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Property Tax Opposition Grows in Montgomery

Some council members are determined to restrain spending and revenues -- notably, Andrews and Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Eastern County) -- but other members seem dubious about the need to do so. These are boom times, particularly in the real estate market, and prosperity, to many politicians, means a chance to spend money on ambitious programs, not retreat to basic services. "We're in the middle of a political emergency; it's not an economic emergency," council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said.

Even so, he has introduced a bill that would allow more residents to defer the payment of property-tax increases until they sell their homes.

Perez is skeptical about the strength of the anti-tax sentiment: "I'm not seeing a groundswell." He noted that in last year's election, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the county charter that would have forced the council to limit increases in property-tax revenue to the rate of inflation.

As it stands, the council can exceed that limit if seven members agree; the amendment on the ballot would have eliminated that override capability. The council has voted to override the limit in each of the past three years, and would have to do so again to fund Duncan's budget.

Duncan spokesman David Weaver said the county executive hasn't seen an increase in voters complaining about rising taxes. "We think that people in the county . . . are more willing than most to pay a little more to get more," he said.

This year, Duncan, who plans to run for governor in 2006, proposed a budget that for the first time in a generation fully funds the requests of the school system, the park and planning agency, and Montgomery College. It would create 225 positions in county government; would result in new spending on the arts; and would provide affordable housing and health care for the uninsured.

Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), who is preparing to run for county executive, is surveying constituents by e-mail. He said he has received 600 to 700 responses to a questionnaire he distributed with the subject line "Tell Me What You Think."

He said he hasn't yet tabulated the responses. "If there is a property tax rebellion out there, it's going to show up in my e-mail," he said.

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