LANDOVER – In spite of rainy weather and repair work on the venue, dozens of Prince Georgians made it a point to attend a public hearing to speak out about the fiscal future of the county. The Blue Ribbon Commission, created by the county council to study the county’s structural deficit and potential long-term solutions, […]
LANDOVER – In spite of rainy weather and repair work on the venue, dozens of Prince Georgians made it a point to attend a public hearing to speak out about the fiscal future of the county.
The Blue Ribbon Commission, created by the county council to study the county’s structural deficit and potential long-term solutions, met for its third and final public hearing at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex on Sept. 29. Residents took advantage of the opportunity to give their input on solutions, and many stressed the importance of expanding the tax base as opposed to raising tax rates.
Adelphi resident Kay McGraw said she and her neighbors have benefitted from the homestead tax credit- which essentially limits the increase in assessed property value to 10 percent each year- and from Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders (TRIM), which caps the real property tax rate at $2.40 for every $100 of assessed value and limits the countyto taxing only 40 percent of the value of the property.
“We’ve enjoyed where we live, but we’re nearing retirement, and so tax issues are very important,” McGraw said. “We’ve benefitted in the time we’ve been here from having the homestead tax exemption and we’ve used it to make home improvements and do needed maintenance on our property. And we’ve benefitted from having the tax cap. Our taxes have been increased in the last year… We cannot afford more tax increases, yet alone a complete removal of the cap on taxes in the county.”
Amika Alotta, a young mother who recently moved to Prince George’s county, said her property tax bill is already higher than it would be for a comparable property in another jurisdiction. She believes that is discouraging people from moving here, and any increases could cause current residents like herself to move elsewhere.
“If you continue to increase these… I’d pay between $45 (thousand) and $75,000 more. I’m thinking about those $45-75,000 over the life of buying a house, and then I think about sending my son to a school,” she said. “If you continue to raise the property tax, there’s no way I could recommend to my coworkers to buy a house here.”
While many of those speaking advocated for TRIM and the homestead tax credit to remain in place, others also suggested alternate ways for the county to increase its revenue. A common thread was looking at development policies.
Tom Dernoga, a former chair of the county council, said each of the nine county budget cycles he participated in showed an “expenditure overshoot.” Dernoga suggested looking to development around Metro stations as a way to create more revenue.
“The county has done a terrible job with land use decisions. It would be one thing to twist the zoning rules to prop up high-end jobs near Metro stations. But the zoning changes have very rarely, if ever, favored that proposal. The county needs to focus on expanding the tax base with productive development around Metro stations and better address the foreclosure housing crisis,” he said.
Resident Cassandra Freeman echoed those remarks about addressing the foreclosure crisis, arguing that getting owners back into those houses would mean more taxpayers in the county.
“The concern I have is, what are we going to do with all this foreclosed property that’s prevalent in our county? How are we going to utilize those foreclosed properties to generate income here in our county? Are we going to do anything to rehab those particular properties and put them back on the market so we can have residents, people who purchase those properties?” she said.
However, some of the residents at the hearing said they don’t think what they say will make a difference because, in their opinion, county leadership has a history of ignoring residents’ desires when making decisions.
“I have gone to many hearings, and it does not mean a thing. Your testimony or your remarks goes up to the ceiling,” Margaret White said.
Earl Adams, Jr., chair of the Blue Ribbon Commission, said he understood White’s concern, and assured this body was not going to follow that path.
“I will tell you, and I say this in all sincerity, I think the group of people sitting up here, we all appreciate that statement. The reason why, I think, we all volunteered to participate is because, in our own way, in different roles, we have been a part of things where that has been the case. And we wanted to be a part of something where we did more,” Adams , Jr. said.
He said although there are no “sacred cows” when looking at potential solutions, the commission will be using this public input to guide it in formulating the recommendations.
“I don’t think that it would be responsible for us to make recommendations without sort of accounting for the impact,” he said. “Ultimately, the decision is on the council and county executive, but it’s good to hear people’s perspective. If anything what it’s going to make us do is go back and frankly scrub numbers again and find our and confirm reframing what the problem is to figure out what’s the best way of solving it.”
The commission’s final report, including solutions it recommends, is due in November.