At next Tuesday’s Council meeting, the City Council will consider taking a position opposing 15% property tax increase in the proposed FY16 County budget. The City Council will send a letter to the Councty Council on this position. The letter will support County’s current initiative in improving our struggling school systems, but will express concerns about the 15% tax hike, which will affect many College Park residents and will work against inviting new residents to the City and the County. Here is the draft.
Dear Chair Franklin:

The City of College Park supports the efforts by the County Executive and CEO of the Prince George’s County Public Schools to set forth a long-term plan to move the Prince George’s County Public School system from its current rank near the bottom of Maryland schools to the top ten. However, we are concerned that the County Executive’s current proposal to increase taxes by fifteen cents will further erode residents’ trust in our school system and have unintended negative impacts on homeownership and economic development in the County.

The County school system continues to struggle with providing high quality education, due to a myriad of reasons including antiquated buildings, uncompetitive salaries for staff and faculty, too few teachers in the classroom, and children who do not receive adequate nutrition at home. Our residents want the school system to improve. The city of College Park has invested more than $150,000 annually to support our school system. Many families with young children have left College Park and Prince George’s County because they want to provide a higher quality of education for their children without paying to send them to private school. The quality of schools is an important factor when prospective new residents are deciding where to live.

On the other hand, high tax rates also have a negative impact on our community. Many residents, even those with an income high enough to be ineligible for the low-income homeowner’s property tax credit, are still struggling from the aftermath of the recession and unable to pay the additional burden. If Prince George’s County increases its tax rate to $1.11 per $100 of assessed value, Prince George’s County will have a higher property tax than neighboring counties. This puts Prince George’s County at a competitive disadvantage with prospective homeowners seeking lower property taxes. We have heard from residents who have said they cannot afford to live in the city any more if this property tax increase passes. We also know of small business owners working in our city who have struggled to stay open in recent years, and this additional burden will make it more difficult for them to survive.

We encourage the County Council to work with the County Executive, the CEO of the Prince George’s County Public Schools, and the Board of Education to find a more appropriate balance between the need to improve the quality of our schools and the need to minimize the burden to Prince George’s County taxpayers. While we agree that our schools need to be adequately funded to be in a position to succeed, there are other steps that can be taken to make our schools function more effectively and efficiently – steps such as carrying out the recommendations of the financial management practices audit conducted by the Department of Legislative Services in 2014, conducting a performance audit to identify other potential cost-saving measures, and pursuing innovative means to improve our education system at a lower cost.

We acknowledge the difficult decision that you have before you in balancing these competing interests. Prince George’s County has the opportunity to be a leader in highly effective, low-cost education reform, and we are ready and willing to work with you to achieve that goal.

Andrew Fellows, Mayor, City of College Park