The Prince George's County Council approved a budget yesterday that will cut a penny from the real estate tax rate, but had its spending program criticized as "bloated" in a blistering letter from County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
The tax rate, which goes into effect July 1, will mean slightly lower taxes for the two-thirds of county homeowners who were not reassessed this year. The owner of a $60,000 home that was not reassessed will pay about $800 -- $2.70 less than last year. A third of the homes in the county are reassessed each year, and the owners of those homes will pay more -- for the owner of a $60,000 house about $260 more than last year -- because of inflation.
In his letter, Hogan said the council's budget for county operations, totaling $630.5 million, raises a "threat of serious budgetary consequences next year." He said the council's budget relies on nonrecurring revenues and that the prospects for additional state aid in the following year are "bleak."
The overall property tax rate of $3.34 per $100 of assessed valuation is a penny lower than the old rate, and is the sum of several rates, including those of the suburban water and sewer agency, the park and planning agency and the state property tax.
Hogan's objections are to the county budget alone, to be funded by a tax of $2.60 per $100 of assessed valuation. That rate, set by the council, represents an eight-cent reduction, but it is 11.5 cents higher than the rate proposed by Hogan.
The council defended its budget as maintaining essential services, but Hogan's five-page letter declares that: "the council's increase in spending and higher level of taxation was totally unnecessary. It will not result in any improvement or expansion of basic services. It simply will mean higher tax bills for our already overburdened taxpayers."
Hogan, a Republican, did not veto the council's budget, saying such a move "likely would not be sustained." The all-Democratic council approved its budget unanimously, and a veto override would require the votes of eight of the council's 11 members.
Council Chairman Parris N. Glendening quickly came to the council's defense, saying Hogan was simply interested in "quick and dirty headlines" about a tax reduction. "That's fine," he said, "except that we need more police and we need to take care of our school system and health services. We're absolutely convinced that we have a very reasonable budget, a budget that will maintain services."
The council's budget will give the schools $303.37 million, $1 million less than the school board requested but $9.4 million more than Hogan proposed. School board members had protested that Hogan's cuts would have wiped out a junior ROTC program, some teaching positions for special education and classes on the environment.
The council decided to hire 50 additional police officers, six more than Hogan suggested, and added $273,000 to the Health Department budget to fund day-care centers for the mentally retarded and hire school nurses.
Under the tax-limiting TRIM county charter amendment approved by voters in 1978, the county can collect up to $2.78 per $100 in assessed value, 18 cents more than the council approved.