While several council members have indicated they want to abide by the charter limit, others say it is nearly impossible to stick to it this year without severe cuts in government services.
This year's tax debate comes less than six months after voters rejected a referendum, which had been petitioned onto the ballot by anti-tax activist Robin Ficker, that would have eliminated the County Council's ability to override the charter limit.
But Caldwell is warning county leaders that the anti-tax movement is priming for another election-season referendum battle next year unless the charter limit is adhered to this time.
"I will establish a [Political Action Committee] to raise the money for a petition drive and referendum next year if the council doesn't show some responsibility," Caldwell said.
There are signs the anti-tax movement has learned from its mistakes and is becoming more politically savvy.
Caldwell said the next ballot campaign won't be associated with Ficker's name, which opponents of the referendums have used to try to muddle the underlying issue through such phrases as "Another Ficker Folly."
"We are not going to have Robin Ficker's face on this," Caldwell said. "We are going to have the face of people who have been hit by property tax assessments.
Know Your Enemy
As they gear up for another possible campaign in support of a referendum to limit property taxes, anti-tax activists have begun to study how last year's referendum was defeated by a margin of 59 to 41 percent.
The biggest reason, Ficker said, is the money raised by the Vote No Coalition to oppose the tax referendum and two other questions on the ballot.
Ficker recently obtained the Vote No Coalition's final campaign finance report. The report shows that the group, which was organized by several dozen community leaders and elected officials, raised about $110,000.
But 62 percent of that money came from 15 organizations. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce contributed $12,000. The Montgomery County Career Firefighters Association and a Washington-based organization called MAPAC-2 each contributed $10,000. The Montgomery County Education Association gave $7,000.
The Communications Workers of America, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, Marriott International Inc., Wilco Construction Co., Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, and several other organizations each donated at least $1,000.
Most of the rest of the money, about 27 percent, came from the campaign accounts of County Council members and Duncan. Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) was the only council member who did not contribute.
Less than 4 percent of all contributions came from citizens.
"When you have all the hands at the table, it's pretty easy for all the hands to raise that money," said Ficker, a Republican candidate for county executive. "They didn't have broad-based support. They had powerful insiders, and they control the insiders."