Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

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“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

 

“Montgomery County’s expensive private attorneys”

From the Washington Post website of July 15, 2017:

“Montgomery County accumulated excessive legal bills to pursue a lawsuit against the designers and builders of the long-delayed Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring.  When all these payments are added together, Montgomery County, in a case that never went to trial, will have paid more than $18 million and will have received a settlement only $6.7 million higher. ….It is absurd to pay $6.5 million for outside counsel for a case that didn’t even go to trial.  “

Questions for the meeting of June 14, 2017

Questions for the meeting of June 14, 2017

Topic:   Affordable Housing in Montgomery County: Vouchers or New Construction?

Speaker:  Clarence Snuggs, Director, Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Montgomery County

June 14, 2017  — Free and open to the public — 7-9 pm. —  Council Office Building

The following questions have been sent to Mr. Snuggs in advance of the meeting:

1. Could you provide us with definitions of the various categories within which you operate?

    • MPDU versus affordable housing versus low-income versus median income housing
    • – what are the income cut-offs and are they pegged to inflation?
    • – what are the other qualification requirements for each category?

2. The Department of Housing and Community Affairs (HCA) has 96 employees and a budget of $52M with an infusion of funds from HUD.  One strategy deployed is affordable housing through payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT).  Another strategy is requiring 12.5-15% of multifamily housing to be moderately priced also known as “mandatory inclusionary zoning”.  How are these strategies working?  What was HCA’s primary performance goal for FY 2017.  Did you accomplish the goal?  Have you revised your plans for FY 2018 and is this reflected in the FY 2018 budget?

3. County Executive Leggett announced a new program to help qualified applicants purchase a home with the support of the Montgomery Homeownership Program. The down payment assistance program is available for buyers with qualified incomes to purchase a Montgomery County home as their primary residence, up to a $429,000 sale price (up to $525,000, in certain neighborhoods.)  Applicants who qualify and are approved may access Down Payment Assistance loans in amounts up to $40,000 – or up to 40 percent of the household income of the prospective homeowner – whichever is less.  Approved buyers also will receive a below-market rate. Montgomery County has committed $1 million to this program.  What are your measures of success for this program and how will you handle defaults on the loans?

4. The Housing Opportunities Commission, is a different organization within the county which also deals with affordable housing, but with a much smaller budget ($6M).  Is there overlap or do each of the two organizations have separate and  distinct missions?

5. How does HCA handle reports of unlicensed rental homes?  Does HCA check to ensure that rental homes and condos using vouchers are licensed?  How does HCA determine that rental income is being declared on state and federal tax forms? How much tax revenue do you estimate we lose from unlicensed rental units? 

6. Given that most mid- and low-income homeowners/renters use the strategy “drive until you qualify”, has the county considered underutilized commercial land or vacant office parks as an avenue to increasing affordable housing?  And as transportation is a major cost concern for low- and some middle-income buyers/renters, would this mitigate the problem?

7. We understand that there are about a thousand homeless people in Montgomery County.  Several studies have shown that providing permanent housing is the solution to improving health and well being for people without homes.  What is the county doing to enable homeless individuals and families to find permanent housing?

Next Meeting: TBA

County, Schools Arrive At Plan For Fully Funding Schools’ Budget

From BethesdaBeat.com May 15, 2017:

“The Montgomery County Council agreed to supply the county’s public schools with $1.663 billion during fiscal 2018, enough when combined with state and federal aid to cover the $2.522 billion spending plan backed by the school board….The $1.663 billion funding level suggested by the county executive is about $19 million above the state-required minimum…The council is expected to finalize the MCPS budget later this month.”

Questions for the meeting of April 19, 2017

Topic:   ” The Montgomery County Police Department and Performance-Based Budgeting”

Speaker:  J. Thomas Manger, Chief of Police, Montgomery County

April 19, 2017  — Free and open to the public — 7-9 pm. —  Council Office Building

The following questions have been sent to Chief Manger in advance of the meeting

1. Almost every police department in the country has performance targets to reduce crime.  We assume that such targets do exist for the Montgomery County Police Department.  However they are not included in the budget or strategic plan (except for strategy 1.3.2- traffic safety).  How do these targets compare, over the last 5 years, with those in Fairfax County where you were the Chief of Police prior to your current appointment?

2. Other than crime reduction, many police departments use performance measures such as clearance rates, response times, and enforcement productivity (#of arrests, citations, “stop and frisk” searches, etc).  Are these useful measures for the Montgomery County Police Department?  How do you measure whether the department is working intelligently, using appropriate methods and having a positive impact? 

3. How much of the $115 million for Patrol Services goes for Community Policing?  The research shows that unreported crimes such as crimes against youth ages 12-17 and crimes committed by someone the victim knows well, for example, are 2-3 times higher than reported crime rates.  Would these and “invisible” crimes such as crimes within the family, white collar crime, crimes involving intimidation, etc. be covered by community policing? 

4. The $43 million budget for Strategic Direction 1, “Reduce and Prevent Crime and Create Safer Communities”, is allocated to Field Services.  What are the performance measures for this category; more specifically, by how much will this $43 million reduce crime?

5. The budget for Investigative Services is $46 million.  What are the performance measures for this category inasmuch as they relate to reduction in crime? 

6. Management Services- How much of this $73 million budget relates to Strategic Direction 1 (e.g. body cameras), and how much relates to the other 4 strategic directions?  How does the cost of overhead functions compare to other police departments such as those in Fairfax and Howard counties?

7. How large is the fleet and what is the budget for operating and maintaining this fleet?  How does this compare to other police departments such as those in Fairfax and Howard counties?  What are some of the metrics used to make these comparisons?

8. Last year, personnel of the Police Department received a 4% pay raise,; at the national level the increase was 2.3% as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This year’s budget includes a general wage increase of 2%, service increase of 3.5%, and longevity increase of 3.5%.  Are these pay increases linked to the productivity of the Police Department?  How does the average annual compensation (salary plus overtime) compare to police departments in   Fairfax and Howard counties?

9. The retirement plan for county government workers is a defined contributions plan.  The retirement plan for the Police Department is a much more generous and expensive defined benefits plan.  Can you give us some reasons for the discrepancy between the two?  Also, what percentage of those retiring this year are retiring on a disability?

10. Are there initiatives that longer term would make your department more efficient and save taxpayers money that are not in your budget due to belt tightening?

11. What is your process for identifying cost savings?  What cost savings are included in this budget?  Other police forces have implemented cost saving measures, have you considered or implemented any of these: 

– eliminating land line phones for officers that have department-issued cell phones

redesigning patrol deployment and creating shorter shifts to optimize coverage during periods of high call volumes and reducing coverage during times of low call volumes

– fleet reduction measures

 

State pension fund is $20 billion in the hole and yet we pay an estimated $500 million a year in fees to investment fund managers.

From the Maryland Public Policy Institute an article published April 7, 2017, written by Jeff Hooke, a finance lecturer at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School

“Maryland legislators aren’t the only ones ducking the issue.  When the board of the [Maryland State Retirement and Pension System] met in February, the lengthy agenda failed to mention that investment returns for 2016 were 1.5 percent below the average of similar funds, suggesting an income shortfall of $600 million, an amount equal to Maryland’s annual tax revenue from gambling.”

 

MCTL Supports IG for WSSC

On January 27, 2017, MCTL President Joan Fidler presented testimony in Annapolis to the Montgomery County Delegation.  Her testimony was in support of a proposal (Bill MC/PG 110-17) to create the Office of Inspector General for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), the bi-county agency which provides water and sewage service to many Marylanders.  The proposal would also create an Office of Inspector General for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

 

 

 

Notes from the meeting of Oct. 26, 2016

Notes from the MCTL meeting of Oct. 26, 2016

opic: Are Slow Reassessments Hurting Property Tax Revenues?

Speakers: Mike Coveyou (substituting for Alexandre Espinosa)

Department of Finance, Montgomery County

Diane Schwartz-Jones

Director, Department of Permitting Services, Montgomery County

Questions sent to speaker in advance (below) are followed by an overview of the discussions at the meeting:

1. What were some of the causes leading to this loss of property tax revenue?  Were there gaps in accountability?

2. What is the annual budget for the Department of Permitting Services (DPS)?  How many inspectors are authorized in the DPS budget?  Have they increased or declined over the past 5 years? How are workloads projected for DPS inspectors?  Are there trade-offs between new vs improvements to properties?

3. How are inspector backlogs managed to ensure timely and accurate assessments?  What incentives do inspectors have to reduce backlogs? 

4. How are expired permits tracked and follow-up inspections performed?

5. Why are the processes for controlling inspections and the interface with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) not automated?

6. How do inspection backlog standards compare with those in Fairfax and Howard counties?

7. How does the Department of Finance project revenues for new and improved properties?  How much revenue was not collected in FY 2016 and 2017 due to procedural weaknesses at DPS? at SDAT? 

8. As a result of the Inspector General’s report, when will corrective actions be implemented and how much will they cost?  How much in additional property taxes will the county regain in FY 2018, 2019 and 2020 as a result of corrective actions? What role will SDAT need to play to make DPS changes implementable?

9. It is estimated that the county has lost $52 million a year in revenue through granting of Income Tax Offset Credits (ITOC) for non-owner occupied homes.  The county claims that it lacks the requisite State authority to remove these credits on failure to submit the form. But the county uses exactly the same qualifications to grant Homestead Credits. State law that authorizes ITOC directly references State law that authorizes homestead credits.  Why has the county not sought authority from the state to remove the ITOC from every property whose owner has not submitted a homestead credit verification form?  Can you justify this loss of revenue? 

The meeting was called to order at 7:03 pm by President Joan Fidler. Attendance was 16 including the two speakers.

It was an informative discussion. Here is an overview:

Ms Schwartz-Jones stated that the IG report on slow reassessments was misleading and that her office did not agree with the appropriateness and cost-effectiveness of some of the IG’s recommendations.

The annual budget of the DPS is $37.7 million with a total staffing of 236 positions. Of these, 85 are inspectors. However, the DPS is an “enterprise fund” and is self-funded through the fees it collects. It receives no direct taxpayer funding.

Most important, the DPS performs next day inspections, i.e., inspections are performed no later than the day after the request is received. Hence there are no inspection backlogs. In FY16, DPS received applications for over 60,000 permits and licenses (commercial, residential, trades, signs, zoning, etc.). Over 110,000 people were served at the DPS walk-in counters. In FY15 DPS performed over 157,000 inspections and reviewed over 92,000 plans.

DPS has a far-reaching mission and not only includes permitting services but allocates its revenues between competing public safety and economic development objectives. Thus it has inspectors for commercial building, fire prevention and code compliance, residential construction, land development and zoning and site plan enforcement.

Property assessments are performed by the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, but the local jurisdictions in Maryland pay half the cost of MSDAT’s expenses. In addition, DPS has supplemented MSDAT resources with the provision of technology and technical assistance. , There are differences in the terms”cost estimate”, “fair market value” and “assessed value”, mostly due to timing

A trigger for reassessment would be a substantially completed improvement that adds at least $100,000 in value to the property. This generally translates to an increase in 694 – 887 square footage for an addition. The DPS issued 762 permits between January 2014 and April 2016 for additions over 800 sf and 1,868 permits for additions under 800 sf..

Every property is reassessed every three years, so those properties which have large changes in assessed value between assessments are eventually assessed appropriately. However, if substantially completed improvements to a property add at least $300,000 in value, an assessment can be done between scheduled assessment cycles. While there is a loss of tax revenue due to the lag in reassessing improved properties, that loss is relatively minor, per DPS. Furthermore, to devote more DPS resources to faster reassessment would mean that resources would need to be diverted from other DPS areas.