Thursday, December 01, 2005

Maryland Community Seeks Taxation Without Representation

An odd story from The Washington Post:

Germantown Weighs a Tax That Binds
Special Levy Seen as Way To Foster Community

If Germantown were a city, it would be Maryland's second largest, after Baltimore. It is home to 85,000 people, 30,000 more than nearby Rockville. Its footprint covers 16 square miles, six more than neighboring Gaithersburg.

The difference is that Rockville and Gaithersburg are both incorporated, with mayors, councils and city managers. Germantown, an unincorporated part of Montgomery County, doesn't even have an official Web site. Until this year, there were no signs on state roads letting drivers know when they enter the community.


Lately, however, citizen groups and officials at two county agencies are pushing a proposal they say will give this fragmented place something it has been struggling to develop for decades: a sense of community and a spirit of unity.

Become a real city? No, just have the taxes of one:

The idea is to levy a tax on residents and businesses to generate money to enhance services and amenities... The improvement district, as it would be known in Germantown, would be the first of its kind in the county's northern tier.

...if the County Council approves the plan, residential and commercial property in the Germantown master plan area will be taxed a maximum of 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation annually. The revenue, an estimated $1.7 million, would go toward some services the county is now responsible for but performs infrequently -- including maintaining medians, trimming trees, removing weeds and picking up trash in public areas...

Other, more obvious community-building activities and amenities -- such as street banners, signs and flags -- would be included in the budget. So would money for Germantown's main community event, its Oktoberfest celebration, and new events such as Fourth of July fireworks. A citizens advisory group would oversee the budget, and an on-site supervisor would monitor the work.

The money could be used only in Germantown.

"It's a step forward," said Christina Hackett, president of the Chadswood Homeowners Association. "It's the next best thing to being a city."

Others see it as a waste of money at a time when there are more pressing needs, such as preventing gang violence. "I don't think that we should have to pay more taxes to get someone to mow our grass," said Germantown resident Alice Gordon, who produces a weekly cable show about issues in northern Montgomery.

So why not incorporate and create an accountable local government? Apparently that would be too much work compared to just raising taxes:
Talk of incorporation, which would give Germantown a central government, road crews and more tax revenue, pops up every once in a while. But the process would be long and costly and would require a referendum.
A local government probably wouldn't be so hard to structure - it looks like little more than a federation of home owners associations would be needed:

Germantown has long been derided as an example of community planning gone wrong, its residents identifying more with the six villages the community was designed around than Germantown as a whole. Its governance comes in the form of more than 100 homeowners associations that interact little with each other...

[Bob Fischer, a business development specialist for the county's Department of Housing and Community,] said the shortage of money for maintenance is not a snub of Germantown. Rather, he said, with the population increasing all over Montgomery, the county has struggled to meet of all of its communities' needs.

In Germantown, that's where the homeowners associations come in. They charge residents monthly fees and use part of the money to take care of roads and outdoor areas.

Pam Czarick, manager of Waters Landing, a village of more than 3,000 single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums and apartments, compares Germantown to a quilt. The villages are like the patches, she said, and the county roads are the areas that connect them.

"I really believe Germantown deserves better in its care and maintenance of common roads," said Czarick, who moved to Germantown from Gaithersburg in 1982.

DC residents like to complain about taxation without representation (even to the extent of trying to impose it on their neighbors), but at least their local government is accountable to the voters (not to mention Congress).

No comments: