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The Washington Post: Prince George’s council tables measure to allow reduced homestead tax credit

The Prince George’s County Council on Tuesday unanimously tabled a measure that would have asked voters whether to allow the council to weaken the homestead tax credit.

Residents vociferously objected to the proposed ballot measure, which could have caused property tax bills for homeowners to rise more quickly. Its original proponents on the council said the change was necessary to raise revenue as the county faces a looming budget crisis. They pointed out that the Prince George’s homestead tax credit is more generous than that of other Maryland jurisdictions.

But opponents said there could not be a worse time to take money out of the pockets of residents who pay some of the highest tax rates in the state and are already suffering financially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 134,000 unemployment claims have been filed since March in Prince George’s, which has a population of 909,000. Lawmakers are worried that another housing crisis is threatening in the majority-black suburb, which was hit especially hard by the 2008 downturn.

It became clear last week that the charter amendment did not have the eight votes needed to be placed on the ballot, after several council members who initially backed its introduction said they were rescinding their support.

Council member Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6), who sponsored the bill, introduced the motion to table it Tuesday but said he hopes that residents remain engaged in conversations about tax structure and revenue sources. He said the county must find ways to generate additional tax dollars to address issues such as the underfunding of the health and human services department.

“Our county needs this desperately,” he said.

Statewide, the homestead property tax credit caps the amount a homeowner pays in property taxes on their primary residence at 10 percent of the rise in property assessment. Each jurisdiction in Maryland has the ability to set a lower rate for itself, and since 1992, the rate in Prince George’s has been tied to the area consumer price index, with a cap of 5 percent.

The measure that was tabled — meaning it was not voted on at all — would have allowed the council to raise the cap to 10 percent.

Residents joined the virtual meeting to offer a chorus of criticisms of the proposal, including that council members failed to seek enough public input, proposed language that was unclear and had poor timing amid the pandemic.

“You should find different ways to manage the budget, not tax your citizens who voted for you,” Fort Washington resident Sandra Fleming said, adding that many are already struggling to meet basic needs including food and home security.

Longer police response times could delay home building in Prince George’s

The charter amendment was publicly opposed by County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), who said the county should focus on raising revenue by growing its commercial tax base. On Monday, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) joined those opposing the measure, writing a letter to the council that said the measure would widen homeownership disparities between black and white households.

“Asking Prince Georgians to pay more in property taxes would further exacerbate this already widening gap, and would make it all the more difficult for black Prince George’s residents to purchase and own a home, and accumulate wealth,” Franchot wrote.

Also on Tuesday, the council narrowly passed a bill that would allow it and the county executive to waive fees for developers building subdivisions in districts where police response times are longer than 10 minutes.

The measure came after response times last year ticked past 10 minutes for two police districts that cover swaths of rural Prince George’s, which triggered a 2004 law requiring developers to pay fines.

County Council Chair Todd M. Turner (D-District 4), who was one of six council members who voted for the bill Tuesday, said it was drafted after extensive conversation with then-Police Chief Hank Stawinski. Five council members and several residents who joined the virtual meeting opposed the measure, saying it would lead to additional sprawl that would strain county resources.

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