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Should the Council Make it Easier to Raise Property Taxes?

Select from the following points those you want to communicate in an email to your County Council member(s).  For best effect, tailor these points in your own words and send a separate email to each Council member you communicate with, asking them to vote no on the Commission’s proposal to drop the unanimous vote requirement for raising the tax rate.  You can read the Charter Review Commissions April 2024 report at link below.  Thanks for your support, Gordie Brenne, Treasurer, Montgomery County Taxpayers League

  1. The County has Excess Reserves: Last year the Council approved a 4.7% tax rate increase with just 8 votes, and that combined with huge appraisal increases clobbered home owners and renters with the maximum tax increase permitted under state law of 10%.  The tax rate increase was unnecessary because it produced a revenue gusher this year, and next year’s was forecast to yield excess reserves of 15.4%.  A unanimous vote would have prevented this.

  2. One-Person Veto is a Myth: Up County would be most impacted by weakening the unanimous requirement because the three up county Council members could get drowned out by a super majority of 8 down county members.  We agree with the minority opinion in the Commission’s report (pg. 22) that that a unanimous vote makes each Council member accountable, increases their impact, and the voice of underrepresented parts of the county. A unanimous vote would give undecided members the opportunity to join that member and be heard, rather than be trampled by the majority.

  3. Housing Costs are Skyrocketing as Assessments Increase: Property taxes are a significant driver of housing cost increases.   Homeowners’ Credits do not adjust property taxes for inflation to protect low-income residents.  Higher housing costs and scarcity underpin racial segregation in schools, and make it harder for seniors to retire in place.  Assessments are controlled by the state, but a unanimous vote would increase the Council control over tax increases.

  4. Structural Deficit Fail Safe: Of the three decision points in the Charter that control spending and revenues (pgs. 13-14), tax rate increases are the last control and should have the strongest vote hurdle. As happened last year, less than unanimous spending control overrides could result in higher recurring costs and structural deficits in future years without a unanimous vote for tax rate increases.  Last year’s tax rate increase was approved with only 8 Council votes, and was supposed to be for an education emergency that justified overriding the Charter’s unanimous vote requirement.  But most of the spending was for recurring County costs.  MCPS got only 37% of the additional money raised- approximately $100M.  County employees got above market pay raises (estimated cost- $38 million) advocated by powerful county unions, but not supported by a comparative salary survey last done 13 years ago; and, county supplemental appropriations approved during the year ($25 million so far) were not justified in the budget process, for a total of $63 million for the county, not MCPS. 

  5. Accountability and Transparency: Increased public confidence in county governance is reinforced with a unanimous vote.  Confidence stems from a better County and MCPS budget process that justifies spending with numbers, not words for outcomes.  The public should be able to see how spending links to objective returns on investment to conclude their money is being spent wisely.  Moody’s bond underwriters just placed a “negative outlook” on the state because of likely structural deficits from growing education Blueprint  costs.  This puts increased pressure on local county funding sources. 

  6. MCPS Spending Trade-Offs: A unanimous vote for tax increases will assure these tradeoffs are fully and publicly debated, consistent with the “fair and predictable” governance process argued in the Commission Report (pg. 17). A growing bureaucracy that doesn’t dramatically improve literacy and math proficiency is not sustainable. The state's Maintenance of Effort law prevents any Council debate over what's in the base of the MCPS budget where most of the achievement gap strategy money is buried along with overhead costs (we estimate 45% for non-instruction).  Spending that doesn’t improve literacy and math proficiency takes money away from our kids, and squeezes funding for other County programs that could improve the lives of lower income residents more, like affordable housing, public health and safety.  

For more info check out Civic Fed June Newsletter Article, pg 21


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