Category Archives: Finances

Zip Code 20850 Major Source of Campaign Funding–Again

Donations 2013 OctoberThe second campaign finance reports for the Rockville Mayor and Council elections for the period October 1-27, 2013 were recently submitted and they reveal that Zip Code 20850 (includes Fallsgrove, West End, New Mark Commons, East Rockville, Lincoln Park, College Gardens, King Farm) still dominates the contributions and even increased their giving by 5 percent compared to September.  The other Rockville Zip Codes fell far in the distance at 10 percent for 20854 (Horizon Hill, Fallsmead, Potomac Woods); 6 percent for 20851 (Twinbrook); and 5 percent for 20852 (Hungerford, Montrose, North Farm).   For the entire election season, 20850 is tops at 63 percent, contributions outside the city come in at 21 percent, and the other three Zips stand at about 5 percent.  Again, that roughly mimics the voting records for those regions and perhaps how much they Continue reading →

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Election Shenanigans Encourage Unethical and Illegal Behavior

Illegal flyer distributed in King Farm in October 2013.

Illegal flyer distributed in King Farm in October 2013.

In an effort to discourage the shenanigans that are occurring in the current Mayor and Council election, I’ve filed an official complaint with the City’s Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) this week.  Last weekend, a couple people were distributing a flyer door-to-door in the King Farm neighborhood that called for the election of Bridget Newton, Don Hadley, and Claire Marcuccio Whitaker to the Rockville Mayor and Council for various reasons.  That’s not a problem except it was anonymous, a tactic I find cowardly because the source is secret and isn’t accountable for their statements, but in Rockville, it’s also illegal.  The City Code states that, “Every person who publishes or distributes or causes to be published or distributed any pamphlet, circular, card … relating to or concerning any candidate … shall include the name and address of the person, treasurer, or campaign committee responsible for the literature.”   That’s why you always see Continue reading →

Zip Code 20850 Dominates Rockville Campaign

Donors by Zip Code 9-2013The first campaign finance reports for the Rockville Mayor and Council elections for the period ending September30, 2013 were recently submitted and they reveal that Zip Code 20850 (includes Fallsgrove, West End, New Mark Commons, East Rockville, Lincoln Park, College Gardens, King Farm) provides more than 60 percent of the funds, with other Rockville Zip Codes 20851 (Twinbrook), 20852 (Hungerford, Montrose, North Farm), and 20854 (Horizon Hill, Fallsmead, Potomac Woods) falling far in the distance with an average of 5 percent.   That roughly mimics the voting records for those regions and perhaps how much they feel engaged with the larger Rockville community.  For individual campaigns, the breakdown varies considerably and can signal how much a candidate has engaged with or is subject to influence by a particular neighborhood.

Donors by Zip Code by Candidate 9-2013

New candidates often have to rely on support from themselves, family, or friends and that’s the pattern seen with Hadley, Palakovich Carr, and Whittaker.  Feinberg, on the other hand, has been able to obtain more than 95 percent of her supporters within Rockville, an impressive achievement for an experienced candidate and extraordinary for a newcomer.  The mayoral candidates of Newton and Pierzchala, both current councilmembers, are relying heavily on residents within 20850 and from outsiders–donors outside of Rockville exceed 25 percent for both candidates.  Feinberg and Palakovich Carr have gathered the broadest representation of supporters across Rockville’s four zip codes.

Number of Donors 9-2013

The number of donors seems to fall in three groups.  Newtown and Pierzchala lead with about 80 supporters each, Feinberg and Palakovich Carr in the second batch with about Continue reading →

Is Rockville Middle Class?

During the past few years, I’ve heard people often refer to Rockville as a “middle class” community and in the upcoming economic summit, you’ll hear it mentioned as the defining characteristic for the residents of our fair city.  But what does that mean, really?  Is it a measure of wealth, values, or behavior?  I suspect it’s a bit of all three–and it’s a term that’s slippery enough that everyone can define it differently and still agree with each other.  Much like the fictional Lake Wobegon, it seems that everyone is above average…and in the middle class.  The alternatives–working class or wealthy–just don’t seem to be appropriate for us, do they?

Recent surveys by the Pew Research Center suggest that for most Americans, being in the middle class is defined as having a secure job, but not necessarily that you own a home or have a college education.  It also turned out that about half the people surveyed identified themselves as middle class–but this varies tremendously depending on Continue reading →

Montgomery County Tax Rates Up Last 5 Years

Montgomery County Tax Rates from 2007 to 2012

I often hear Rockville residents grumble about property taxes and they often blame the city for taking an unfair share of their hard-earned income.  Although property taxes in the City of Rockville have held steady for the last few years, they’ve risen in Montgomery County.  From 2007 to 2012, the County Council has increased the tax rate each year–but hardly anyone in Rockville has noticed and put the blame in the right place.  In 2007, the property tax rate was 62 cents for every $100 in assessed value, today it’s 72 cents–a 15 percent increase over five years.  Businesses were similarly affected through personal property taxes (which is assessed on inventory, manufacturing equipment, etc.), rising from $1.57 to $1.81, a 16 percent increase over five years.  No changes at the State of Maryland–it does not assess property taxes.

Why blame the City and not the County?  I suspect it’s because residents assume that 100 percent of their property taxes goes to the city in which they live.  Actually, each jurisdiction sets its own rates and you’ll see it split out in writing on your annual property tax bill.  If you live in Rockville, for every $100 in the assessed value of your property, you pay 72 cents to the county and 29 cents to the city.  Today, the median sales price for a house is Rockville is $416,000, so the total annual property tax bill would be $4,227–$3,012 for the county and $1,215 for the city.  Montgomery County receives more than twice as much money from you as the City of Rockville–do you feel you get the same proportion of value in return?

It is has been proposed that a person’s recognition that they pay property taxes is directly related to their level of civic engagement (e.g., voting, writing city council, speaking up at public hearings).  In other words, a homeowner knows they pay property taxes because they receive an annual bill, so they’re aware that they’re taxpayers and have a say about government.  That’s not true about renters, condo owners, or resthome residents, whose property taxes are rolled into their monthly fees or dues, so they’re not as apt to think they’re tax payers and have a stake in government.  What do you think?

Tax rates for the last ten years are available from the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Can Rockville’s 2013 Budget Avoid a Crossroads in 2014?

The Mayor and Council just closed public hearing on the upcoming $65 million budget and about twenty people had comments (mostly community service groups, such as Community Ministries, Sister City, Jefferson House, Scholarship Foundation, and Bike Advisory Committee).  Out of nearly 70,000 residents, that doesn’t seem like very many people and I’m not sure if that means that residents don’t care, don’t understand it, or didn’t know about it, but considering it’s all about how their money is used, it’s surprising.  The public record stays open until 5 pm on May 17 so there’s still time to submit comments before the budget is adopted on May 21 (although some members of the Council admitted they are drowning in budget information).

As many of you know, I’ve had ongoing concerns that there’s been a trend that revenues aren’t keeping up with expenses and although the Council has so far kept those lines from crossing, it may be impossible to avoid in the next couple years without some serious consequences. Of course, the City can’t run a deficit, so that means either increasing revenues (typically taxes) or reducing expenses (fewer city services).  No politician likes that situation because voters don’t like those options.  We prefer an imaginary world of more services and fewer taxes believing it’s possible by following platitudes like cutting fat, working smarter, and thinking outside the box (and incidents like the recent GSA conference only confirm those feelings).  What really happens is that politicians will avoid tax increases on those who yell the most and the loudest (usually seniors because they understand the system and have time) and cut services to those don’t complain (people who don’t understand the system or don’t have time, such as children, families with kids, renters, recent immigrants, and the poor).

City, county, and state revenue sources in 2012. Click to enlarge.

For the Council’s deliberations on the budget for fiscal year 2013, rather than look at ways to cut expenses, I urged them to consider new or expanded sources of revenue to maintain and enhance existing city services (particularly the parks and recreation, historic preservation, and public art programs) that make Rockville a distinctive place to live and work. Of course we need good roads, a responsive police department, regular trash pickup, and clean water–those are basics but they don’t make Rockville distinctive and prevent the monotony that’s so much the norm of suburban living.  A comparison of the top five revenue sources among the city, county, and state suggests Continue reading →

Bridget Newton at RCC

Councilmember Bridget Newton at Rockville Community Coalition meeting.

On May 3, 2012, Councilmember Bridget Newton joined the the quarterly Rockville Community Coalition meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church to discuss various issues facing the City of Rockville, including:

Charter Review Commission:  she supports opening the commission membership to applications from citizens and at the last Council meeting it was decided that each Councilmember could appoint one person and that together they would appoint another five, plus the Mayor would appoint the Chair.  She doesn’t have any problems with the current charter, although she noted that a few years ago there were some discussions about whether to continue the Manager-Council form of government, but she had no issues with that.  She also had no preconceived outcomes, such as a 7-member council, and wants the commission to be an independent group who would do their own research.  She’s committed to holding a referendum on any changes to the Charter before Council makes a decision.

Council conflicts:  she stated that her goal is to work together and there would no major/minority divisions.  It’s not productive to have a divided Council and she looks forward to more 5-0 votes.  Newton mentioned that when she first moved to Rockville, it seemed that despite the diverse perspectives and opinions, people got along but now discussions seem to be mean-spirited.  She would like things to Continue reading →

Delegate Gilchrist proposes Extending Sales Taxes on More Businesses

Maryland State Delegate Jim Gilchrist of Rockville has proposed a far reaching change to the Maryland tax code that would add sales taxes to 34 additional services starting January 1, 2013 including:

  • cable television
  • automobile repair warranties
  • auto repair and road service
  • parking (although it exempts state government, of course)
  • docking services
  • shoe repair
  • public lockers
  • employment agencies
  • temporary help
  • tax preparation services
  • notary public
  • testing labs
  • weighing machines
  • physical fitness facilities
  • dieting services
  • barbers and hair stylists
  • management consulting
  • pest exterminators
  • interior decorating
  • shop window decorating

Really?  Do we need more taxes in this economy? Do we want to add more government paperwork to small businesses, such as barbers, interior decorators, and shoe repairmen?  Tax the service that helps prepare our taxes? Tax unemployed people who are trying to get temporary job or get help from an employment agency?  Really?

This change in the law has not been adopted but is under consideration by the State House of Delegates, so you still have time to voice your opinion.  State government legislation is notoriously hard to follow (and the legislature has been reluctant to be more transparent because it would mean giving up control) but according to the Rockville Chamber of Commerce, House Bill 1051 will be heard by the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, March 6.  If you have concerns, contact the delegates that represent Rockville:

Read House Bill 1051 for yourself–everything in bold capitals is new.

Rockville Candidates Forum #3

Rockville City Council Candidate Forum at the Senior Center.

I had a chance to attend my first city council candidates forum today, which I think is actually the third of more than a half dozen.  If you missed it, don’t worry, you have plenty of opportunities coming up (including two this upcoming week that will be broadcast).

Today’s forum was held in the senior center and hosted by the neighborhood associations for College Gardens, Woodley Gardens, and Plymouth Woods and moderated by Cheryl Kagan.  All the candidates were seated in a single row, barely fitting on stage, and about 60 people attended, mostly senior citizens.  Unlike some neighborhood forums that focus exclusively on their parochial issues, this one ranged widely around Rockville, including such topics as Rockville in ten years, budget and finances, the APFO, Rockville Pike Plan, the fence separating Montgomery College, the city logo and branding, qualifications of the next city manager, relationships with other government agencies, relations with city staff, the proposed Walmart, and an assessment of the city’s website.  Perhaps the most provocative question was, “which candidate do you oppose in this election and why?”  I won’t provide a detailed report on everyone’s statements–I’ll leave that to the Gazette or you can watch the 2+ hours of it on YouTube–but will just give general impressions and highlights.

It seems that the candidates are beginning to solidify their statements and finding ways to Continue reading →

2009 Mayoral Promise Number 1: Finance and Budget Assessment

In her inaugural address as the new Mayor of the City of Rockville on November 22, 2009, Phyllis Marcuccio made the following statement, the first promise of her new administration:

First, I would be remiss if we did not respond to the major issue of our recent election:  the unprecedented economic stress facing our nation and our city for the next several years.  I will within the next two weeks appoint a task force on finance and budget, whose initial charge will be to review and comment on our financial policies, principles, and current processes of the City budget for consideration by the City Council.  I will call for their report by the end of March in 2010.

What Happened

Let’s see what’s happened point-by-point (reordered to simplify analysis): Continue reading →