Silent Tax Hike – Montgomery County Council sneaking in a 4.5% property tax increase
Rockville, MD -- At a time when unemployment claims in Montgomery County have increased by 4,717% since the first week of March, our County Council has agreed with County Executive Elrich to give notice that they are “considering” an increase in the property tax rate “4.5% higher than the constant yield tax rate [which] will generate $62,978,926 in additional property tax revenues.”
Mr. Elrich admitted in his March 15th budget proposal that the current COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate the decline of income tax revenues in the County. But rather than tightening its belt, like families and private businesses must do, Mr. Elrich asked the County Council to drastically increase property taxes to make up the difference. I was heartened by the March 16th response from eight of the councilmembers: “this is a time for cautious decision-making, not property tax increases.” And thus, I was surprised by the County Council’s notice on Thursday that they were, in fact, “considering” the full tax increase.
At a time when small businesses throughout the County are closing their doors and desperately hoping to survive long enough to reopen, this proposed property tax increase is obscene. This may be why the County Council has worked so hard to hide it from the public. Thursday’s legally-mandated notice in the print edition of the Washington Post is the only trace of it. The notice is not published online and the Council’s calendar entry for the April 21st meeting makes no mention of it. This notice was allegedly approved at the Council’s March 31st meeting, however (and possibly in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act) the recording shows no discussion of this issue whatsoever. In fact, it was approved unanimously – and without any debate – as part of the “consent calendar,” which is reserved for uncontroversial matters.
Currently, the Council will only be accepting written testimony [firstname.lastname@example.org] from the public for the April 21st meeting. This is in direct opposition to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation’s guidelines that residents be able to give live testimony remotely.
The Montgomery County Republican Party strongly urges the Council to allow residents to register to be heard by phone at this meeting. Millions of Americans are learning new teleconferencing skills; surely the County Council can do the same before they raise our taxes.
UPDATE 4/7/2020: MCGOP has heard responses from three of the eight Council Members who had previously stated their intent to vote against a property tax increase. Andrew Friedson maintains that “I remain opposed to a property tax increase and will vote against one.” Gabe Albornoz states, “Council staff has recommended a rate that exceeds Constant Yield Tax Rate (CYTR) to provide flexibility to the Council as it considers the many decisions during the budget.” Lastly, Hans Riemer claims “It’s just a standard bureaucratic process and doesn’t indicate intent.”
However, the Council’s memorandum regarding the notice of potential property tax increase from last year specifically stated, “The Council may, in compliance with the law, advertise any rate that exceeds the CYTR. What the Council may not do is set a rate that exceeds the CYTR, or the advertised rate, without first holding a public hearing. Advertising a high rate in April gives the Council flexibility when finalizing the budget in May."
If the County Council was not even “considering” raising property taxes, they would not have needed to advertise the possibility of doing so. This begs the question, why give yourself the flexibility to do something you’ve sworn you will not do? Does the County Council deserve the benefit of the doubt?