Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan proposed a $494.8 million budget yesterday that would reduce the real estate property tax rate by 19.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Hogan said his budget reflects his priorities of reduced taxes, increased emphasis on public safety and continued support for education, but County Council members complained that his tax cut is too large and that it does not provide enough money for police protection or teachers' salaries.
"We may be able to come up with some type of reduction, but coming up with 19 1/2 cents is very, very difficult," said council member Frank Casula.
The budget reflects a 4.8 percent increase over last year's budget. Hogan said he was able to increase spending while decreasing the property tax rate by "cutting out the fat" from county government through such economies as reducing the number of jobs through attrition and merging the services of various departments.
But a few county politicians charged that the proposed cuts are the result of cost-cutting measures more painful to country workers and county residents. "He's holding salaries down, letting buildings crumble and letting sidewalks and roads deteriorate," said one county politician. "Sooner or later we'll have to pay the price."
Hogan's budget proposal would result in $15.6 million less in property tax revenue for the county than the amount permitted under the property tax cutting measure known as TRIM. Under TRIM, the county cannot collect more than $140 million in property taxes. The balance of the county's $494 million budget would come from state and federal aid, and county fees and fines.
Hogan said he decided to set the property tax rate at an amount lower than that required by TRIM because "people want their property tax lower. My whole goal as a public official is to return that money to the taxpayers."
Hogan's budget proposal would cut the property tax rate from $2.68 per $100 of assessed value to $2.48 1/2 per $100. Homes in the county are assessed at 45 percent of market value. As a result of the property tax reduction, the owner of a $60,000 home that was not reassessed this year would pay about $55 less in taxes than last year. For the owner of a similar home whose property was reassessed, the reduction would average only about $18.
The largest chunk of the county budget, 60 percent of $300 million, would be devoted to education. School board spokesman Brian Porter said the amount, a 9.4 percent increase over last year, would not be sufficient to cover a raise for the teachers and that the school board would appeal to the county council for more money.
The budget also calls for an increase of 48 police officers, bringing the police force to about 890. But most council members have decided to add 100 police officers instead of the 48 proposed by Hogan.
Other proposed budget items include $14 million for the county government, $5l million for police and fire protection, $4 million for Metro and $15 million for public works and transportation.