Officials in Gaithersburg, Rockville and Takoma Park have adopted budgets for the next fiscal year that hold the line on tax rates, but many residents still will probably see a jump in their property taxes.
"In the old days," said Rockville spokesman Neil Greenberger, an unchanged rate "used to be good." Now, even if "the tax rate doesn't change," the county's property assessments continue to go up, and "people are paying a lot more every year."
All of the new city budgets are effective next Thursday.
In Takoma Park, where a lack of industry and a limited commercial base have resulted in a tax rate of 66 cents per $100 of assessed property value, officials approved a $15.4 million budget Monday night that is 9 percent higher than this year's, said City Manager Richard M. Finn.
With some of those revenues, Takoma Park is paying the final installment on an $8 million youth and senior community center, which is under construction and should be ready early next year.
Students from three nearby schools will be able to take advantage of the new computer and after-school learning programs to be held there, making the community center "a really neat thing," Finn said. Many of the children in nearby homes, he added, could use more attention and diversions after school, so the center will be useful to "get the kids off the street and give them" something productive.
In Rockville, where residents pay 32.2 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, next year's $74.9 million operating budget marks an increase of 7.2 percent over this year's. On top of that, the capital improvements program budget, at $121.8 million, will pay for the start of the Rockville Town Square, the shops, restaurants and condominiums slated to be built as part of the redevelopment of the Rockville Town Center. In addition, the budget includes money for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Interstate 270, connecting Montgomery Avenue with Route 28, Greenberger said.
Last month, after Rockville City Council member John F. Hall Jr. urged his fellow politicians to cut the budget and reduce the city's tax rate, he came back to them with a series of ideas.
"It was sort of an academic exercise because I wanted to prove it could be done: We can, in fact, find savings if we're willing to spend the time," Hall said this week, adding, though, that the city is not "wasting money. The point of my exercise was to say we continue to take in too much from the people and the businesses that live and work here."
While his suggestions came too late in the process to really be incorporated in the budget -- "bringing it up at the eleventh hour in the process is difficult," said Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo -- the city is taking a look at what can be cut from next year's budget to perhaps decrease the tax rate.
"The assessments have really rocketed for people, not just in Rockville but Montgomery County, and they're paying substantially more in property taxes," Giammo said. "And if people's taxes are going up faster than what it costs city government to deliver the same level of service, then we should be returning some of that money to the taxpayers."
Giammo has instructed his staff members to explore a "meaningful reduction in the property tax rate and take a fresh look at everything the city does," he said. "Let's make sure we're spending money on things that people really care about."
In Gaithersburg, the tax rate has remained at 21.2 cents for every $100 of assessed property values for the past 40 years, said Mayor Sidney A. Katz.
Gaithersburg's budget for next year is $34.7 million, a 5.9 percent increase over this year's budget, which will help pay for four additional police officers. The budget also includes funding for a youth center at Robertson Park along with Lakelands Park, a "major addition to our parks inventory" that will be completed this year, said City Manager David B. Humpton in the budget overview he gave to the mayor and City Council.
The city also "created a separate environmental affairs budget for the first time in Gaithersburg's history," said Mary Beth Smith, Gaithersburg's public information officer. She added that the environment had "really taken on more of an importance in recent years, and there's some major projects that are underway. . . . We have a lot of national standards that must be met."
The city wasn't able to pay for everything officials wanted. Gaithersburg would "like to have a new indoor pool," Katz said. "But there again, you have to be concerned about [the] cost to build the pool -- but once you build the pool, you have to operate the pool and you have to afford the actual facility itself. We try to look beyond the obvious [costs] of the construction."