Dozens of residents packed Montgomery County Council chambers Tuesday afternoon to voice their concerns about potential tax increases and share their priorities for the fiscal year 2024 county budget during a public hearing. So many residents attended the hearing–many holding signs–that seats were filled and some people stood along walls, supporting testimony.
County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed budget of roughly $6.8 billion has sparked debate, in no small part because it comes along with a proposal for a 10-cent real property tax increase. The county’s current property tax rate is roughly 98 cents per $100 of assessed value. The proposal seeks to boost the rate to about $1.08. The additional $220 million in revenue from the supplemental tax increase would go solely toward education, officials have said.
Several speakers voiced their concerns about the impact of the potential tax hike.
“The large property tax increase that’s been proposed seems inconsistent with the current economic landscape. The county executive will say that the budget is all about the schools, but frankly we feel that is a false narrative,” said Avi Adler, a board member with the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR). “We hope that instead of raising the cost of owning a home, the council will instead look at ways to break down the barriers to homeownership in our county.”
GCAAR recently launched a text campaign urging residents to tell the County Council to vote no on the tax increase.
“As a member of the community, a homeowner and as a business leader here I care deeply about economic development in the county,” said Paula Ross, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce. “This property tax rate increase … will effectively deter investment in our community, increase the cost of doing business here and make it even more difficult for the next generation of business leaders to root themselves in. This proposed tax increase will drive up the cost of living for residents and business owners and further increase the rising cost of housing and hamper economic growth.”
Roughly half of the county’s budget is allocated to Montgomery County Public Schools, whose budget is proposed by Superintendent Monifa McKnight. In February, the county’s Board of Education unanimously approved an operating budget at $3.2 billion—an increase of 10% or $296 million over the current year.
Other speakers urged the council to fully fund MCPS’ request.
“I love my job and there’s nothing else I can imagine myself doing now,” said Dominique Parker, a Wootton High School teacher and Silver Spring homeowner. “But I’m tired, stretched too thin, overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. I didn’t become a teacher to get rich. But I would like my salary to reflect my education and experience to come closer to what I can be earning in the private sector. As a property owner, I will gladly pay an extra dime to ensure teachers have more time and resources. We are uniting for our kids and communities and our futures.”
Lee Benswanger, an AP Government teacher at Seneca Valley High School, expressed similar sentiments, asking the council to fully fund the schools budget.
“Educators take a holistic view of our duties at our schools. We care about the well being of our students. We do the job not for money, but for the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of our students. We advocate for building products and ways to improve learning environments for our students. The education of our children as a team effort. It takes a village to raise a child,” he said.
Elrich defended his proposed tax hike during a press briefing last week, but also said he is open to discussions about other ways to fully fund his budget.
“I’m not wedded to a 10-cent increase,” Elrich said. But Elrich said he believes it would be difficult to fund the schools’ budget without some level of real estate tax rate increase. “I don’t envision any way to do this without any tax increase. But we could certainly talk about how to do this with less of a tax increase if people are willing to explore some different options,” he said.
Elrich said these options wouldn’t necessarily involve changing the proposed budget, but making spending changes with the council. He said there would need to be a collaborative conversation about what that would look like.
In March 2020, Elrich asked for a nearly five-cent property tax increase, including a 3.1-cent supplemental property tax rate to be used exclusively for public schools. County Councilmembers rejected that increase.
County Council members Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) and Will Jawando (D-At-large) have introduced legislation that would increase parts of the recordation tax by over a dollar for each $500 of the sales price.
Recordation taxes are applied whenever real estate is transferred from one party to another in the county, or for the refinancing of properties. Mink and Jawando say the increases would pay for general county capital projects and school projects, along with affordable housing initiatives.
The council was hosting additional public hearings on the budget Tuesday night and Thursday afternoon and evening. Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) said over 150 people were registered to speak, and still more have provided written testimony. The council will vote on a budget in about six weeks, officials said.