A committee formed by the Montgomery County Council endorsed higher property taxes, new levies on gasoline and cars and "impact fees" on development yesterday to pay for possible solutions to the county's worsening traffic problems.
The committee suggested the money be used for new roads, more mass transit and even a police helicopter.
Council members praised the committee's work but reacted icily to the recommendations for new or higher taxes, with council member Rose Crenca predicting there will be no tax increases, at least until after this year's elections.
"I'm not convinced raising the property tax is the way to go," agreed council President William Hanna. "In fact, I'm not in favor of a property tax increase at all."
William G. Coleman, who chaired the 11-member committee, told the council that "in previous years, the county was skimping on roads, and now the chickens have come home to roost. Catching up is going to cost money, but there is no way around that."
The committee, which presented its findings in a 104-page report to the council, was formed in October to find short-term solutions to growth-induced traffic congestion. Its report included 26 recommendations to improve traffic conditions, pay for highways and other transportation improvements and tighten control on development.
But the committee, by a 6-to-5 vote, refused to endorse a controversial cap on development proposed by council members David L. Scull and Neal Potter as a way to curb growth until more roads can be built.
The committee acknowledged in its report that traffic congestion is likely to get worse even if the recommendations are implemented. But Coleman told the council yesterday that the cap was rejected because it would pose "economic inequities" among developers, would be difficult to administer and might cause the price of housing to rise.
Scull, whose development cap proposal won wide support among area citizen groups and the enmity of business leaders and developers, managed to find some vindication in the committee's report.
By rejecting his proposal, he said, the committee was forced to serve up an "unappealing vision of faster development, more congestion and pretty stiff property tax hikes. It looks like it will get worse. The only question is how fast."
An unprecedented development boom in the last two years has flooded Montgomery's once-rural road system with congestion and has outpaced state and county ability to meet the demand for new road capacity.
County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist has proposed spending $1.24 billion during the next six years to build new roads and schools. But that program, which the council is expected to approve, will not begin to address traffic problems until the projects start being completed four to six years from now.
Planners predict that near-record growth will continue in the county in the next three years, producing 45,000 additional car trips a day. The committee's recommendations would remove 10,000 trips under optimal conditions. Roads expected to be built during the period would handle 25,000 more.
In view of those numbers, Planning Board Chairman Normal L. Christeller said he now favors a "limited cap" on development. Last fall, the board unanimously opposed the Scull-Potter measure.
Potter said the measure, which would curb growth by 28 percent the first year and 40 percent the next two years in congested areas, would cut up to 10,000 daily car trips more than the committee's plan.
However, not all council members were persuaded of its need. Gilchrist also remained opposed: "The cap bill wouldn't work and it's extremely disruptive. Mr. Coleman is a very thoughtful person and his analysis of it should be given a lot of attention."
The committee called on the county to expand ride sharing, raise parking fees, provide financial incentives for private van pools and encourage flex-time and public transit use by private businesses. Other recommendations include a traffic helicopter for county police, expanded bus service and privately sponsored shuttle buses to Metro subway stations.
The committee suggested financing the measures through higher property taxes, special tax districts and authority from the state General Assembly for local gasoline and car registration surtaxes.
The council is scheduled to vote on the recommendations in two weeks. Hanna said he would push to resolve the issue by the end of the month.