THE COUNTRY CLUB SET of Maryland is understandably unamused, but a Republican lawmaker from Montgomery County has a proposal he claims could yield the county between $1 million and $2 million more in taxes each year -- at the clubs' expense. According to Maryland Del. Luiz Simmons, this is the estimated amount being lost by Montgomery as a result of real tax breaks enjoyed by country clubs in the state. His proposal calls for the elimination of a system that permits extremely low property assessments for country clubs. The county council, which took a tentative position last week in favor of the state bill, will consider the measure on Tuesday -- and a vote for change would be welcome news for taxpayers.
The tax breaks originated in 1965, as a way to encourage land purchases by country clubs. In those years, voters also favored preferential assessments as one way to keep more land open and green -- similar to benefits aimed at preserving farm land. It was a fine planning concept, but the open spaces have been something less than open to the public. And at today's rates, the amount of taxes involved is considerable: instead of being assessed at 50 percent of market value, as commercial properties are, Montgomery's country clubs are assessed at about 11 percent.
It is just as unfair as the subsidy itself, however, to dismiss the cost of the change to country clubs. Granted, their members are among the more well-to-do residents. But too drastic a change in the tax breaks could cause severe difficulties for the clubs. The proposed changes do include authority to grant some tax relief to clubs if it is found that such breaks actually would head off development of land. In considering the bill, the council and the state legislature might want to phase in the higher assessments, to ease any financial shocks as well to study the effects of the changes.