Two Prince George’s County residents say the county government broke the law and circumvented a long-standing tax cap when elected officials raised property taxes more than a year ago, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
Plaintiffs Fred Price Jr. and James K. Wass, members of the Republican Party Central Committee, filed a complaint in Prince George’s Circuit Court arguing that the tax-increase measure should have been placed on the ballot for voters this November.
“I pay more taxes today than I did 30 years ago,” Wass, who lives in Riverdale, said in an interview. “The rules exist. Let’s do it by the rules.”
County officials said through a spokesman that they have not been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment. The Circuit Court confirmed they had received the lawsuit but had not yet processed the complaint into the system.
Prince George’s County voters prohibited elected leaders from raising taxes for more than three decades through a tax cap imposed via referendum in the late 1970s. The tax limit was changed slightly in the ensuing decades but remained in place until May 2015, when the County Council levied a 4-cent property-tax increase after rejecting a more controversial proposal from County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).
The executive wanted to raise tax rates by 15 cents for education spending, but the proposal triggered a bitter outcry from county residents who argued they pay some of the highest tax rates in the region.
Wass calculated his tax bill before and after the increase and found he had paid $66 more in taxes while the assessment for his home remained the same.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs argue that lawmakers violated the county charter when they did not ask voters to approve of the tax increase through a ballot referendum this November. Since the ballot was certified this fall without the question, the tax hike is invalid, they said.
Price and Wass are asking for injunctive relief and refunds for the excess property taxes they paid. Though county Republicans encouraged both men to file a lawsuit, the effort to beat back higher taxes has been a bipartisan one, they said. “When you’re spending money like this, people start to notice, people of all parties start to notice,” Wass said. “All people are seeing it. Here in Prince George’s County they are acting like we don’t matter.”