Tag Archives: property taxes

Friedson Floors Ficker on Taxes

By Adam Pagnucco.

Friends of White Flint made a huge score last week when they landed the heavyweight battle of the year, at least for MoCo tax geeks: a debate between Council Member Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson and long-time anti-tax activist Robin Ficker. Friedson and Ficker are the authors of Questions A and B, dueling tax limit charter amendments on the ballot this year. No quarter was asked and no quarter was given!

First, a reminder of what these tax questions would do. Question A (the Friedson amendment) would freeze the property tax rate and allow it to be increased only by a unanimous vote of the county council. Question B (the newest of many Ficker amendments) would allow property tax collections to rise at the rate of inflation and remove the current ability of a unanimous council to override it. Both questions impose limits on property taxes that the vast majority of Maryland counties don’t possess, although Question A would raise more money than Question B over time.

Friends of White Flint invited Friedson and Ficker to discuss their charter amendments on a Zoom meeting and they did not disappoint. Stiff jabs, hooks and uppercuts were thrown (virtually of course) as the high school linebacker and Muhammad Ali’s running partner put on a show. But Friedson threw the winning punch with this statement:

What Robin Ficker will not say, what he is not telling you, is when he repeatedly talks about that 8.7% property tax increase [in 2016] based on this ridiculous tax policy that we currently have, his property taxes, not just his tax rates, his property taxes, the literal dollars that Mr. Ficker pays today, are lower than what they were when property taxes were raised.

This is a true statement as can be verified from county records. Ficker was charged $4,920 in county property taxes on his Boyds home in 2016 and has been charged $4,723 this year, a 4% drop in his taxes. This is despite a slight increase in his property’s assessed value. Ficker’s experience demonstrates a quirk of the current property tax charter limit that his charter amendment would convert into a hard cap: because the charter limit ties revenue growth to inflation and not growth in the assessable base (which is usually higher), it can actually result in cuts to property tax rates and reductions in collections from some specific properties, including Ficker’s. Friedson argues that this deprives the county of the full tax benefits it could otherwise derive from growth and serves as a disincentive for economic development.

Ficker had no response on the issue of his county property taxes.

The full video is below.

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New Ad Supports Question A

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery Countians for Question A & Against Question B, a ballot issue committee headed by David Blair, has announced its first ad. The ad and accompanying press release appear below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 7, 2020

Scott Goldberg
Montgomery Countians for Question A & Against Question B
Scott@AistheAnswer.com

PRO QUESTION A & ANTI QUESTION B EFFORT LAUNCHES

Group Headed by David Blair Announces First Round of Ads Supporting Fiscal Responsibility

Montgomery Countians For Question A & Against Question B is spearheading a significant campaign to pass Question A and oppose Question B on citizens’ ballots this fall. A broad spectrum of growing groups and individuals share this policy position including the Greater Capital Area Association of REALTORS® (GCAAR), Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teachers Association, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Montgomery County Education Association, the Montgomery County Democratic Party, Jews United for Justice, the Sierra Club, SEIU Local 500, all 8 State Senators and 32 Delegates representing Montgomery County, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, and former Republican Councilmember Howie Denis.

Enacting Question A is a fix to our broken property tax system. “I strongly support Question A. This common-sense measure will set a consistent property tax rate so we can adequately plan to fund our schools, parks, and libraries,” according to David Blair, Chair of the Council for Advocacy and Policy Solutions and the ballot issue committee. State Treasurer Nancy Kopp has this to say: “Montgomery County is the gold standard in this country when it comes to public finances because our leaders make thoughtful, reasoned decisions. Question A continues allows county officials to balance budget stability, fiscal responsibility, and financial flexibility in a crisis. Question B would endanger Montgomery County’s financial well-being, threatening our triple AAA bond rating and creating instability for future budgets.” GCAAR has been working in close collaboration and their 2020 President, Danai Mattison Sky, says “Question A would modernize the property tax charter limit allowing for proper, measured growth in the county. Question B would threaten the financial stability of our county and endanger our AAA bond rating. GCAAR is proud to stand For Question A and Against Question B.”

In the coming days, the Committee will release digital ads, a social media plan including Facebook (@QAistheAnswer), Twitter (@AistheAnswer), and Instagram (@QAistheAnswer), direct mail and launch a website which can be found at www.AistheAnswer.com.

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State Audit: Thousands of MoCo Homeowners Overcharged on Property Taxes

By Adam Pagnucco.

The state’s Office of Legislative Audits (OLA), which is part of the General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services, is one of the most useful offices in all of state government. Its many audits of state agencies are often must-reads for those who care about the proper functioning of government. And this week, OLA dropped a bombshell:

Because of mistakes made by the state in calculating homeowner tax credits, thousands of MoCo homeowners have been overcharged on their property taxes.

In most states, local governments assess property values, send property tax bills and handle appeals. Maryland uses a hybrid system in which the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (DAT) calculates assessments and tax credit values which the local governments use when they send tax bills. The state handles appeals.

OLA audits agencies all over state government. On October 5, OLA released an audit of DAT that contained many troubling findings. Of most significance is its finding that a mistake in calculating homeowner tax credits resulted in thousands of MoCo homeowners being “improperly” – yes, that’s the word OLA used – overcharged on taxes.

OLA’s Finding 5 starts with this statement.

DAT did not ensure HTCs [homeowner tax credits] were properly calculated. As a result, HTCs awarded to thousands of homeowners in certain jurisdictions were improperly reduced by at least $4.4 million in fiscal year 2019. Most HTCs are calculated automatically by DAT’s automated system based on applicant income data entered in the system by DAT employees. Certain HTCs are calculated manually by DAT employees when a homeowner does not receive an individual real property tax bill (such as in the case of a housing cooperative) or for new home purchases where the tax credit must be prorated for less than a year.

The improper HTC calculations that we address in this finding were the result of DAT’s incorrect treatment of certain additional tax credits offered by certain local jurisdictions. Because each local jurisdiction may or may not provide its residents with other tax credits, which are in addition to the HTC provided for in State law and are paid for by the State, each jurisdiction could be impacted differently or not at all by this finding.

Let’s recall that Montgomery County offers MANY property tax credits and exemptions.

OLA continues:

DAT did not periodically review the programming of its automated system to verify that it was calculating HTCs in an accurate manner and in accordance with the law. As a result, DAT was not aware that it had incorrectly programmed the system and that HTCs for residents of at least one jurisdiction (Montgomery County) were not being calculated consistent with the law as further described below…

DAT’s automated system improperly deducted the income tax offset credit (ITOC) administered by Montgomery County from homeowners’ State and County real property tax liabilities, resulting in the HTCs awarded to homeowners in Montgomery County being improperly reduced. Specifically, individual homeowners under the age of 65 had their State and County HTCs improperly reduced by amounts up to a total of $692, and homeowners at least 65 years old had their HTCs reduced by amounts up to a total of $1,038. Based on our analysis of HTC applications processed in DAT’s automated system for Montgomery County residents in fiscal year 2019, the improper reduction of homeowners’ tax liabilities resulted in reduced HTCs awarded to 5,388 applicants totaling $4.4 million. We determined that, based on the automated system’s programming for Montgomery County, DAT improperly calculated HTCs dating back to at least 2005 in the same manner. We could not readily determine the amount by which HTCs were improperly reduced for years prior to fiscal year 2019…

DAT received advice from its legal counsel on January 23, 2019 that confirmed our determination that DAT’s HTC methodology commented upon above was incorrect.

OLA offers this example of DAT’s miscalculation of the homeowner tax credit.

As the above example shows, the state’s miscalculation of the homeowner tax credit increases the homeowner’s tax liability, resulting in an overcharge on property tax bills. One of OLA’s recommendations was that DAT “consult with legal counsel on how to proceed regarding any refunds resulting from the HTC miscalculations including the $4.4 million noted above.”

DAT (which refers to itself as SDAT) was not having any talk of refunds. DAT responded:

SDAT disagrees with the sentiment of impropriety in the statement “HTCs awarded to thousands of homeowners in certain jurisdictions were improperly reduced by at least $4.4 million.” Before OLA began their audit, SDAT made a policy determination that increased the amount of tax credits received by certain jurisdictions in future years. Subsequent conversations with SDAT’s Assistant Attorney General confirmed that this is the appropriate course of action moving forward, but the Department does not feel as though prior year calculations were inaccurate as they were consistent with the Department’s practice at the time and implicitly upheld by PTAAB and Maryland Tax Court decisions.

OLA shot back:

DAT’s statement that the PTAAB and the Maryland Tax Court “implicitly upheld” the specific calculation method we addressed in our report is not consistent with its position during our audit fieldwork or subsequent to the audit when we discussed the finding with DAT management. Furthermore, the statement is questionable since the specific calculation method we addressed was demonstrably improper, and our assessment that the calculation method was improper was consistent with advice DAT received from its legal counsel in January 2019 as noted in our report.

So the two agencies are deadlocked. OLA can’t force DAT to give anyone any refunds. But the General Assembly can and OLA is an arm of the legislature.

MoCo’s 8 state senators and 24 delegates need to get all over this like white on rice. Government bureaucrats don’t get to screw up, get caught and then say, “Sorry, we’re keeping the money.” If OLA’s findings hold up, our delegation must ensure that any MoCo homeowners who were overcharged must be identified and paid refunds.

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Leggett Responds to Seventh State on Question B and School Funding

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former County Executive Ike Leggett sent us the following statement about this morning’s post on Question B and school funding.

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Thanks to Seventh State for providing a public service by describing the state maintenance of effort law on school funding (“Would Question B Harm Schools?”). You accurately conclude: “… the bottom line is that Question B would do far less to hurt MCPS than the rest of county government.” Trust me, no one understands that point more than I do. As County Executive, I had to make deep cuts to county government to get us through the great recession of a decade ago. The fact that Question B would harm the county government more than it would harm the schools does not make the case that Question B would not harm the schools. Your article confirms the point that Bruce Adams and I have made that Robin Ficker’s Question B could harm our schools and public services. I urge Montgomery voters to vote against Question B.

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Would Question B Harm Schools?

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the key claims made by some opponents of Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest charter amendment on taxes) is that it will harm schools by limiting growth in property tax revenues. For example, former County Council Member Bruce Adams wrote on Maryland Matters: “Ficker’s amendment would not let even a unanimous council act to preserve our quality schools and services.” Former County Executive Ike Leggett also told MCM in an interview that it could “certainly impact schools.”

Is that true?

First, let’s remember what Question B would actually do. Right now, the county charter limits annual growth in property tax receipts to the rate of inflation (with a few exceptions) unless the county council unanimously votes to go over the limit. The last time that happened was in 2016, when the council voted to increase property taxes by 8.7%. Question B would remove the ability of the council to exceed the limit, thereby imposing an absolute cap on property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. (Question A, a competing tax limit charter amendment authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson, would raise far more revenue than Question B over time.) Because of Question B’s limit on revenue growth, some opponents criticize it for potentially damaging many different kinds of county services, including schools.

But school funding is different from most other kinds of funding when it comes to charter limits. The reason for that lies in a fight between the counties and the state back in 2012. At that time, the counties were struggling with the budgetary effects of the Great Recession and several of them had cut local per pupil school funding below the floor established by the state. The state responded by passing SB 848, which made a number of changes to the state’s maintenance of effort law on school funding. One of them allowed counties to circumvent their charter limits to fund school budgets. (State law preempts county charters.) The exact language of this part of the bill, which is now contained in Md. Education Code Ann. § 5-104(d)(1), reads:

Notwithstanding any provision of a county charter that places a limit on that county’s property tax rate or revenues and subject to paragraph (2) of this subsection, a county governing body may set a property tax rate that is higher than the rate authorized under the county’s charter or collect more property tax revenues than the revenues authorized under the county’s charter for the sole purpose of funding the approved budget of the county board.

That means that a county can exceed its charter limit for the purpose of funding its school budget. A majority of county council votes are all that is required to raise property taxes for MCPS’s operating budget regardless of what MoCo voters put in the charter.

Five counties in Maryland have charter limits on property taxes: Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot and Wicomico. Since the maintenance of effort law was changed in 2012, three of them – Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Talbot – took advantage of their new authority under state law to circumvent their charter limits and raise taxes for schools. (Talbot did it three times.) Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich proposed doing the same in his FY21 recommended budget, but the council rejected his tax hike. (It’s not a coincidence that then-budget director and current Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno was one of the architects of the school funding exemption when he was in the State Senate.)

There are two ways in which Question B would indirectly affect MCPS. First, property taxes are a major source of revenue to pay off debt service, which is required to finance bonds issued for school construction. If reduced growth in property taxes impacts debt service, MCPS’s capital budget could become tighter. Property taxes also generate cash that goes into some school capital spending (like technology modernization). Second, county departments outside MCPS contribute ancillary services that benefit the schools. Examples include health and human services (school health nurses, health room technicians, childhood wellness, linkages to learning), police (crossing guards and school resource officers), libraries (research and internet resources) and recreation (sports academies). These services are not inside MCPS’s local appropriation and would be impacted by Question B.

Over time, Question B if passed would probably result in two pots of property tax money – one exclusively for the MCPS operating budget requiring a majority of council votes to increase, and another for everything else with growth capped at inflation. Smart people like Madaleno and the county’s budget analysts can figure out how to move money around to avoid the worst effects of this. Question B would still be a challenge to the county’s finances, a distortion to its budget process and an impediment to funding police, fire service, parks, libraries, road maintenance and more. That’s reason enough to vote against it. But the bottom line is that Question B would do far less to hurt MCPS than the rest of county government.

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Top Seventh State Stories, September 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in September ranked by page views.

1. Free-For-All
2. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening
5. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
6. Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety
7. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard
8. Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments
9. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
10. Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

Free-For-All, which called into question the county’s strategy for dealing with the police department, was the runaway leader this month. That suggests that there is considerable unease about the county’s approach to MCPD which goes far beyond the groups the county hears from regularly. School board candidate Lynne Harris’s criticism of MCEA, for which she later apologized, produced a flood of site traffic. The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre were circulated by her opponents on the sitting judge slate. The rest of the posts were mostly about MoCo’s charter amendments, on which voting has already begun.

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Leggett Speaks Against Questions B and D

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former County Executive Ike Leggett, who is chairing a ballot question committee opposing Question B (Robin Ficker’s tax limiting charter amendment) and Question D (a charter amendment for nine council districts), gave the interview below to MCM. Leggett previously wrote a guest blog for Seventh State on the subject.

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County Chamber of Commerce Takes Positions on Ballot Questions

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has announced that it is supporting Question A (Council Member Andrew Friedson’s tax limit charter amendment), opposing Question B (Robin Ficker’s tax limit charter amendment) and opposing Question D (nine council districts). The chamber took no position on Question C, which would keep the at-large council members and create two new district seats. The chamber’s press release is reprinted below.

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MCCC Board of Directors Votes to Oppose Questions B and D, Supports Question A
View the Official Sample Ballot

At its September meeting, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) Board of Directors voted for its positions on the Montgomery County ballot questions for the 2020 General Election.

“There is so much at stake on the ballot in this year’s election,” said Gigi Godwin, President and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. “The County ballot questions could potentially have long-lasting impacts for Metro Maryland’s residents and businesses.”

The MCCC Board of Directors recommends the following:

Vote FOR Question A – The Chamber strongly supports this change to the County’s tax policy by establishing a cap on the property tax rate instead of the total revenue that the County can receive. Importantly, Question A keeps the requirement an affirmative vote by all Councilmembers, as is currently required to raise the revenue limit.

Vote AGAINST Question B – Question B risks the County’s ability to respond to emergencies and could compromise the Triple-A bond rating which would increase borrowing costs by substantially.

“Question A is a strong solution to Montgomery County’s broken property tax system that promotes more transparency and understanding,” said Lowell Yoder, MCCC Board Chair. “It sets a consistent tax rate each year and is straightforward, as tax policy should be. By simply keeping tax rates stable, the County would generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue over time, without even raising taxes to do so.”

Vote AGAINST Question D – The Chamber strongly opposes moving to a nine district County Council. Currently, Montgomery County residents are represented by a majority of the Council (five votes): one district member and four at-large members. Question D would eliminate this majority representation.

“Question D arose out of frustration by the lack of Upcounty representation,” stated Leslie Ford Weber, MCCC Immediate Past Chair and Legislative Committee Chair. “The Chamber fully appreciates and acknowledges the need for fair representation on the Council; however, this proposed change is not the way to go about it.”

Currently, the Chamber is not issuing a recommendation on Question C or the statewide ballot initiatives.

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Ballot Question Committee Scorecard

By Adam Pagnucco.

Over the last few weeks, a spate of political committees have formed to support or oppose the four charter amendments on the ballot. At this writing, six have filed paperwork with the State Board of Elections. This post summarizes their information. First, let’s recall what these ballot questions are.

Question A: Would freeze the property tax rate but allow a unanimous vote of the council to increase it. Authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson.
See Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment.

Question B: Would remove the ability of the county council to break the current charter limit on property taxes, thereby capping property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. Authored by Robin Ficker.

Question C: Would add 2 district seats to the county council, thereby establishing 7 district seats and 4 at-large seats. Authored by Council Member Evan Glass.
See MoCo Could Use More County Council Districts.

Question D: Would convert the current council’s 5 district seats and 4 at-large seats to 9 district seats. Authored by Nine District for MoCo.
See Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats, Nine Kings and Queens.

These are the ballot question committees that have formed to advocate for or against at least one of the above charter amendments. Only one (Nine District for MoCo) has filed campaign finance reports so far, but that will change on October 9, when the next round of reports is due.

Nine District for MoCo

Formed: 7/24/19
Supports Question D (9 council districts), opposes Question C (7 council districts and 4 at-large seats)
Chair: Kim Persaud (Wheaton activist)
Treasurer: Mark Lautman
Contributions so far: $ 128,959 (includes in-kind of $37,286)
Website: https://ninedistrictsformoco.org/
Supported by MoCo Republican Party, Greater Olney Civic Association, Town of Laytonsville. Contributors include MCGEO, police union, fire fighters union, developers.
See Revealed! Funders of Nine Districts.

We Support Nine Districts

Formed: 5/7/20
Supports Question D (9 council districts)
Chair: Robinson Sean Rowe
Treasurer: Serina Cheung Moy (former candidate for Republican National Convention)
Contributions so far: NA (has only filed affidavits)
Website: https://ninedistricts.org/

Vote No on B & D

Formed: 9/11/20
Opposes Question B (Ficker amendment) and Question D (9 council districts)
Chair: Ike Leggett (former county executive)
Treasurer: Larry Rosenblum
Contributions so far: NA
Website: NA
Supported by former congresswoman Connie Morella, business owners David Blair and Carmen Ortiz Larsen.
See Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against.

Montgomery Neighbors Against Question B

Formed: 9/14/20
Opposes Question B (Ficker amendment)
Co-Chairs: William Jameel Roberts (former Jamie Raskin staffer), Jill Ortman-Fouse (former school board member)
Treasurer: Daniel Koroma (business liaison officer, Montgomery County Government)
Contributions so far: NA
Website: https://www.mocoagainstb.org/
Supported by CASA, Metro D.C. DSA, Jews United for Justice, LIUNA, MCEA, MCCPTA, MCGEO, Progressive Maryland, Progressive Neighbors, MoCo Women’s Democratic Club, SEIU Local 1199, SEIU Local 500, SEIU Local 32BJ, MoCo Women, Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.
See JOF, Progressives Take on Ficker.

Montgomery Countians For Question A & Against Question B

Formed: 9/14/20
Supports Question A (Friedson amendment), opposes Question B (Ficker amendment)
Chair: David Blair (businessman, former candidate for county executive)
Treasurer: Marjorie Anne Nemes Galarza (Latino Economic Development Center)
Campaign Manager: Scott Goldberg (Democratic central committee member)
Contributions so far: NA
Website: NA

Residents for More Representation

Formed: 9/17/20
Supports Question C (keeps at-large council seats and adds 2 districts), opposes Question D (9 council districts)
Co-Chairs: Marilyn Balcombe (Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, former candidate for council at-large), Michelle Graham
Treasurer: Deborah G. Williams
Contributions so far: NA
Website: https://mocoforc.org/
Supported by MoCo Democratic Party, MCEA, Jews United for Justice, Association of Black Democrats of MoCo, Latino Democratic Club of MoCo.
See Balcombe Co-Chairs New Group Opposing Nine Districts.

The MoCo Democratic Party supports Question A (Friedson amendment on taxes) and Question C (Glass amendment on county council structure). The party opposes Question B (Ficker amendment on taxes) and Question D (9 council districts).

The MoCo Republican Party has taken the opposite position on the ballot questions from the Democrats.

The Washington Post editorial board opposes all four questions.

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Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against

Guest column by Isiah Leggett.

Since leaving public office after 12 years as County Executive in December of 2018, I have been doing some travelling (pre-COVID), enjoying my family, and serving on a number of boards and commissions including as a member of the University of Maryland Board of Regents.

What I have not been doing is involving myself in County politics.

Until now.

Why now? Because I believe that two measures on the November ballot will seriously impact this County in significantly negative ways.

Question B is the latest offering from Robin Ficker. Question B would prohibit any increase beyond inflation in property tax revenue. The County already has the 1990 Fairness in Taxation law, which I authored to avoid a referendum with even more draconian limits a la Proposition 13 in Calfornia. That 1990 law limited property tax revenue from one year to the next to inflation plus the value of new construction, unless overridden by a super-majority of the County Council.

Additionally, a 2008 referendum approved by the voters upped the requirement to a unanimous vote of the nine-member Council to override the Charter limit.

I was elected County Executive just as the Great Recession hit this County. Over my 12 years, I closed budget gaps of over $3.5 billion. In 2011 alone, our budget gap was over one billion dollars. What did we do? We reduced the County workforce by 10 percent – 1,254 positions. I remember that number because it seemed to me that most of those folks contacted me personally. I furloughed employees – including myself. We restructured County employee benefits and retirement to save the County hundreds of millions of dollars. We renegotiated promised labor agreements. While maintaining critical services, we tightened the belt on all other County spending.

Some of our surrounding jurisdictions did some of these things. We did them all.

And, yes, after all that, we had to exceed the Charter limit on property taxes to help close those gaps.

Exceeding the limit was a last resort, not a first. That’s the way it should be in effectively managing a budget.

Given all this, I am proud that over my 12 years, property taxes only went up a total of one percent over inflation. And all County taxes as a percentage of County residents’ income actually decreased by five percent. That didn’t happen by accident. I truly needed all the tools at my disposal.

Under most circumstances, the Charter limit in property tax increases is practical. But there are those years where circumstances mean it isn’t.

Under Question B, even if we had four years in which the County didn’t even go to the maximum allowable tax, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, we could not — in a fifth year, when we were not so lucky — exceed the Charter limit by even a nickel.

That’s not penny-wise and pound-foolish. That’s just foolish.

Such a cap critically compromises our ability to deal with emergencies, whether natural or man-made. It could adversely affect the ability of our public safety agencies to protect our lives and property. It could compromise our Triple-A bond rating, increasing our annual borrowing costs by tens of millions of dollars.

Keep in mind that about half of the County budget goes directly to the schools. Public safety spending is 10 percent. Debt service on borrowing for things we build is about eight percent. That means over two-thirds of the budget already spoken for – without including Montgomery College, health and human services, transportation, libraries, housing, and more.

Forty-seven percent of County revenue comes from the property tax. Forty-two percent comes from the County income tax, which is at the legal limit and cannot be raised. An additional five or six percent comes from energy taxes. Add this all together and that’s about 95 percent of the money we take in.

Question B is a bad idea at any time. Right now, given the pandemic, it is totally nuts.

Question D is likewise a bad idea. In a previous referendum, some years past, it lost overwhelmingly. And rightly so.

Now we have a mixed system — four at-large seats and five geographical district seats. This mix helps ensure local representation, plus it builds in and strengthens an overall County perspective. County residents are represented by their district member and four at-large members. Each citizen gets five votes. Question D would limit that number to only one.

Jurisdictions across America are finding that this blend of at- large and district seats works best – better than all at-large and, yes, better than all district as proposed in Question D.

Change can be a good thing. Or not. Our job, as voters, is to separate change that moves us forward versus change that undermines common sense and practicality. Questions B and D will both throw a wrench into the operational machinery of local government – to no good end.

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The writer served on the Montgomery County Council from 1986 to 2002. He was County Executive from 2006 to 2018.

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