The task force hastily created by Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening last week to come up with alternatives to TRIM, was not greeted with glad tidings by everyone in the county. TRIM advocates not invited to serve on the panel question the necessity of amending TRIM in the first place, while another ad hoc committee set up earlier this year to study alternative sources of revenue, believes the two groups are duplicating efforts.
In addition, the county executive himself admits that he sped up naming the new TRIM task force in an effort to head off public safety workers who were making their own proposal for modifying the controversial tax ceiling. To that end, Glendening named Ronald Milor, president of the local International Association of Fire Fighters, to serve on the task force.
According to Mahlon Curran, president of the Prince George's County police union, representatives from the police, fire and sheriff's departments have formed a public safety coalition that has been meeting for over a month and has nearly completed a draft amendment that would, in effect, exempt public safety workers from the TRIM ceiling.
Curran said that this group is designing a property tax increase with the additional revenue earmarked for the police, fire and sheriff's departments. The amount of new revenue would depend on the annual needs of those departments. "Police officers are unwilling to go another year without a raise," nor are they willing to put up with an undermanned force that must rely on overused equipment, he said.
Last week Glendening said he opposed the public safety group's approach because it was "divisive" and he wants the new task force to come up with an amendment that addresses the concerns of all special interest groups. Curran said this week that Milor was out of town when Glendening announced the formation of the task force and that work on the public safety amendment continues. "Until we hear from him Milor otherwise, our plans are to proceed," Curran said.
Some people like William Goodman, coauthor of the original TRIM proposition that was passed by voters in 1978, putting a $143.9-million limit on property tax revenues, says he is unconvinced that the police, firefighters or the schools need any extra money.
From his office at the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., where the manager is pinch-hitting as a telephone operator, Goodman said, "I don't believe I'm ready to give them the government any additional tax from any source. Our county government has not demonstrated that it can manage the funds."
While Goodman admits that TRIM probably has only a five-year life span before it needs to be changed, he maintains that county government has not yet conducted valid cost/benefit analyses of departments to locate wasted dollars. He also insists that crime is dropping in the county despite police grumbling, and that the quality of education in the county is suffering due to teacher incompetence, not lack of funds.
Raymond LaPlaca, an office developer and past president of the county Chamber of Commerce who was named to head Glendening's 16-member task force, is convinced that the county is indeed suffering from the effects of TRIM.
He says if services continue to deteriorate, it may discourage new business from locating in the county. But LaPlaca also agrees with the pro-TRIM people who say voters have made it abundantly clear that they do not want property taxes increased, and he says that any effort to do so would be "futile."
While the new task force has not yet met or established an approach to coming up with an amendment, LaPlaca says that one reasonable approach "that Glendening happens to approve of" is to expand the taxable base by freezing existing property taxes at the current rate, but to raise the $143.9 million ceiling so that new housing and business developments can contribute their fair share by paying that same rate, which is now $2.54 per $100 of assessed value.
College Park Mayor Alvin Kushner, who is on the County Council Committee on Alternative Sources of Revenue, which was created last spring, wonders if the new task force isn't duplicating the effort of his committee.
But Tim Ayers, a spokesman for Glendening, said that the earlier council committee has a much broader mandate than TRIM alone.
Kushner said, "I looked at the composition of the task force which appears to have a heavy representation of business concerns and wonder if there isn't some attempt to dictate a result."