A variety of proposals designed to limit local government spending and hold down or reduce residential property taxes were successfully placed yesterday on the November election ballots in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
In Prince George's, local political leaders already have given their blessing to a measure that would freeze the county's total annual property tax collections at this year's level, which is projected to be about $140 million.
In Montgomery County, voters will be faced with two rival proposals. One, supported by a taxpayers' group, would directly cut back the county's property tax rate. The other, put on the ballot yesterday by a slim majority of the County Council, is designed only to put new controls on annual increases in the county budget.
The proposal backed by the taxpayers' league would reduce the general fund tax rate from $2.60 to $2.25 for each $100 of assessed property value.
Supporters of the taxpayers' proposal in Montgomery say that it will result in a $30 million cutback in the county's $550 million budget.
County leaders are far more pessimistic. A recent study by the county attorney's office indicated that the tax rate cut would cost the county about $90 million. In an effort to head off that possibility, the council moved yesterday to put a rival proposal on the November ballot.
The alternative measure, approved yesterday on a 3-to-2 vote, would require that any five of seven County Council members approve the annual budget when the budget's percentage increase exceeds the percentage increase of the Washington area's consumer price index.
After putting its own amendment on the ballot, Montgomery County Council members agreed, on a unanimous vote, that if both referendums are approved, the measure sponsored by the taxpayers' league will take precedence.
The more drastic Montgomery proposal and the one in Prince George's were placed on the ballot by citizen groups which submitted more than the required 10,000 signatures each to county officials of the two counties yesterday, the filing deadline for referendums.
In Prince George's County, leaders of the Tax Reform Initiative for Maryland presented petitions containing 14,000 signatures to County Executive Winfield Kelly, who endorsed their proposal and signed a petition himself.
The supporters of Tax Relief in Montgomery referendum supporters were met with little enthusiasm by Executive James P. Gleason, who accepted the group's 29,100 signatures with the prediction that approval of the charter amendment reducing tax rates, could cost 1,000 to 4,000 county exployees their jobs.
Both Gleason and officials of Montgomery's school system attacked the two proposed amendments yesterday as potentially crippling curbs on local government.
Gleason, noting that "80 percent of the cost of county government goes toward paying Montgomery's 20,000 school and government exployes," suggested that citizens groups should aim their attacks at federal not local taxes.
"It's kind of like bitting the hand that's closest to you," Gleason said. He added that the council's proposed charter amendment was "the lesser of two evils."
Henry Heller, the president of the Montgomery County Teachers Association, said his group planned to begin distributing literature next month emphasizing the difference between Montgomery and California, where voters overwhelmingly approved property-tax slashing Proposition 13 last June.
"We are opposed to both of these amendments philosophically," Heller said."And comparing Montgomery County to California is like comparing apples and oranges. We don't need a Proposition 13 here."
Montgomery schools spokesman Kenneth Muir said that the school's budget office was studying the possible effects of the proposed citizens' amendment, but that most council members felt that the tax reduction would "have a diastrous effect on the schools."
Muir said that the school board probably would take a formal stand against the citizens' amendment at its September meeting, when Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo is scheduled to deliver the budget office's analysis on the ballot proposal supported by the taxpayer league.
In contrast, both education officials and county union leaders in Prince George's expressed tentative support for the proposed property tax freeze in that county.
"As a union representative, I feel very cautious about what this might produce," said Edna Barry, president of the American Federation of Municipal and County Employes, Local 2079, composed of clerical professional, and technical workers. "What people don't understand is that all proposals like this cause a chain reaction, and people get hurt."
"But as a taxpayer," Barry said. "I would be in favor of the amendment, and now I would vote for it."
The Prince George's tax freeze proposal would reduce taxes gradually over the next few years - an immediate tax reduction would be offset by new county development, officials estimate.
The proposal also was endorsed by the president of the Prince George's Education Association, Toby Rich.
In accepting the Prince George's TRIM petitions, Kelly commented that the proposed amendment "is an amplification of what we started this year." Kelly has promised a 10 percent reduction in property taxes for home owners next year, and so has tempered his praise for the proposal with assertions that it does not go far enough toward cutting taxes.
"We can adjust our inflation allowance, and for two years we can manage with this freeze," Kelly said. "But obviously after that we are going to have to set up a more progressive system of taxes."