Lying in a room in the County Executive Office Building in Rockville Monday afternoon was a box with “9% Never Again” written in big letters.
Inside the box: More than 16,000 signatures from Montgomery County residents. Robin Ficker said he has collected that support for his proposed ballot initiative, which would prohibit the county from raising property taxes above the rate of inflation.
If the petition is approved, it would appear on the November 2020 ballot. Ficker needs to submit 10,000 valid signatures to the county Board of Elections by July 27.
The impetus for Ficker’s latest petition drive was a 9% property tax increase that Democrats in power approved in 2016, the largest in seven years.
Barry Hudson, a spokesman with the County Executive’s Office, wrote in an email Monday that the signatures would be delivered to the Board of Elections on Tuesday. The board will then determine if Ficker has enough valid signatures.
Hudson wrote that the Office of the County Attorney would then prepare the ballot question, and the County Council would approve placing the ballot on the question if it “conforms to law.”
Ficker, a Republican who has run for county executive and other positions, said on Monday that he started collecting signatures following the 2018 general election. He said residents who talked to him represented a racially and politically diverse segment of the county’s population. He said residents have been hurt by the 2016 tax increase when it comes to affordable housing.
“[The property tax increase] caused a lot of housing to be shoved up into the unaffordable category,” he said. “It caused the raising of lots of rents. It caused foreclosures. It kept stuffed in apartments a lot of minorities who aspired to get into single-family homes.”
Ficker said he worries that higher property taxes will drive away business from the county, citing recent reports that Northern Virginia and Prince George’s County have outpaced Montgomery County in job growth.
“We lost Discovery Channel. We lost Honest Tea. … I think if businesses are certain, as they will be when this question passes, that they’re not getting big tax increases, then they’ll be more likely to locate here,” he said.
Ficker, an attorney, has introduced successful ballot measures before. In 2008, voters passed a charter amendment that limited property taxes to the rate of inflation unless the County Council unanimously approved the change. And in 2016, his petition that limited council members and the county executive to three four-year-terms was passed by nearly 70% of the voters.
Ficker doesn’t think his current petition will get as much support, but he still believes a majority of voters will approve it.
“I don’t think it’ll get 70%, but I think it’ll pass. I think it’ll get at least 55% of the vote,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org