County Executive Candidates Talk Housing, Taxes During Realtors Forum

County Executive Candidates Talk Housing, Taxes During Realtors Forum

Three sitting council members defend decision to hike recordation tax in 2016

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Six county executive candidates participated in a forum hosted by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors

Bethany Rodgers

Candidates for Montgomery County executive faced an audience of Realtors on Monday to share their views on affordable housing, the recordation tax increase and the best neighborhoods for new arrivals.

All six Democratic hopefuls participated in the roughly 90-minute forum held at the Rockville offices for the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, which represents more than 10,000 real estate professionals in the D.C. area. The event gave the association a chance to ask the three County Council members in the race about their 2016 vote to increase the recordation tax assessed when properties are sold, a decision unpopular with real estate agents.

“The recordation tax increase was absolutely necessary to address one of the biggest issues our community faces, which is overcrowded schools,” County Council member Roger Berliner said.

County Council members George Leventhal and Marc Elrich also referenced the school construction needs that motivated the recordation tax hike.

But Maryland Delegate Bill Frick, another county executive candidate, said the county should’ve found another way to raise the money.

“I think the recordation tax increase was a mistake,” he said. “And frankly, I’m sorry you were put through what you were put through.”

Frick said unequivocally that he’d seek to reverse the hike, if elected, and would lobby for more state funding to address school construction challenges.

His rival, businessman David Blair, was less definitive in his answer.

Blair said he would’ve combed the county budget for savings before resorting to raising the recordation tex. When pressed about whether he would’ve voted yes or no on a tax increase, Blair acknowledged that the county in 2016 was “in a really particular jam” in light of the education infrastructure needs.  

“I believe I would’ve been able to find those savings,” he said. “If I couldn’t have found the savings, presumably we would’ve had to raise the recordation tax.”

He said he’d like to roll back the tax increase, if he can find budget savings to replace the lost revenue.

In response, Leventhal noted that the county’s operating budget is different from the capital budget that funds construction projects.

Rose Krasnow, a former Rockville mayor, said she would’ve supported the recordation tax if she’d been on the council a couple years ago.

The candidates also fielded questions about their ideas for increasing affordable housing in the county. When asked whether he supported rent stabilization, Elrich initially said he recognized the unlikelihood of getting a County Council to support such a measure. However, he elaborated on his perspective after Leventhal said he’d heard Elrich express “full-throated support” for the idea in past forums.

Elrich said he wouldn’t apply rent stabilization to new construction or to buildings with existing moderately priced homes. He said he’d support a law that would enable property owners to fund upgrades to their buildings.

“You can actually make a law that works,” he said.

Candidates also were asked where they’d advise a young couple making about $100,000 annually to live in the county.

Berliner and Blair both mentioned Silver Spring and Wheaton as possible choices. Frick said county leaders need to create communities geared toward attracting millennials.

Krasnow said she’d probably tell the hypothetical couple to explore renting an apartment that’s an accessory to a single-family home and added that the county needs more rental housing for all income brackets.

“The first thing I would advise a family with an income of around $100,000 is to find a good Realtor,” said Leventhal, to applause and laughter from the audience.

The GCAAR county executive forum—which was moderated in Rockville by Bethesda Beat reporter Andrew Metcalf—was for candidates in the Democratic primary, which is June 26. The forum was also hosted by the Apartment and Office Building Association and Maryland Building Industry Association.

Robin Ficker is the only Republican who has filed to run for the executive post.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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