A Nov. 3 article in the Montgomery Extra Voters Guide did not adequately convey Rockville Mayor Larry Giammo's views on tax relief. Giammo proposes exempting the first $50,000 of value of each owner-occupied home from the city's property tax and says tax relief is a "top priority." (Published 11/4/2005)
Brigitta Mullican keeps the Rockville city budget on the coffee table of her Twinbrook ranch house, and in it she sees the possibility of vast savings. "There's big fat someplace," she said.
Mullican, 56, retired in April after 36 years of work for the federal government, most of it as a budget analyst, and delved immediately into her run to unseat Mayor Larry Giammo. She says she has lost 20 pounds since summer, thanks to hours spent walking the streets and knocking on doors.
As a former planning commissioner, she supported some of the accomplishments that have defined Giammo's tenure -- notably the redevelopment of the Town Center -- but attacks him for overspending and overreaching. "Every time I turned, he was spending money," she said.
Giammo, 41, a self-employed business management consultant, says often that he wants to make Rockville "one of the very best places in the nation to live and work." He thinks big -- proposing, at a candidate forum last week, that the city build high-tech pedestrian underpasses similar to those in London or Shanghai -- but says the city has been holding the line on spending.
Mullican argues that the city's fiscal 2006 budget of about $89 million is up nearly 19 percent compared with the previous year's, but Giammo and budget officer Dominic Del Pozzo respond that most of the increase is attributable to a one-time payment of short-term debt associated with the Town Center. Rockville's operating budget has not increased faster than its population in recent years, Del Pozzo said.
As the new Town Center takes shape, residents are anticipating new tax revenue, restaurants and parking spaces. But in Mullican and some of the candidates vying for council seats, voters will get a chance to select leaders who see a need for restraint and tax relief. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect a mayor and four council members to two-year terms.
Bob Dorsey, 59, a retired systems engineer with International Business Machines Corp. who has served on the council for 12 years and who is running on his experience, equated the Town Center with popcorn. Once it starts to pop, he noted, the pace picks up fast. "Right now, it's popping." The first buildings in the redeveloped downtown are expected to open next fall.
With the retirement of council member John F. Hall Jr., three incumbents are seeking reelection: Dorsey, Susan R. Hoffman and Anne M. Robbins. Three challengers have stepped forward: Phyllis Marcuccio, Harry Thomas and Joy E. Young.
At a candidate forum in Fallsgrove last week, Robbins, Marcuccio and Thomas joined Mullican in calling for tax relief. Marcuccio, 72, a retired science educator, suggested capping property tax payments for people who have paid off their mortgages.
Thomas, a 52-year-old corporate limousine driver and volunteer firefighter, suggested that tax relief and affordable housing efforts be targeted toward senior citizens. He promised passion and noted he'd twice run unsuccessfully for council. "Give me the same chance they had," he said of the incumbents.
Robbins, 63, a former high school teacher, mixed her call for lower taxes with a broadside against the attitude of Montgomery County toward growth: "Development is their god now, I have to say." She is seeking her fourth term.
The third challenger, Young, 49, emphasized her day job as Rockville Chamber of Commerce president and promised to "bring groups together."
Hoffman, 61, a county employee who helps market the redeveloped Silver Spring, defended Rockville's efforts to promote the arts in the new Town Center, which some candidates described unfavorably. Robbins, for instance, said she was against "shoveling money into the cultural arts building." Hoffman is seeking her third term.
Mullican, who had never run for office, said in an interview that she decided to challenge Giammo because "he's been very irresponsible with my money." She cited his support for including $750,000 worth of "smart" technology in garages at the Town Center and for spending $100,000 to have the rock band Hootie and the Blowfish play at this year's Hometown Holidays.
Giammo, seeking a third term, defended the expenditures, saying, "We want people going directly to an available [parking] space and not wasting any time" driving around. He said 20,000 people attended the Hootie concert -- the sort of turnout that enabled the city to earn $50,000 in sponsorships for the Memorial Day weekend festival.
He also noted that two credit-rating agencies had recently reaffirmed Rockville's AA+ credit rating and said the city may qualify in a few years for AAA status, which is rare for municipalities of Rockville's size. "For them to be so bullish on Rockville is really testament to how strong our financial health is," Giammo said.
As she was knocking on doors in Twinbrook one evening last week, Mullican met Kimberly Carter, 34, a teacher and seven-year Rockville resident. Carter said she voted for Giammo last time and may choose his opponent this time, principally because of the way the city is changing.
"I don't think that the homey feel is being taken into account -- the coziness. I think a big-city picture is what's being seen," she said.