An Oct. 22 article on Montgomery County ballot issues incorrectly stated that the County Council was created in 1970. The office of county executive was created in 1970; the council was formed in 1949
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said yesterday that the county's government could face severe budget cuts, mass firings and legislative gridlock if voters approve three proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Question A would prevent the County Council from overriding a property tax cap that restricts yearly increases to roughly the rate of inflation. Question B would limit council members and the county executive to three four-year terms. Question C would eliminate the four at-large council seats and create nine single-member districts, each of which would serve about 110,000 residents.
If all three are approved, the measures would result in the most sweeping overhaul of county government since the council was created in 1970 and leave many council members fighting to keep their jobs.
Joined by a large contingent of council members and state legislators in Rockville, Duncan (D) mounted his most forceful argument to date for rejecting the measures. His most dire predictions concerned Question A, which, if approved, he said would force the council to slash $94 million from a $3.3 billion budget.
Duncan said the cut would translate into the elimination of 1,000 teaching positions and more than 350 police and firefighter jobs. In addition, he said, the county would have to close two district police stations, six libraries and three fire stations and halt most services for senior citizens.
"These radical changes to our constitution will do nothing to enhance true democracy in the county and instead take Montgomery backwards," Duncan said.
His analysis prompted supporters of the ballot questions to accuse the county executive of fear-mongering.
"He is just trying to scare people with stuff like 'your children are going to die,' " said Marvin Weinman, president of Montgomery Taxpayers League, which supports Question A.
Duncan's remarks reflect growing concern among elected officials that county voters, preoccupied with the presidential race, could vote for ballot questions without considering the ramifications.
Duncan said yesterday that Question A "will put the county in a fiscal straitjacket, Question B will take away voters' rights . . . and Question C will guarantee the kind of gridlock we now see on Capitol Hill."
In 1990, voters approved an amendment to the county charter that caps the yearly amount the county can collect from property taxes to roughly the rate of inflation. The measure included a clause that permits the council to exceed that limit in difficult budget years with the votes of at least seven of nine members. For the past three years, the council has voted to override the limit.
Supporters of Question A, including the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee and the Montgomery Taxpayers League, said they hope that voters will see through Duncan's tactics.
"You can't tell me there is not a certain degree of fat in that budget without doing the horror wish list of cuts he is putting out there," said Stephen N. Abrams, chairman of the county GOP. Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) responded: "I don't see this as scare tactics. I see this as the reality of a $94 million cut."
Duncan's assertion that Question C would lead to gridlock -- because an all-district council would be too parochial to take countywide interests into account -- also drew criticism.
"People should ask could an all-district council do any worse than what has occurred under the current system," said Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), the only council member to endorse the proposal.