A drive by a citizen's group to force a referendum on a proposed telephone tax in Prince George's County could lead to a 4-cent increase in the property tax rate instead of the 10-cent' decrease that is planned, the county executive warned yesterday.
The drive is being conducted by a group calling itself Prince George's Citizens Against Nuisance Taxes. The group recently filed petitions bearing 6,000 signatures with the Maryland secretary of state seeking a 1978 referendum on a law that would give the county authority to impose a 10 per cent telephone service tax.
If another 6,000 signatures are filed by July 1, the tax, which county officials are relying on to supply $7 million to their budget, will be blocked until the vote.
County Executive Winfield M. Kelly declared yesterday that the alternative to the phone tax is raising the real estate property tax.
"The ($414 million county) budget was signed yesterday," Kelly said, "and with the telephone tax revenues, it provided some relief for the tax payers" through the planned 10-cent decrease in the property tax rate. "But with the revenues lost, I will have to set the (property) tax rate 14 cents higher than anticipated."
Tim Maloney, the 20-year-old spear head of the referedum movement, denies responsibility for any potential property tax increase.
Kelly "must bear the responsibility," Miller said, "especially if he won't cut the budget or if he won't impose the commercial and industrial tax." The county is authorized to levy up to 5 per cent in taxes on commercial and industrial leases.
"It is a myth they can't cut anymore expenditures. It's just a re-election gimmick," said Maloney.
Kelly said the petition drive was "a matter of politics and a gearing up of unrest for 1978 when local offices are up for election. If they need to make a challenge to local government, I wish they'd take it to the general election."
Kelly said he believes that his telephone tax proposal is an equitable one. "It moves away from the property tax and spreads it to apartment dwellers, as well as business and commercial interests," he said.
The proposed tax would levy a 10 per cent surcharge on residential service, with exemptions for senior citizens who meet certain age and income limitations.The surcharge would cost phone customers "usually about $1.25 a month," said Kelly side John Lally. There also would be a message unit charge on commercial and industrial phone service.
Maloney said the phone tax would "placegreater burden on lower and middle income groups and senior citizens. This is not a reform measure but a regressive tax - the Band Aid approach to tax reform.
"The petitions just show the over whelming sentiment against the omnibus taxing authority of the county," Maloney said.
Kelly said he had no quarrel with the referendum process to produce tax reform. "I'm not going to try and mess with it. They have the right to do that. It is one of those safeguards of democracy.
"But when it is abused, it can become a tool for special interests that seek to avoid taxation. If they are successful, they would be playing tospecial interests - the landlords and commercial interests," Kelly said.