Lawsuit Challenges Legality of County Tax Laws

Prince George’s County

by: Bruce W. Branch Special to the AFRO
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A group of community activists recently filed a lawsuit in an effort to reduce taxes for Prince George’s County residents.

The lawsuit, which suggests the county violated the law in 2016 by bypassing the infamous Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders(TRIM). The law mandates any property tax increase must win a public ballot and was allowed to move forward after a ruling in Prince George’s County Circuit Court on Sept. 29. Another hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 13.

Even though TRIM capped taxes, elected officials still raised property taxes. That was good news for plaintiffs Fred Price, Jr. and James K. Wass who believe the measure should have been decided through a referendum from voters.

Price and Wass are members of the Republican Party Central Committee, but both believe that the issue is bi-partisan and impacts the entire community. They have asked the court for injunctive relief and refunds for the property taxes they believe they have been charged illegally. Under TRIM, which was passed in 1978, a tax cap was imposed, but that changed two years ago when the county council imposed a four-cent property tax increase after County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III had attempted to raise taxes by 15 percent, which he said he needed to improve the county educational system.

The lawsuit argues that elected officials violated the county charter when the measure was implemented without voter approval and the tax hike is illegal Wass and Price say they want the issue to be decided on the 2018 ballot.

They are now trying to drum up public support to stop tax increases, which was a rallying cry for Larry Hogan in 2014 when he came from behind to defeat then Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown for Maryland Governor.

“It ought to be rolled back and properly put before the voters,” Fred Price told reporters at a press conference on Oct. 4. “They need to look at this issue and step up and support us with funds to keep this going.”

Attorney Tamara Davis Brown, a member of Prince George’s Tax Watch said the recent actions of the court prove “we have a legitimate case on hand.”

However, Scott Peterson, a spokesperson for Baker said, in a statement: “The property tax increase that was implemented and voted on by the Prince George’s County Council and was done in accordance to state law, which allows for property tax increases in jurisdictions that have tax caps, as long as it is restricted to funding education.”

Earl O’Neal, a Prince George’s County resident and a South County community activist told the AFRO: “We pay some of the highest taxes in the state with some of the worst services. This lawsuit is a step in the right direction, but residents shouldn’t have to go to court to get lower taxes and essential services like a good education.” According to state government figures, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carrol County, Charles County, Howard County and Kent County pay more in property taxes than Prince George’s County.

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