Forest Heights is moving forward with a proposed property tax increase to help pay for repaving streets and adding sidewalks, some residents are asking if the trade off is worth it and don’t believe taxes should increase in order to improve infrastructure.
The town’s proposal is to increase the average real property tax from 57 cents to 62 cents per $100 property assessment for each resident, a move to add more than $100,000 to its revenues from real property taxes.
Forest Heights is a roughly 900-home southern Prince George’s municipality nestled between the Capital Beltway and the southeastern Washington, D.C., border that has annexation possibilities on the horizon with a focus on improving infrastructure and environmental practices.
The last tax increase to residents came last year when the budgeted revenue from real property tax went from $841,432 in fiscal 2011 to $855,196 in fiscal 2012. The current budget proposal calls for $957,104 for real property tax revenue in fiscal 2013.
Only seven residents showed up to a public hearing on the proposed budget at the Forest Heights Municipal Building on Monday evening. There are roughly 2,500 residents in the town with more than 50 percent of them being older than 50 years old.
“I’m disappointed with the council. Whatever you guys want to do, you are going to do it,” said Charlie Giggetts, 71, who noted a lot of residents are on fixed incomes. “This is a nice community, but we need people in office that are concerned about the community.”
Mayor Jacqueline E. Goodall said when people visit the town, they look at the streets and the sidewalks and the overall “visual effect,” explaining the importance of funding renovation projects.
“I understand the concern, but we do have a lot of infrastructure work to be done on sidewalks and roads,” Goodall said. “The increase in tax is not great, but when spread out over 930 homes it’s not unbearable. We’re all living in financial difficulty.”
Andrea McCutcheon, a former town mayor, said the amount of grants budgeted for fiscal 2013 throws off the actual budget because not all of the anticipated grant revenues will come through. The budget lists several grants under revenues such as $55,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, and a more than $1 million Department of Environment 319 grant, which is a federal grant source for improving water quality in watershed areas.
“[Goodall] is bankrupting the town. You can’t say you’re getting these grants and spend the money for grants that you never received,” McCutcheon said, who was the town mayor from 2009 to 2011 until Goodall succeeded her.
Goodall said the budget is a working document and said if certain grants are not obtained, the budget is adjusted to reflect that and noted that if they do not get the funding needed for a capital improvement project, it is put on hold rather than the town coming up with all of the money on its own.
Some residents felt that while a property tax doesn’t sit well with residents, it’s beneficial for the town overall.
“I do understand the little bit about property tax. I don’t want mine raised. But the town needs the money,” said Cathy Clarke, 68. “If you want the town to prosper and continue, what can we do?”
Goodall said the council plans to approve the budget during its Wednesday Town Council meeting.