The Prince George's County Council yesterday adopted a record $630.5 million budget and voted to decrease the property tax rate. For most county real estate owners the result will be lower tax bills without any cut in services.
Among Washington area jurisdictions, only Arlington County has managed to accomplish the same goal of reduced taxes without service cutbacks. The trend in all other counties and the District of Columbia has been ever-increasing taxloads for property owners to pay for soaring government costs.
In Prince George's, where real estate is subject to reassessment once every three years according to state law, those property owners whose homes have been revalued could get a slight tax rise, under the reduction of eight cents per $100 of assessed valuation approved yesterday. The amount was 11.5 cents under the reduction requested by Republican County Executive Lawrence Hogan, who threatened yesterday to veto the Democratic council's budget actions.
The new tax rate, which will go into effect on July 1, will be $2.60 for each $100 of assessed value. As a result of the property tax reduction voted by the council, the owner of an average $60,000 home that was not assessed this year would pay about $25 less in taxes than last year.
In neighboring Montgomery County, meanwhile, most homeowners received whopping increases this year as assessments soared and the tax rate remained the same.In Virginia, Alexandria property taxes rose, despite a rate reduction of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value. Fairfax County lowered its rate by 3 cents but rapidly rising assessments and educational needs combined to increase tax bills.
The budget the Prince George's Council approved was $10.5 million more than requested by Hogan. The council increased the amounts Hogan had proposed for police, education, health and consumer protection.
Council Chairman Parris N. Glendening said the council decided to give certain departments more funding than Hogan had proposed because "there is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly in terms of essential services like police and education. We felt strongly that those services were being cut below the maintenance level and would cause disruption to the population."
Hogan disagreed with Glendening's assessment. "Not only will our citizens have to pay $6.6 million more in property taxes than I had proposed," he said, "but it is also doubtful that they will realize any lasting improvement in county services."
Under the budget approved by the council, the school board will get $308.37 millon, which is $1 million less than the board had requested but $9.4 million more than Hogan had proposed. School board members had protested that Hogan's cuts would have wiped out the school's junior ROTC programs, some teaching positions for special education, and classes on the environment.
School board member Jo Ann Bell said she was pleased by the council's decisions on the school budget. "I'm really, really thrilled," Bell said. "We've taken some innovative steps and while we've been doing that our budget has been hacked right and left. The council finally realizes they can't do that any more."
It is still unclear, however, whether the council's decision to restore money to the school budget will help teachers get the 12.5 percent pay increase they are requesting. "We're at an impasse with the teachers," said school board spokesman Brian Porter. "There's a big pot now and how it's divided will be up to the negotiations."
The council increased the police budget to allow for the hiring of 50 additional police officers, six more than Hogan had suggested. The council also added $273,153 to the budget Hogan had recommended for the Department of Health, in order to fund day-care centers for the mentally retarded and to hire school nurses.
Hogan has 30 days to decide whether to veto the council's budget. Council Chairman Glendening said that if Hogan does veto the budget, "we'll override."
The council's decision to cut the property tax at less than Hogan had proposed was a shift from its action last year, when the council cut the rate and the budget even more than the executive requested. Glendening said the council changed its strategy because of its concern over the "deterioration of services."