Montgomery County property taxes would rise under Ike Leggett's budget

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Montgomery County taxpayers would pay higher property taxes under County Executive Ike Leggett's proposed fiscal 2014 budget.

Leggett's $4.8 billion operating budget increases the tax rate 1.8 cents to $1.01 per $100 of a home's assessed value, with the average homeowner's monthly bill rising $6.67, or $80 a year. Leggett said he proposed raising the taxes at the charter limit but under the rate of inflation.

It's the third year in a row that Leggett has raised property tax rates: They were raised 4.5 cents for the current fiscal year and 4.2 cents in fiscal 2012.

He also plans to leave the energy tax at its current level, a level that was supposed to be reduced at the end of fiscal 2012.

Residents' water bills also would increase 7.5 percent, with the average household paying an additional $5.05 per month to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

The total budget is a 4.1 percent increase from last fiscal year and increases spending by 3.9 percent.

Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, was especially critical of the extension of the energy tax. "Not only is Ike Leggett raising property taxes to the charter limit, but the sun continues to rise on the energy tax that had a sunset date of 2012."

Bob Monsheimer, a member of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, said he was unhappy about the property tax increase but was pleased that Leggett opted to not go above the charter limit.

"Am I thrilled? No," he said. "But Ike has continued his efforts to stay within the charter limit."

Monsheimer was more pleased to see that Leggett funded Montgomery County Public Schools only at the state-mandated level of $2.3 billion -- about $10 million less than what MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr asked for.Monsheimer said to offer the schools anything above the limit would handcuff the county in future budget years.

Leggett's budget also includes an increase in compensation for county employees that would equal about $31.6 million, which includes the 13.5 percent increase for the more than 5,000 county union employees over two years.

County employees haven't received any pay raises during the past four years, and Leggett says now is the right time to reward them.

"They're working longer, they're working harder, and they're doing it with less people," he said. "They deserve it, and we need to fight for them."

He also plans to restore 128 positions, mostly for police and libraries.

He pointed out that he has closed $2.7 billion in budget gaps during the recession, and though the economy seems to be getting better, he said the county remains cautiously optimistic.

Some criticized the executive's budget, most notably MCPS officials. School board President Christopher Barclay said he was disappointed Leggett didn't invest more in schools, especially since the $10 million over the state-mandated minimum funding level would have gone to restoring positions.

"This is about investing in the future of our county," he said.

In presenting his budget, Leggett said he granted 99.6 percent of the district's request and said he predicts MCPS will find some reserves to make up for the shortfall.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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