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Speak Truth to Power: Where Have All the Taxpayers Gone?

It is a rare occasion when a citizen of Montgomery County has the ability to ask an elected official a question or inquire about county government policy — in public — about almost any subject. If you live north and west of Great Seneca Creek those opportunities are like solar eclipses, you may know when it is going to happen, but it doesn’t happen very often.

If you want to testify before the Planning Board, Board of Education, or County Council you must submit a request to be heard and a written copy of what you are going to speak about days before the event. Very rarely do officials put themselves in a position to be put on the spot in public. That is why it so troubling when regular people do not show up at events like County Executive Ike Leggett’s Budget Forum held last month at BlackRock Center for the Arts or Councilmember Rice’s Education Budget Forum held this last Wednesday at Northwest High School.

While these events were well attended — there was about 120 people in the Northwest cafeteria on Wednesday night and about 160 at Leggett's Budget Forum in January.

However, on Wednesday roughly 60 attendees were members of the Montgomery County Education Association — the local teachers union. (They were easy to count because they all wore red clothing as a sign of solitary.) Another 10 were county employees or Councilmember Rice’s staff. Another 10 were media folks. Another 10 were advocates for Montgomery College. Another 10 were from Progressive Maryland with anti-Trump signs to make a political point about national politics. Another five were Montgomery College staff there to support their boss, Dr. DeRionne Pollard. And another five were MCPS staff there to support Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith.

That leaves roughly 10 people attending because they care about the education budget, yet don’t have a vested interest in the budget or the process. The education budget is the top expenditure in the County. The MCPS budget makes up 49.8 percent of Montgomery County’s annual operating budget. If Montgomery College is included, education makes up 55.4 percent of the annual operating budget. That means $0.55 of every dollar the County takes in from property taxes goes to support education. Paying for public schools was the number one reason why the County Council had to enact an 8.7 percent increase in property taxes last year.

TO BE CLEAR – This is NOT an editorial for or against paying for education. Quality education is needed, necessary, and essential to the growth of any community. This is an editorial asking why the people who will hoot and holler about a tax increase in comments on the Germantown Pulse FaceBook Page will not attend a forum where they can voice their opinion directly to the people spending their money. To ask them, is there a better way? Is there a cheaper way? Have we looked at all the options?

There are tens of thousands of tax-paying property owners in the Germantown area, why was there so few that didn’t have a vested interest in the process at the Education Budget Forum held right here in Germantown?

The same question can be asked about County Executive Leggett’s Budget Forum in January. Why were there so few regular folks in attendance? Indeed, many of the very same people were at both events. The MCEA was well represented that night as well, as were activists for Montgomery College, the county libraries, parks and recreation, and public health organizations. But in a room full of people with an open floor where any comment or question could have been asked of the highest ranking elected official in the county, only one resident stood up and said taxes were too high. He got applause, of course, ironically, most of the people clapping were there to ask f