Unifying Takoma Park, a city divided by the Montgomery-Prince George's county line, into a single Montgomery municipality is no simple task, the Montgomery County legislative delegation was reminded last week during a strategy session on the proposed change.
Sewer lines, schools, taxes, deeds and dump sites were just a few of the things legislators were considering as they heard testimony on their bill, which would permit residents in the Prince George's third of the city to vote on whether they want to join Montgomery.
Voters wouldn't be presented the choice until city elections in March 1984, and that won't happen unless the entire Maryland legislature approves the binding referendum the bill proposes.
County officials and delegates agree that the legislature is likely to go along with whatever the Prince George's and Montgomery delegations work out, but point out that such agreement has been elusive in the past. Last spring, the Prince George's delegation, wary of what the county would lose, killed a similar bill late in the session.
This time local officials and legislators have more time to study the effects of unification, and some officials, who once flatly dismissed the prospect of Prince George's relinquishing any territory, now are assessing the effects of changes brought about by the November elections.
One thing that has changed is the support for such a measure in the Prince George's delegation. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Stewart Bainum (D-Montgomery), is cosponsored by Del. Pauline H. Menes (D-Prince George's). The last effort got token cosponsorship in Prince George's only after its death was ensured.
"There are so many new faces" in Prince George's politics, noted Takoma Park City Council member Frank Garcia, who represents one of two wards that lie in Prince George's, "I really do believe they will be the ones who ultimately decide" whether a referendum takes place.
The most prominent concern expressed by politicians and residents--what will happen to property taxes -- remains that with the least definite answers.
While voters in Prince George's have decided to continue the ever-sinking property tax rate under TRIM, Montgomery's tax rate is expected to continue rising. Therefore, it would be cheaper for those who live in Prince George's to remain there.If an $80,000 home, for example, were transferred from Prince George's into Montgomery under the current tax rates, the owner would pay $36 more in property taxes annually.
But incoming Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening has warned all county residents that the level of government services will probably have to be reduced because of TRIM, a move that might make Montgomery's more extensive services more attractive to Takoma residents.
Prince George's politicians also must consider which would be more desirable: the savings that would come by the loss of the 0.7 percent of the county's population that lives in Takoma Park or the tax money those residents would continue to pay.
Residents of Takoma Park's Prince George's side, in an advisory referendum in November, voted 84 percent in favor of taking a vote on unification. Unification proponents predict that an actual unification vote would pass with the same support, but other observers say it is likely that many in favor of taking a vote are asking for a chance to register their disapproval.
Although some city residents may oppose unification, Takoma Park city officials do not. The current division between two counties forces the city to have a double standard in almost every phase of its operations, ranging from zoning ordinances to health codes. For example, city workers must arrange garbage collection so refuse from each county goes into the appropriate county dump.
Takoma Park supports its own police and fire departments, library, public works department and housing inspections. A separate city property tax covers most of the expenses, but the counties still charge Takoma Park property owners a full tax rate.
The difference lies in what each county rebates. This year, Montgomery returned $449,618 out of $2.36 million collected, or nearly 20 percent, while Prince George's returned $44,038 out of $1.78 million, or 2.5 percent, according to City Administrator Alvin J. Nichols. Prince George's takes in disproportionately higher revenues than Montgomery, Nichols said, because homes with higher assessments and businesses with more activity are on that side of the line.
The legacy of lying astride two counties creates other problems in unification. As now written, the bill would continue all deeds, licenses and other registrations until they expire, at which time they would come under Montgomery provisions.
But the provisions of the two counties differ radically in some cases. Liquor licenses, for instance, are renewed annually in Prince George's. When the license for a Takoma Park liquor store in Prince George's expired, the business would come up against a 1947 Montgomery law banning all alcoholic beverages in Takoma Park.
"They could be closed out at the whim of the government," council member Garcia said. He said that problems with the wording, though, "are not insurmountable" and that the bill could be modified before it is presented.