Three weeks before the November general election, the battle over amending TRIM, Prince George's County's controversial property tax revenue cap, escalated yesterday, as each side accused the other of deliberately distorting the facts.
Michael Knapp, a county employe on leave to work as a full-time organizer for FACT (Fairness for All County Taxpayers), which wants to loosen the cap, charged that there has been "irresponsible deception" by TRIM supporters.
State Del. David Bird, a coauthor of TRIM, countercharged "diliberate deception" by those advocating a change.
TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders), passed in 1978, limits to $143.9 million the amount of money the county can collect in property taxes. Supporters of Question A, as this year's modification will be labeled on the ballot, propose that this cap be lifted and a property tax rate limit of $2.43 per $100 assessed value be imposed instead.
Both sides agree that this relaxing of TRIM would raise -- as valuations increase -- between $6 million and $8 million each year in additional revenues from property taxes.
But there the agreement ends.
"We are all quite stressed over what we feel is irresponsible deception on the part of the proponents of TRIM," FACT's Knapp said at a press conference yesterday. Knapp said that TRIM defenders have put out false statistics showing that the cap has not adversely affected county services, including public safety and education.
TRIM supporters Bird and John T. Gleason immediately defended their figures.
"We have tried to use only county reference documents," Gleason said.
Bird said that the FACT forces are particularly off the mark when they tell audiences that the county's budget has been frozen as a result of TRIM.
"The county has a cap on 24 percent of its income," he said, referring to the portion of the county budget that is funded by property tax revenue. "All of its other income (from recreation and sewer fees and from state agencies) is not affected by TRIM."
At yesterday's press conference Knapp and others also argued that businesses have benefited more from TRIM than have county homeowners.
The collection ceiling has forced the tax rate down, FACT argues. But because assessments on business property increase at a slower rate than those on private property, most private homeowners have not benefited.
PEPCO, for instance, paid $277,000 less in property taxes last year while the average homeowner paid more, and has saved more than $18 million in such taxes since TRIM was enacted, FACT says.
But Bird maintained that a TRIM modification will do nothing to balance this out, because assessments are set by the state.
"If Question A passes, commercial bills will go up $1 while homeowners will go up $3 to $4," he said.