ROCKVILLE—Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large) met with reporters during her weekly news conference Monday, mainly answering questions concerning the newly proposed budget and property tax increase.
Floreen said that it is unclear how the County Council will vote on County Executive Ike Leggett’s (D) $5.2 billion fiscal year 2017 operating budget that would raise property taxes 8.7 percent for homeowners.
The proposed tax increase would exceed the County Charter limit, and would need approval of all nine County Council members to pass.
“As you know, the County Executive proposed a very aggressive budget on Tuesday, and we’re giving that very serious consideration,” Floreen said. “It’s too early to say how we’re going to handle it.”
The budget was presented for consideration to the County Council on March 15. Public hearings for the budget will take place from April 5-7 before the Council votes whether to adopt Leggett’s proposed budget. If approved, the budget would take effect starting July 1.
Leggett said the tax increase is necessary because the county is dealing with lost revenue from a stagnant economy, increased enrollment in Montgomery County Public Schools and fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in Comptroller of Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne.
The budget is controversial among some county residents given the significant tax increase. Under the proposed budget, property taxes would be raised 3.94 cents above the current rate, meaning that the average homeowner in Montgomery County would pay an extra $327 annually on assessed property.
“We’ll see what we’ll do,” Floreen said. “I’m not in a position to say one way or another. The real question is, what do residents get as a result of that? Is it fiscally sustainable? And is it affordable by our residents?”
The outcome of the Wynne Case has a significant impact on the proposed budget. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision, the State of Maryland and the County must refund the income tax that it collected from residents who made income out of state.
Though the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would delay the County’s obligation to refund those taxes till the fiscal year 2019, potentially freeing up $33 million in the proposed budget according to Floreen.
“I’m feeling relatively optimistic that we will receive final approval by all the relevant parties, but at this point it’s not finally resolved,” said Floreen about the General Assembly bill.
Education has also put a major strain on Montgomery County.
Over the past decade the county has seen major growth in MCPS with an extra 11,902 students that enrolled from 2006-2015 according to a Maryland Board of Education study, and county officials expect that number will grow at a rate of over 2,000 students a year.
To deal with the increased enrollment, Leggett has proposed a 6.2 percent increase in MCPS’s budget to about $4.45 billion total.
Floreen said that increased enrollment has put a particular tough strain on the County.
“There is no other school system in the state that has seen this extraordinary growth.”
The Council will consider all these issues before it meets in late May to vote on the proposed budget.
Special to The Sentinel