Early on a spring day in 1975, Takoma Park City Administrator Herb Gilsdorf stepped out the front door of his Lincoln Avenue home to find a large crevice in the street where a manhole had been the night before.
Gilsdorf, whose home is in the Prince George's section of Takoma Park, less than a city block from the Montgomery County line, called the county office of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) for help.
"They examined the hole and determined that the area was under the Montgomery County office's jurisdiction, so I called Montgomery," Gilsdorf said. "But when they showed up, the workers said the manhole was under the Prince George's office jurisdiction. I was left with a gaping hole in the middle of the street, a potentially dangerous situation."
After some haggling, Gilsdorf reached a WSSC supervisor who assigned a crew to the job.
His difficulty in getting the work done indicates the confusion surrounding Takoma Park's bi-county status.
This confusion, and financial problems resulting from the city's two-county split, have led Mayor Sam A. Abbott to ask Takoma Park's Annapolis representatives to propose a bill that would place the city entirely under Montgomery County jurisdiction. State Del. Stewart Bainum of Montgomery County is drafting the bill, which will be introduced at the General Assembly's next session.
Few, including Abbott, believe the bill is going to pass, but the mayor said it is important that people realize the problems facing Takoma Park: a total lack of support from Prince George's County and not much better than Montgomery.
"Our big problem is double taxation, paying the counties for services they do not provide us," Abbott said. "While Montgomery County gives us little, we get absolutely nothing from Prince George's."
Abbott said Takoma Park's tax rate has soared in recent years because the town receives so little from the counties.
"We have one of the highestk municipal tax rates in the state and this has got to change," Abbott said. "We are not trying to leave Prince George's for philosophical reasons. The whole question would be moot if it wasn't for the financial burden."
Although the city would stand to recieve more money if it defected, the immediate benefit would not be obvious to Takoma Park residents of Prince George's, whose taxes would rise by 14 cents per $100 of assessed value. Montgomery County residents pay $3.282 per $100 of assessed value, while Prince Georgians pay $3.139 per $100 of assessed value. Two-thirds of the city's 17,000 residents live in Montgomery County, while the remainder reside in Prince George's.
But Abbott said the tax increase would be offset by the extra money the town would receive from Montgomery, which could lead to a stablization of the city tax rate.
"And besides," the mayor added, "Montgomery provides us some relief from double taxation and has made a commitment to do more in the future."
Takoma Park residents' city taxes, $1.57 per $100 of assessed value, pay for police protection, garbage collection, street maintenance, street lights, a library and snow and leaf removal. County residents living in unincorporated areas pay for these services through county taxes. Takoma Park residents pay the same taxes but do not receive the services from the county.
The city pays $2.8 million of its $3.06 million budget for the services but receives $226,000 from Montgomery County and only $40,000 from Prince George's as tax rebate.
"When I complain to the county (Prince George's), they tell me we could use their police protection and their library facilities if we wanted to," Abbott added. "But that would make our difficult admnistrative problems even worse, having part of the city serviced by one police department and the remainder by another."
Under the proposed bill's provisions, Prince George's would swap Takoma Park for an equally assessed property in Montgomery. Abbott said the city increases the Prince George's tax fund $1.3 million.
According to Bainum, finding the Montgomery property would be difficult.
"County lines have never been altered before in the history of the state," Bainum said. "But I would like to see the bill passed because the two-country status has caused the city many problems."
Bainum added that the city's bi-county status "has diminished the city's political clout. The two county executives need to sit down with some maps and work out a deal."
Abbott said he has spoken to Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist who assured him the county will give the plan consideration. The mayor said he has tried to discuss his proposal with Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, to no avail.
State Del. Thomas Mooney, a resident of Takoma Park, rejects the proposal.
"I have spoken to many of my constituents and they feel they would be hurt by the bill," Mooney said. "They cannot understand why they should move from an area with a history of stablized taxes to an area where taxes are constantly on the rise.
"I am willing to go with Mayor Abbott to the (Prince George's) council to fight for more county money," he added. "But the bill is not the answer."
Prince George's County Council Chairman Parris N. Glendening also does not believe the bill will pass, but he said it does raise questionsu about Takoma Park's troubles and the problem of double taxation throughout the county.
"I sympathize with the leaders of the municipality. It is difficult when you have two sets of laws," Glendening said. "On the other hand I don't think the bill will work; the state hasn't adjusted a county border in more than 100 years.
"There is no question that there is a need for some adjustment in the double taxation system," Glendening added."We do not reimburse the municial leadersk adequately. But the problem cannot be solved overnight. tIt would take $20 million to give the municipalities their just due."