The purpose of this letter is threefold: to urge voters to vote FOR local Questions B, C, and D pertaining to our local revenue cap; to explain why it is important we do so; and most especially to throw brickbats at the Council members for their utterly pathetic personal efforts to get these questions passed.
Taken together, these three ballot questions would provide some very modest (and temporary) financial relief from the overly restrictive shackles that have bound the County for twenty-five years. At present the County’s total revenue from real estate taxes cannot increase in any year by more than the lesser of 2% or the increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban areas, subject to a State mandated exception for school funding.
(Question B is a technical clean-up needed to bring the Charter language into accord with actual practice as to how taxed properties are identified. Question C removes the CPI constraint, leaving a permanent cap at 2%. And Question D enables the Council, for the next 5-years only, to exceed the cap by one-cent per hundred dollars of valuation, an exceedingly modest increase–for example, $30 on a $300,000 home.)
Why this change? We need the money, little as it is. We, meaning you and me. Your family and mine. And our neighbors too. The County budget is “our” budget, and its expenditures are what “we” spend on our own very real needs. If one has the least notion that we’re all in this together, then you get the idea. The Spy’s recent interview with Sheriff Joe Gamble and Clay Stamp provides concrete examples in areas we all understand (ambulances, cops), but the same concept pertains across every aspect of civic life. Would you cut your grocery bill to $200 a month and think you’re really smart if it’s your own kids that would go hungry?
After 25 years, the matter has gotten critical. Assume just for argument’s sake that the irrational Talbot County Council circa 1995 (elected by the voters) was genuinely profligate, spending like madmen, and the populace was rightly up in arms. So, in spite of the fact that “revenue caps” were almost unknown in Maryland or most other jurisdictions, let’s say it was justified at that moment. But the cap is analogous to putting an overweight man on an 800-calorie diet. Healthier for a while perhaps, and certainly gets the weight down! But year after year? For twenty-five years? We are long past the point when a healthy belt-tightening turned into malnutrition, when the cumulative effects harm operation of the civic body…not just public safety, but every function of government.
Here’s a relevant point to think about: You know that crazy County Council over in Caroline, and also the one up in Kent County? Infamous wasters of money, thriftless, spend like drunken sailors. The citizens up there must be stupid and let ‘em get away with burning money! We are all proud that Talbot County has the lowest property tax rate in Maryland. But did you know it’s not lowest by 2%, or 5%, or 15%? It’s HUGELY the lowest. Caroline County’s spendthrift Commissioners enacted a rate 54% higher than ours. Kent County 60% higher! (The cheapest rate other than Talbot is in Queen Anne’s, where it’s 33% higher.) Forget about Charles County (79%); I don’t even want to mention those city-slickers.
Do you honestly believe we are so much smarter than everyone else, that our County Council can provide all of the public services that we actually need—emergency services, public safety, and the most quotidian that we take for granted—at a fraction of what everyone else expends, year after year after year? Are we really the smart ones?
I also want to call to account the spineless Council Members who, for the three months since proposing this modest Amendment, as to this question seem to have disappeared. They all put forward this proposal—unanimously. But, as taxes are poison, they then seem to have left Dodge. Where are the personal Commentaries from Divilio and Callahan and Pack, the interviews, the Letters to the Editor from Lesher and Price? With one exception, I have not yet seen any member out in public personally beating the drum for this tax increase they know is essential. And voting has been underway for weeks! (At the demonstration supporting the police I did see Pete Lesher handing out flyers in support, and I was told he did an MCTV video also.)
Where is the leadership? These are the five you elected to direct our body politic. It is they—not Sheriff Gamble or Director Stamp or the Finance Director…and surely not private citizens—who should be explaining and actively promoting these Charter Amendments. (Such inaction contributed to the defeat of similar legislation in 2018, and in 2016 the Council was on the brink of proposing an increase, but chickened out at the last possible moment.)
Cowardice in my opinion. No one wants a tax increase and it is never convenient. But if it is needed even in these dire times—as the Council unanimously concluded back in July—then it’s the duty of the five members of the Council to get out front and get it enacted. Should this Question fail yet again, you know where the responsibility lies.