After nearly six months of delay and debate, Montgomery County's state delegates have voted in favor of stripping the county's private clubs of a tax break that saves them an estimated $1.2 million annually.
The delegates voted 10-7 last Friday to endorse a bill sponsored by Del. Lutz Simmons that would gradually increase the taxes levied on 19 such clubs until 1986, when clubhouses, golf courses and tennis courts would be assessed at the same rate as private homes.
Under present law, the clubs' taxes are based on approximately 11 percent of the value of their property, while homes are assessed at a 45 percent rate.
Although Simmons estimates passage of the bill would bring Montgomery $143,000 in additional revenue during the first year alone, it also would drive up membership fees in the county's exclusive clubs by as much as $47 per year. For that reason, the measure will have stiff opposition among Montgomery County's state senators, who will vote on it next week.
Opponents of the bill argue that Montgomery clubs deserve their present tax privileges.
"They are a great asset to Montgomery County's life style," said Sen. Howard Denis, explaining why he is "leaning against" the proposal.
"They perform a very valuable social service, and not just for their members," Denis said, adding, "many of them are in my district."
Some county legislators and the country club owners say that if the clubs' tax advantage were withdrawn, memberships would drop off and the clubs eventually might have to close and sell their undeveloped property for subdivisions. Any loss of open green space in Montgomery, they argue, should be avoided, even if use of the space is restricted to a few.
Simmons argues, however, that the tax advantage amounts to a government subsidy and is blatantly unfair. Besides, he says, there are larger issues at stake.
"Other counties and other delegations are not going to take Montgomery's real fiscal problems seriously when we are giving away money to country clubs," he says. "This is part of the image of Montgomery -- as the rich county that doesn't need help from the state."