversight of the WSSC, the largest monopoly in Maryland? Would you support privatizing the WSSC?

6. Do you favor the modernization of the state’s laws governing breweries? Breweries—most of which are small businesses—are limited to 2,000 barrels of beer they can sell to visitors in their tasting rooms. They can sell an additional 1000 barrels but only by adhering to a “buy back” provision requiring that they sell the extra beer to a distributor and then buy back their very own beer. This puts our breweries at a competitive disadvantage regarding surrounding states and hinders job growth and the concomitant increased tax revenue.

Next Meeting: Monday, April 9, 2018 – 7:30 – 9:30 pm

 Montgomery County Taxpayers League

 in partnership with

 Montgomery County Civic Federation

 

Monday, April 9, 2018  –  7:30 – 9:30 pm

Lobby Level Auditorium, Executive Office Building

101 Monroe Street, Rockville, MD 20850
PLEASE NOTE NEW TIME AND VENUE

Free and open to the public

                                                                       

Topic:   “ The Taxpayers’ Take on the FY 2019 Montgomery County Budget”
 
Speaker:  Alexandre Espinosa, Director, Department of Finance,  Montgomery County Government
 
The meeting will start with a presentation of the taxpayers’ view of the budget followed by a Q and A session with the Director, Department of Finance, Montgomery County.  Please bring your questions to the meeting. 

 

“The Top 20 Highest-Paid Montgomery County Employees in 2017”

From Bethesda Beat March 16, 2018:

“Twelve of the top 20 highest-paid Montgomery County government employees in 2017 were firefighters…. In 2017, there were 33 firefighters among the 50 employees who made more than $200,000….Two firefighters—captains Raymond Sanchez and Patrick Stanton—have been among the top 15 highest paid county employees since 2014. In those four years, Stanton collected $1.014 million in salary and overtime pay, while Sanchez collected $975,970….Just six women were among the 50 highest-paid employees in the county…County Executive Ike Leggett received $192,800 in gross pay last year, making him the 66th highest-paid employee in the county. ”

 

 

Improved Properties Are Not Being Reassessed Properly

Unimproved property taxpayers are subsidizing more expensive, improved property owners.  How big is the under-assessment problem?  A 2017 report estimates that Montgomery County’s residential property assessment base would be $2.7 to $3.6 billion higher, resulting in an additional $140M in annual property tax revenue.

Read the report by Gordie Brenne and Carol Placek

 

 

‘Montgomery County Bracing for Long-Term Revenue Decline’

From bethesdamagazine.com:

“Montgomery County is revising its six-year revenue forecasts down by more than $400 million as income tax revenue lags behind previous projections…[County Executive Ike] Leggett noted that during the recession the county passed a savings plan of about $970 million in one year. But he said cutting spending at that rate isn’t possible anymore, given how much had to be cut from the operating budget during the years of economic decline from 2008 to 2011.”

Read the full story.

Questions for meeting of November 15, 2017

Questions for the meeting of November 15, 2017

Topic:  “Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation:  Bringing Jobs to  Montgomery County?”

Speaker: David Petr,  President and CEO, Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation

Free and open to the public

The following questions sent to the speaker in advance of the meeting:

1. The Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) has produced several publicity campaigns, including “Moco365,” “We are Montgomery County,” and “Think Moco.”  What has been the largest concrete accomplishment of these campaigns?  What particular businesses and quantifiable economic activity have they brought to the county?

2. Your previous experience includes:  President and CEO of the Central Florida Development Council and Executive Director of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council.  What was your greatest success in these positions?  What parallels do you see between these regions and Montgomery County that have informed your work here?

3. Despite a $1,127,000 boost in the FY 2017 budget, the MCEDC remains less well-funded than its Fairfax and Prince George’s county counterparts, which receive $7.5 million and $9 million, respectively.  Do you believe this puts Montgomery County at a great disadvantage relative to these neighboring counties?  Are there plans to expand the MCEDC budget to achieve parity and what successes would MCEDC achieve?

4. To what extent do county and state laws and regulations hamper the mission of the MCEDC?  What changes or new legislation will help you achieve your goals?

5. Montgomery County boasts many other economic development groups, including countywide and municipal chambers of commerce, Rockville Economic Development, Inc., and the Latino Economic Development Center.  How has your organization collaborated with these existing institutions?

6. A focus of the MCEDC appears to be biotechnology: the website highlights two biotech companies, Medimmune and Qiagen.  Is biotech the only reliable investment for Montgomery County taxpayers?  What about other key industries–agribusiness, cyber security, financial services, tourism, IT, and healthcare–and what would attract them to Montgomery County?

Next meeting:  January 17, 2018

Comments on Planning Board presentation of Oct. 25, 2017

MCTL Member Max Bronstein had these comments about the Oct. 25 presentation by Casey Anders, Cir, Montgomery County Planning Board:

There is an emphasis on walkable & bikeable communities & that’s fine for those who choose to live in that type of dense setting, but the majority of the county’s 1.1 million residents have not chosen that lifestyle & are not choosing that lifestyle going forward.  Also, if biking is applied to commuting, it’s less than 1% of commuters who travel on a bicycle.  Also, try hauling 6 grocery bags on a bike after shopping.  Biking & walking for exercise & recreation, is fine. Just recall that seniors are the largest population growth segment & many can walk only short distances & usually don’t bike at all.”

Mr. Bronstein’s full comments are here

 

 

“Setting the Record Straight on MCPS Funding”

From Seventh State, Oct. October 13, 2017, a letter to the editor from Nancy Floreen, a member of the Montgomery County Council:

Were the preceding seven years really a period of “austerity” for MCPS and “lavish” times for others?  Consider the facts….

2. During the worst years of the recession, FY09-12, only two agencies – MCPS and Montgomery College – saw increased funding. To be sure, the increases were small (1.8 and 3.2 percent, respectively) and relied on higher State aid. But during this same period, vital County functions like Police, Fire and Rescue, and HHS were down 3.4, 5.0, and 14.7 percent, respectively.  Recreation was down 23.5 percent, and Libraries was down 29.2 percent.”

And here’s the response to Ms. Floreen’s letter:

“The schools need small, steady increases in per pupil funding to deal with their challenges. There can no longer be wild swings between extended periods of per pupil cuts and freezes followed by huge tax hikes intended to undo the effects of those cuts and freezes.”

 

Meeting of October 25, 2017: MoCo Planning Board Decisions

        Montgomery County Taxpayers League Meeting

                                www.mctaxpayersleague.org

                            Wednesday, October 25, 2017 – 7-9 pm
                        Council Office Building, 3rdf floor Conference Room
                          100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20817
                    Free and open to the public
Topic:  “How do Planning Board decisions affect the Taxpayers of Montgomery County?”
Speaker: Casey Anderson, Chair, Montgomery County Planning Board