YOU MAY NOT QUALIFY to join a country club in Montgomery County, but if you belong to that not-so-exclusive club of people who pay county taxes, congratulations: you are automatically and irrevocably eligible to help subsidize those clubs to the tujne of about $1.3 million a year. That's the estimated revenue lost beause of a fat tax break enjoyed by the country clubs -- a discount that many responsible officials tried unsuccessfully last year to eliminate. They're ready to try again and, without strong public support, the effort could fail in the same shabby way it did earlier this year. s
At that time, legislation sponsored by Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Montgomery) to end the subsidy had won support of the county's delegation to the House of Delegates, the county council and County Executive Charles Gilchrist. But then it was killed almost single-handedly by state Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Nontgomery), a Woodmont Country Club member. He talked three other members of the county's state Senate delegation -- James Clark, Margaret Schweinhaut and Howard dDenis -- into voting with him to bury the bill by referring it to a task force. His motion carried 4 to 3, with opposition from Sens. Sidney Kramer, Victor Crawford and S. Frank Shore.
As proposed then and now, the Simmons measure is a moderate compromise that would not suddenly drive country clubs out of business, as Sen. Levitan would have the legislators believe. The bill would phase out the preferential tax break over a six-year period. The clubs' assessments currently are at about 11 percent of market value, while commercial properties are assessed at about 50 percent. Under the measure, the clubs' assessments in the first year would rise only to about 15 percent. As a safeguard against any tax wipeout of country clubs, the bill also contains a provision giving the county first right of refusal to buy any club property for preservation of green space. The county also could provide relief for any club that could demonstrate that it was in dire straits.
So it is not a matter of socking these clubs unfairly; they merely would have to pay the going rate. At a time when individual homeowners in the county are being required to pay larger tax bills, synpathetic state senators and delegates should be scrambling to support a measure making the clubs pay their fair share, not kowtowing to the country-club constituents in their districts.