A bitterly split Montgomery County Council, torn by citizen demands for tax relief, voted yesterday to place a referendum on the November ballot that would hold annual property tax increases to the rate of inflation.
Members of the council, all facing election campaigns this fall, voted 4 to 3 to place on the Nov. 6 ballot what they said was an alternative to more severe tax limitation questions that will also be decided by voters.
Council member Bruce T. Adams, who negotiated the compromise with leaders of the Fairness in Taxation group, said the tax proposition is "responsive to the very clear fact that the property tax is increasingly disconnected from people's ability to pay."
He said that the taxation group's original proposal -- holding spending to 75 percent of the inflation rate -- was too restrictive, but would have won approval from residents distressed over increasing property assessments.
He said the compromise is one that the council can live with, and it is vastly better than two other ballot questions pushed by Robin Ficker, a Republican council candidate.
Ficker has successfully petitioned to referendum two tax questions.
One would prevent the use of county funds for any construction project that is by law the state's responsiblity.
The other measure would freeze the property tax rate at the 1988 level, an amount that actually is higher than the current rate.
"The county is better off to have this alternative on the ballot than Robin Ficker's," Adams said.
However, critics of the Fairness in Taxation compromise, including the county's League of Women Voters and county teachers and workers, accused the council of caving in to immediate political pressures and not taking into account the long-term needs of Montgomery residents.
They argued that tax limitation proposals tie the hands of county officials in providing services for a growing population. They added that county officials should work to defeat the measures.
Rosalie Silverberg, heading a coalition opposed to any permament tax limits, said that the measures could jeopardize county operations.
"We are dropping to our knees and rolling over," council member Michael L. Subin said, as he accused his colleagues of acting from political motivation.
In addition to Subin, council members Rose Crenca and Michael L. Gudis voted against the measure.
Supporting the proposition were Adams, Isiah Leggett, William E. Hanna Jr. and Neal Potter.
Potter is running for county executive, while the others on the all-Democratic council face reelection challenges.
County Executive Sidney Kramer has said he opposes the tax limitation measures.
However, he has no authority over what is placed on the ballot.
Meanwhile, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge is scheduled to decide Thursday whether county voters might be faced with a fourth tax limitation measure.
Ficker, a Bethesda lawyer, is upset that Fairness in Taxation leaders have worked out a compromise.
He is leading an effort to force the taxpayer group to turn in its original petitions for the more restrictive tax limit.