LIKE MAYOR WASHINGTON, Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason has just found it in his heart and in his municipal checkbook to propose tax relief for property owners. And like their homeowning counterparts in the city. Montgomery's taxpayers are delighted with the prospect. Still, homeowners had best not hold their breath in anticipation of net reductions in their property-tax bills.
Mostly what Mr. Gleason's proposal would do is help offset the steep and rapid increases in assessments that have produced huge jumbs in those bills. That would be done by lowering the tax rate by 26 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation. Take, for example, the owner of a house worth $63,000 last year who paid $1,175 in property taxes. If that house were reassessed this year at $70,000, the owner would pay about $1,288 without the proposed reduction in the tax rate. With the rate change, the same homeowner would pay about $1,200 next year. That comes to $25 more than last year - instead of $113 more.
Mr. Gleason says the county is enjoying the first "healthy economy" in his eight years in office. As a result, he also has been kind to spending requests, including those for the school system, commenting, "I guess I'm in a good mood." He should be. Some critics may argue that this good news was orchestrated to come at this time, and it is true that the timing is ideal for Mr. Gleason - who is retiring at the end of his two terms as Montgomery's first and only county executive. Any politician either retiring or seeking reelection prefers to do so at a time at fiscal good news.
But it happens that there's a bit of a national economic pattern involved, one that isn't necessarily related to election year, many of Mr. Gleason's counter-parts around the nation are also reaping similar benefits. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, operating budgets of state and local governments ran surpluses last year of $13.3 billion, only two years after having deficits of $6.2 billion. Montgomery officials note that the country has come out of a recession much more quickly than they had expected. After the last few years of noisy confrontations in Montgomery as well as other jurisdictions in this area over tight budgets and deficits, the respite - however brief as it may turn out to be - is welcome.