The Montgomery County League of Women Voters, the county school board and the local AFL-CIO political committee have begun intensive efforts to defeat the charter amendment to roll back property tax rates-similiar to California's Proposition 13-that Montgomery voters will face on the ballot Nov.7.
These organizations are the first of several groups to announce oppostion to the TRIM (Tax Relief in Montgomery) referedum sponsored by the county Taxpayers League. It would slice from $50 million to $90 million from the county budget.
But the attempts to form an anti-TRIM coalition like the successful movements to defeat similar ballot propositions in 1974 and 1976 have floundered. Although three meetings of county officials, leaders of the Council of PTAs, several chambers of commerce and a few other organizations have been held, no umbrella organization has emerged.
"There is a change in mood from previous years," said Kenneth K. Muir, information spokesman for the school board. "It is like a Proposition 13 fever out here."
The Taxpayers League proposal which will be Question E on the November ballot, seeks to put a ceiling of $2.25 for each $100 of accessed value on the property tax rate. The only way the county council could raise the rate above $2.25 would be to hold a public hearing and override the limit with six of the seven council votes.
The debate has been further complicated by unresolved disputes over exactly how much the Taxpayers League proposal would cut from the county's operating budget, which this year is $568 million.
The Taxpayers League contends that the proposition would relate only to the "real property tax," which is $2.60 for each $100 of assessed value. But County Attorney Richard Mckernon has issued an opinion that the rollback would have to be applied to the overall property tax rate of-on the average-$3.60 per $100 assessed value, which includes extra taxes for services such as recreation and fire protection. (The rate varies from area to area in the county depending on the number and cost of the services provided there.)
According to County Council staff estimates, the least the budget would be reduced by under the TRIM proposal would be $47 million, while the measure could slice as much as $121 million-or more than 20 percent-from the protected fiscal 1980 operating budget.
TCounty Executive James P. Gleason Council President Elizabeth Soull and School Board President Elizabeth Spencer recently asked the Montgomery County Bar Association to issue an opinion in the dispute. But the bar association declined this week, saying it is "inappropriate" for the organization to "advise the county government.
It was Gleason who convened the first meeting leading to the anti-TRIM movement. On Aug.30 the executive, council and school board officials and their staffs met to discuss "what might, could and should be done to inform people about the effects of TRIM," according to one participant.
But it was quickly decided that it was not the role of government to lobby politically. Citizen leaders from the League of Women Voters. Council of PTAs, the Community Ministry and chambers of commerce were invited to the second session Sept. 7 at the county office building.
The elected officials stayed briefly, expressed their concerns and left the meeting, according to participants. The citizen leaders could reach no decision on a coalition effort because most of their groups had not acted on the TRIM proposal.
A similiar meeting yesterday was inconclusive after the boards of the Rockville, Montgomery County and Gaithersburg Chamber of Commerce announced they would support TRIM, the league announced its opposition and the community ministry declined to take a position. The PTA council board had not yet met to vote.
Tenants and other special interest groups will be invited to a meeting Friday, said James P. Goeden, executive director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, which has been a leading opponent of TRIM.
Goeden who has spoken frequently against TRIM because it could result in a "cut of services that most citizens would consider essential." He called the lack of t a united front "disappointing."
"But it's a different situation this year. If the election were held today TRIM would win," said Goeden. "A lot of people-enlighted people-are saying they know it is irresponsible to vote for TRIM but they are so fed up with the county government that they'll vote for TRIM just to send a message. They say they see all this spending and not one bit more in services.
At the start of the school year, the school administraion began its own anti-TRIM initiative through letters and broadcasts to employes and parents estimating that at least $25 million would be cut from the budget if TRIM passes.
On Monday, the school board voted 4 to 1 with two abstentions and one member absent to to oppose TRIM.
School spokesman Muir conceded that he is "walking a thin line" between providing information about the effect of TRIM and lobbying against it. "But I'm going to try to walk that line," he said.