Increased Property Taxes? Who’s to Blame?

For homeowners in Rockville, July brings the annual property tax bill. I’m guessing that most people simply look at the bottom line and grumble that it’s higher than last year, blaming it on the government. But we’re the government, so we can and should tell our elected officials when it’s okay to be taxed and how we want those funds spent. Which elected officials should we blame? That’s where it can get confusing and far too often I’ve seen the wrong people blamed for the actions of others. Indeed, the Rockville Mayor and Council too often is unfairly blamed for high taxes, when it’s usually the fault of the Montgomery County Council. Take a look at the breakdown for my property taxes, which will be roughly equivalent to all other homes in Rockville because we pay the same percentage of taxes according to the assessed value of the property. As you can see in the pie chart, Montgomery County collects nearly two-thirds of the property tax (blue), Rockville about a quarter (orange), and the State of Maryland about ten percent (green). Rockville collects another ten percent for trash and stormwater management (light orange) but combined it’s still considerably less than Montgomery County.

Secondly, the City of Rockville has held its property tax rates steady for the last decade, whereas the County continues to move upwards (see chart above). If you want to complain about property taxes, you need to take it up with the County Council, in particular Councilmember Sidney Katz, who represents Rockville. Most people rarely contact the County Council, indeed, the latest tax increase adopted in April didn’t attract any comments from residents, even though it exceeded the Constant Yield Tax Rate. I’m not sure why this happened but it could be the lack of adequate public notice (no newspapers in Rockville) or that County government is much more complex than the city, its bureaucracy is far more Byzantine, their meetings and public hearings are held during the daytime (when most people are working), and residents rarely encounter County Councilmembers to share their concerns (although I’m sure they feel they’re always out in the community).

If there’s a silver lining to our property taxes, Montgomery County has one of the lowest rates in the state compared to other counties.  In the crazy world of Maryland, tax rates and quality of life seem to be inversely correlated.  Montgomery County has a much higher quality of life than the City of Baltimore, and yet Baltimore’s tax rates are nearly three times higher.  While some might quickly use this as evidence that low taxes increase the quality of life, my sense it’s more about how those taxes are used by the government: police and fire, schools and libraries, or parks and recreation. More on that in a future post.

 

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