During the first of two required public hearings, Montgomery County commissioners heard Tuesday from citizens both for and against a proposed retail sales tax increase projected to generate an additional $19.1 million a year.
With a $9 million budget shortfall looming for Montgomery County in 2019 — and more expected in years beyond — Joe Tuss, the county administrator, recommended the tax increase to commissioners in February as a Five-Year Financial Advisory Committee examined the county’s general fund budget in a series of meetings.
Discretionary programs, including those providing early childhood education, are under threat of being eliminated without the increase, said Lisa Babb, strategic director of 4C For Children, an organization that works with the county-supported Preschool Promise, a program that could remain alive and receive millions more in future funding if the sales tax increase passes.
“We see the difference in the 4-year-olds who are prepared for kindergarten,” she said. “It is really impacting the community with the families, with the children, with the quality of whether they are ready to come to school or not.”
Local resident David Esrati said a sales tax would hurt the working poor in county that is already one of the highest-taxed in the state after counting multiple other levies.
“They don’t have an option of leaving the county to save or order online from retailers that don’t charge tax. It takes up a larger percentage of their disposable income,” he said.
Tuss said the new revenue would allow the county to maintain efficient government operations while continuing to strategically invest in a host of discretionary programs that would otherwise be on the chopping block. In addition to cuts to Preschool Promise, arts and youth jobs programs as well as the popular Economic Development/Government Equity (ED/GE) grants that help attract and expand businesses would be eliminated, he said.
County resident Ben Wilks asked commissioners to hold entities receiving future tax dollars accountable by preparing reports that examine their efficiency.
“You don’t want to spend money if the organizations are not achieving the goals they need to achieve,” Wilks said. “We need to look at the output of what we’re spending this money on. I would hope you would consider instituting a program that would do this … to ensure people are getting value for the money they are spending.
Montgomery County has collected a retail sales tax of 1 percent since 1989. If an increase is approved by county commissioners, the cost per person in Montgomery County is estimated to be about $36 more a year for a total of $182. If approved, purchases could be subject to the new rate as soon as Oct. 1.
Commissioners are expected to vote immediately following the final hearing at a June 26 meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in room 1001 of the County Administration Building.