At a public hearing on Tuesday, five Montgomery County residents strongly opposed a recommended property tax hike in the county’s proposed budget for next year.

The majority of the nearly 5-cent tax increase, proposed by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich in mid-March, would go to the public school system through a special supplemental property tax of 3.1 cents per $100 of assessed value.

However, the County Council has previously stated publicly that it would not support raising taxes.

In the recommended $5.9 billion budget, Elrich proposed a real property tax rate of 74 cents per $100 of assessed value. The current rate is 71.7 cents.

The weighted average of the real property tax and other property taxes adds to a proposed property tax of $1.03 per $100 of assessed value. The current rate is 97.9 cents.

The other property taxes included in the weighted average include taxes for fire, transit and parks and planning services.

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The council is required by the County Charter to adopt a budget by June 1. It is currently scheduled for a vote on May 21.

The next fiscal year begins on July 1.

County residents addressed a required legal notice recently published in The Washington Post that said the council was proposing an increase in the real property taxes. The format and wording of the ad is mandated by law, whenever a tax rate is not lowered to offset a rise in property values.

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Laurie Halverson of the Chevy Chase Women’s Republican Club said increasing taxes would drive people away from the county.

“Increasing taxes at this fragile time in American history is abominable,” she said, adding that it would be a “nail in the coffin” for anyone who can barely afford to live in the county.

Boyds resident and former county executive candidate Robin Ficker — who has said he is running for governor in 2022 – urged the council to cut the proposed budget.

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“The cuts that you should make should be much larger than what you anticipate today. … We don’t need a property tax increase that is going to force some people out of their homes and push much housing into that unaffordable category,” he said.

Ficker mentioned his efforts in collecting more than 13,500 certified signatures for a referendum on changing the county’s charter to limit property tax increases to the rate of inflation.

Resident Katherine Guglies said the proposed budget is “unsustainable” in 2021.

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“The 3.1-cent supplemental tax for schools will do nothing to stop declining academic performance,” she said. “The school system needs to use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to rethink how they’re educating students.”

It’s time for changes, not more money, she said.

Dan McHugh of the Citizens Charter Committee said the council needs to push Elrich to amend his proposed budget and to take the recommended tax hike out of it.

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The ad for increasing the real property tax caused confusion and anxiety in the county because the majority of the council members released a joint letter in March stating that they would not support raising taxes, he said.

“For future notices, please work on a better system so there’s not so much confusion,” he said.

McHugh said Elrich was “playing a game of politics” with the council.
“This is not a good idea right now,” he said. “We can have this debate next year.”

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Council Member Nancy Navarro said at the meeting that the ad was a formality required by state law.

“Yes, it has caused a lot of confusion. We are aware,” she said, adding that the council is considering, at the very least, a “same services” budget for next year. “Same services” refers to services carrying over at the same level from one year to the next.

“The bottom line is the budget is now in the council’s hands,” she said. “We are also working diligently with the executive, understanding that if further cuts need to be done, that he would have to send over a savings plan.”

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Council President Sidney Katz said the required ad of possible tax hikes always creates confusion and anxiety.

“We have had several people say perhaps the state should consider changing the way that we have to advertise this to explain it, to be transparent, but not to say it in a way that it has to be written under state law,” he said.

The council will continue to proceed without considering raising taxes, Navarro said.

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“We get what’s going on in our community and raising taxes is just not something that we feel is acceptable at this moment in time,” she said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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