Scattered along several major roadways in Silver Spring, bright red yard signs read in bold letters: “Higher taxes means fewer affordable homes.” The County Council is poised to vote on a hotly-debated property tax hike Thursday, and some councilmembers have suggested the increase may end up being significantly lower than what was originally proposed.
County Executive Marc Elrich (D) introduced his $6.8 billion proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024 on March 15, which included a 10% suggested increase in the county’s property tax rate. Over the past several weeks, the County Council has been making numerous cuts and adjustments to the proposed budget, organizing line items into “high priority” and “priority” categories.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large) described the budget reconciliation process as “three-dimensional chess” in an interview, pointing out that the reconciliation list this year is “historically long—the longest I’ve ever seen it.”
To fully fund all the line items council has identified as high priority—an amount totaling $238.4 million—the council would need to pass a minimum 5.7-cent property tax increase, according to Councilmember Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5). The high priority list includes a $156.4 million increase in Montgomery County Public Schools’ operating budget, a topic heavily debated by school officials and employee unions in recent weeks. The priority list includes an additional two percent increase in MCPS-allotted funds.
“Now we have to look at that long list, try to pare it down and try to meet somewhere in the middle—which is probably where we’re going to land,” Albornoz said. “Not all of [the high priority items] are going to make it through.”
The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee took to Twitter to publicly voice support for the property tax increase and urge the council to fully fund the school district’s $3.2 billion budget, in what MCDCC member Peter Witzler called “a historic act of solidarity.”
“Our educators and support staff know what’s best for students, our schools and our communities,” Witzler wrote in an email to MoCo360. “Our County Council needs to listen to their party and the unions who helped get them elected, not the millionaire developers and realtors.”
On Monday, over 30 of the county’s most prominent businesses and employers sent a joint letter to council expressing “strong opposition” to a tax increase. The letter’s signatories included several local chambers of commerce and property management companies.
“While we fully support funding our public schools, raising property taxes on county residents is not the way to accomplish this,” the letter reads. “In fact, no other county in the region, or the District of Columbia, is raising property taxes—even as they all significantly increase school funding.”
Mink tweeted her support Monday for a six-cent property tax rate increase to fund all high priority budget items. She also suggested she would like to see another .5% increase passed so that MCPS could fully fund its staff contracts.
“I believe allowing MCPS to fund staff contracts without making cuts that will hurt classrooms requires more funding than they are currently allotted on the High Priority list, so I support either shifting additional funds to MCPS or passing a 6.5-cent tax rate increase,” Mink wrote.
When asked whether it considered a six-cent property tax increase still too high, Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce president Allie Williams responded in an email:
“The County needs to find additional ways to economize, rather than just tax our way out of an unsustainable budget. […] The focus should be more on widening our tax base to bring in more jobs and attract new businesses, which result in higher tax revenue.”
Albornoz said the sheer volume of the amount of funds council is reviewing in this year’s budget sets the county up for an even more challenging budget season next fiscal year.
“This year we’re not talking about if we’re going to add, but how much we’re going to add,” he said. “Unfortunately, next year we’re probably going to be talking about how much we’re going to take away.”