Prince George's council supports tax increase
Johnson criticized for failing to inform public, work harder to find cuts
Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson's push for a property tax increase won narrow support Tuesday from the County Council, with five of the nine members voting in favor.
"Unfortunately, it is time to consider some difficult options," said Council Chairwoman Marilynn M. Bland (D-Dist. 9) of Clinton.
It is now up to Annapolis lawmakers to decide whether to pursue Johnson's controversial proposal to increase the percentage that taxable amount property assessments can rise, from 5 percent per year to 10 percent, under the state's Homestead Property Tax Credit. The proposed change would cost the average owner of a $246,000 house about $235 more next year.
Delegates had told the council they would not push for Johnson's proposal unless the council gave its approval.
Johnson requested the state legislation last week to balance a projected $132 million deficit.
Supporters say the increase, which would last two years, is the only way to avoid firing up to 700 county police officers, firefighters and other county government employees. Johnson plans to discuss the change with residents at 7 p.m. tonight at the Rennie Forum at Prince George's Community College in Largo.
Johnson told council members Tuesday the increase will avoid "life and death decisions" caused by cutting police and schools.
"I have spoken with some of the members of the council. We have seeked solutions. We have looked at many ways to raise revenues," Johnson said. "We're not talking about cutting around. We're talking core services. Massive layoffs."
In addition to Bland, the bill was supported by members Ingrid M. Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie, Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale, Samuel H. Dean (D-Dist 6) of Mitchellville and Camille A. Exum (D-Dist. 7) of Capitol Heights. The bill was opposed by members William A. Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville, Eric Olson (D-Dist. 3) of College Park and Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Temple Hills, while Vice Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel abstained.
Council members said the vote squeaked through the divided group. Throughout the meeting, Exum, Dean and Bland pulled other group members into a back room to lobby for support, council members said.
It is unclear whether the vote shows enough unity to get state lawmakers to sign on. Delegates did not return calls for comment Wednesday morning.
Johnson has also asked the legislature for the power to raise another $30 million by tripling the county's 2.6-cent transit tax for every $100 of a home's value, which would add an additional $108 to the annual tax bill of a $246,000 home.
The executive's proposed increases have drawn protests from residents.
"Quit lying to the people of Prince George's County," said New Carrollton resident Bob Simmons. "This is all on the homeowners, and we can't take much more."
Members who voted against the proposal said Johnson and officials had not addressed their concerns about how the changes will control spending.
"I want to be with you. I know that may surprise you, but I want to," Dernoga told Johnson. "What I want to look at is, what else can we cut? Part of the responsibility of being a legislator is going through the budget."
Knotts chided Johnson for holding back information about the increase, which he said caught residents off-guard when it was announced last week.
"It's not that they're saying no," Knotts said. "It's more about how we're informing the public about this."
E-mail Daniel Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org.