Taxation Without Representation in Clarksburg?
In Montgomery, the issue of taxation without representation has been the lament of many Clarksburg residents who claim that a proposed special tax on them is unfair.
The ball is now in the County Council's court and yesterday, several County Council members began reviewing plans to finalize the special taxing district for Clarksburg Town Center and two other Clarksburg developments.
But they raised many questions and offered few answers about what direction they want to take.
Two community groups say residents never received sufficient notice that they might some day be on the hook for more taxes - at least $1,500 a year for the next 30 years.
Meanwhile, a leading development attorney has said his clients started building the new communities believing all along they eventually would be repaid by taxpayers for many roads, green space and other infrastructure.
Members of the council's management and fiscal policy committee appeared worried enough about the tax's legalities that they spent the first hour of yesterday's session behind closed doors getting advice from their attorneys.
When they came back into public session, several members questioned the county's attempts to put the tax in place. So far the tax has not been collected.
Even though several thousand residents have already bought homes and are living in Clarksburg Town Center, and nearby communities, "they at this point have no idea how much tax will be levied on them," said Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large).
Sue Richards, a staff member in the council's Office of Legislative Oversight, blamed a "very fragmented" development approval process for some of the continuing confusion over who may end up paying for what in Clarksburg. She also said the county regulatory staffs may rely too much on developers to provide them with information.
"The public people shouldn't be relying entirely on the developers. There should be better connections among the public agencies," she said.
One of the issues Richards unearthed in a recent, and voluminous, study of the special taxing proposal is that the county's plan would, in at least one instance, provided developers a chance to be paid twice for some items.
She called for better coordinaton among the county's planning agency, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the county executive's office and the county council when special taxing districts are devised and items are offered up for inclusion, and eventual reimbursement to developers.
The issue is slated for discussion again on Oct. 22 by the council's management and fiscal policy committee.
Stephen Z. Kaufman, an attorney who along with partner Jack Orrick represents three developers in Clarksburg, said his clients had counted on the repayments from the county government when they won permission from the planning board in the last 1990s to build the projects.
Amy Presley, a community leader in Clarksburg Town Center, said the county and taxpayers have gained little so far.
"What does the county gain? Nothing has been built sooner," she said. "If the county has not gaining anything, why, contrary to the majority of the wishes of Clarksburg residents are county officials pushing so hard for the district?"
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has said he hopes to split the difference and perhaps lower the tax from initial estimates. But he said he believes the county has acted legally thus far.
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