Tuesday, January 31, 2017

MoCo Council quietly using loot from recordation tax hike for Silver Spring Transit Center debacle

When the Montgomery County Council raised taxes to an all-time record level last May, the heist included a hike in the recordation tax residents pay when selling their homes. This increase was broadly sold as a "school construction funding" mechanism. And a hike in the Recordation Tax Premium was ostensibly to provide funds for County capital projects, and $40-50 million for affordable housing and rent assistance, according to then-Council President Nancy Floreen.

Instead, the County Council now plans to spend at least $4,210,000 of the Recordation Tax Premium on legal fees for the infamous Silver Spring Transit Center debacle. You know, the overblown garage that took nine years to construct, and still wasn't built right?

When running for reelection in 2014, the Council repeatedly insisted that taxpayers would not be on the hook for any more SSTC-related money, beyond the massive $47,000,000 over-budget spending by that point. They immediately broke that promise only a month after election day, by appropriating another whopping $21 million for a slapdash patching of serious structural weaknesses in the transit center. Those fixes were only effective in the minds of the Council, as the building itself lacks the slip joints needed to handle the loads of buses. By the time these weaknesses become fatal flaws, of course, the current Council will be out of office.

But not before ripping off taxpayers again this year.

Instead of spending on needed transportation and facility projects which have been postponed, money is being taken from this specific funding source for the transit center legal costs.

The County is unlikely to win this lawsuit, primarily because neither the executive branch nor the County Council with oversight authority took action when flaws were first discovered. Only after the structure was essentially complete in 2012 (it would not open until 2015) did the County begin to press contractors about the flaws. And it remains to be determined if the County's contracts even allow for recovery of legal fees, including this new $4.2 million.

After witnessing the Council's approval of an illegal use of funds by the Parks Department, and a $900,000 cost overrun for a Bethesda drainpipe that puts the Pentagon's $640 toilet seat to shame, you may want to follow this latest (ab)use of your money by the County Council.

The Council will hear public testimony on the proposed appropriation on February 7, at 1:30 PM at the Council Office Building, at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.

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