This story was updated 11:39 a.m., Jan. 23.
Cheverly council members are weighing whether to make it easier to raise property tax rates by doing away with a decades-old tax cap.
The tax cap limits the amount that council members can raise real property tax rates, and is now set at 58 cents of every $100 of a property’s assessed value.
Council members voted to raise the property tax rate to the 58-cent level last year, higher than the median rate for all Maryland municipalities, which is at the 33 cent level, according to the Maryland Municipal League. In Prince George’s County, Cheverly has the 13th highest real property tax rate out of the 27 municipalities. Cheverly is one of 19 municipalities of the 57 statewide that has a tax cap, according to the MML.
Council members can raise the tax cap at anytime, but this may require three months if they follow through with the standard procedure of introducing an ordinance, reading it a second time and voting to pass it at successive meetings, said Mayor Michael Callahan, who added this is too burdensome a process for council members who are trying to act quickly.
Although there are no official plans to raise taxes at this point, council members will likely discuss raising the rate for multi-family homes this budget cycle, he said.
Cheverly resident Micah Watson, who was a Ward 1 councilman from 2004 to 2011, said he wanted the tax cap to stay in place because he was worried that eliminating the cap would open the door to council members raising property tax rates without a prolonged discussion of the issue.
“It is definitely a barrier and that is what it was intended to be,” Watson said.
But Callahan said the council needed the flexibility to be able to change the rate, particularly in tough economic times, such as last year, when property assessments in the town fell 21 percent, leaving a more than $671,000 hole in the town’s budget for fiscal 2013.
“It all sounds great until you end up in a situation like last year and you don’t have the flexibility to adapt to those circumstances,” Callahan said.
Resident Deborah Yates, 63, who lives on Lake Avenue, said she had no problem with the tax cap being lifted or with taxes being increased, because she wanted town services to maintain their quality.
“Someone has got to be paid, the work has got to be done and where does that come from if people are not taxed?” she said.
The council will vote on whether to eliminate the tax cap at its February meeting.
Cheverly resident Susan Pruden, 56, a realtor in the area, said she was in favor of the tax cap being eliminated, because she felt council member’s needed to act quickly during hard budget cycles.
“I think particularly in difficult economic times, municipalities need to be flexible,” she said.