Prince George's County Executive Winfield M. Kelly, Jr., said today he will seek a property tax rate increase for county homeowners of at least 15 cents and possibly as much as 26 cents.
He left the choice between the higher and lower figure, in effect to county members of the General Assembly in a continuing effort to pressure them into passing his proposals for revisions of the tax laws.
If they go along with Kelly's revisions, he told members of the county delegation here today, the 15-cent increase will be possible. If they balk 25 cent figure, with all the negative political consequences, will be necessary.
The proposed increase, if approved by the County Council, would have a greater-than-usual impact on county homeowners because many of them have recently had their home assessments raised dramatically.
The 15-cent increase over the current tax rate of $411 per $100 of assessed value would add about $45 to the costs of a person owning a home taxed on a $30.000 assessment. The 26-cent increase would cost the same person nearly $80.
Kelly has been seeking his delegation's approval of a "tier tax" proposal that would allow him to impose different property tax rates on homeowners, apartments, commercial property and industrial property. Currently, the rate must be the same for everyone.
His proposal has been blocked in the legislature the past two years and top state officials have said they will try to block it again this year.
Nonetheless, Kelly structured his proposed fiscal 1978 budget around the "tier tax". It would increase taxes on apartment property by 94 percent on commercial and industrial property by 22 cents and on homes by 15 cents. Without approval of the proposal he said, all property would be taxed at the 26-cent rate.
Throughout the four-hour budget presentation delegates interrupted Kelly to question him on a programor project taken out of their districts. Other questioned him on the equity of the tier tax. Kelly took the lead in assuring the delegation that this austere budget proposal was not his way of pressuring the delegation to accept his tax proposals.
"I'm her merely as one of your stewards who you have charged with managing the county," Kelly said, provoking laughter since some members of the delegation had complained that on the contrary, Kelly was orchestrating a one-man show.
Since the first of the year, Kelly had held a series of press conferences in which he said the $12 million in program cuts would be necessary to balance the budget. He also asked citizens to pressure the delegation to consider new taxing methods. There was little citizen outcry but the delegation was angry at Kelly's indirect lobbying efforts.
This year, Kelly presented his budget to the delegation two months ahead of schedule in order to help push his tier tax through the General Assembly. The Tactic has - to some extent - backfired.
"This year we are not going to be the bad guys, taking the blame for taxes like we did for the tenant tax," said Del. Frank B. Presciy (D. Prince Georges).
Sen. Meyer M. Emanhuel, Jr. [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Prince Georges) was also explicit. "If this is a substitute for the tenant tax, I won't have it. We can't continue to legislate Kelly's budget for him. He has to find another way."
Kelly's priority in his proposed budget was schools. The Board of Education was permitted an increased next year of $17 million, from the current school budget of $230 million.
All other county agencies, such as police, fire, community college and social services, were held to a 3 per cent increase in their payroll budgets in order to provide cost-mf-living increases.
"It certainly looks nice, much better than last year," said Maureen K. Steinecke, a school board member and legislative liaison.
Last year, in fact, Kelly trimmed $18 million from the proposed school budget and opened a bitter feud with thousands of parents, teachers, and school officials that culminated with a last minute protest march on Upper Marlboro and the temporary arrest of three teacher union leaders.
This year, after months of fencemending, the school leaders have promised to close under-used elementary schools and have received county government cooperation in return. School officials have also received a $4 million cut in federal impact aid that the county treasury has to cover now.
In this opening budget statement, Kelly told the delegation that inflation and the property tax systems were at fault for the budget problems. The county could no longer depend on property taxes as the major way to earn money, Kelly said, and he asked for reform this year.
Next year is an election year and Kelly reminded members of the Democratic delegation that they had all won election in 1974 on a propety tax reform platform that he wanted them to honor.
"I am convinced that I share with you a conviction that methods exist to reduce local government's reliance on the real property tax. Just as you have cooperated with us in the past in helping us find alternative revenue sources, I am sure you will continue to do your utmost to aid in our current efforts," Kelly said in closing.
There was no consensus in the delegation to support the tier tax. The delegates asked Kelly for specific estimates of the effect the tax would have on tenants, who would bear the burden of any tax levied on apartment propequity of such a system.
"What is your answer if this proves to be a regressive tax and places a greater burden on the tenant than the home owne," asked Del. Craig S. Knoll.
Kelly responded: "It would be a difficult tax to levy on a social basis and I don't know what my answer would be."
"We are left with this problem bebility to reform the unfairness of the property tax," Kelly concluded.