Friday, April 4, 2008

Working Out a Budget

In his proposed FY09 Operating Budget, the County Executive lays out a plan to maintain most services in the face of decreased revenue projections, including what is likely to be only minimal State aid (I’ll let you know when we find out how much we will get from the State). His budget reflects an overall 3.9% increase over last fiscal year, including a 4% increase for Montgomery County Public Schools.

To achieve this budget, he proposes to abolish about 225 County positions and add an ambulance fee. He also proposes to increase property taxes by 20.7% for commercial property and 23.7% for rental property. A variable scale for residential property would mean a 6.2% increase for homes assessed at $343, 200, and an 11.9% increase for homes assessed at $500,000, and a 15.8% increase for homes assed at $1 million. Given that these increases would be in addition to the State’s bump in income taxes and the sales tax, I’m not convinced the community can bear them. On the other hand, the alternative would be significant cuts in service, which I’m not sure folks are willing to do either.

We will hold public hearings all next week and then start committee worksessions. We’ll pass a final budget at the end of May. Let me know what you think. To see the entire proposed budget, click on the link to the right.


Fritz Hirst said...

Nancy- I attended last night's hearing, accompanying the Chair of the Western Area Recreation Advisory Board, of which I am a member. We've chatted in the past on budget matters, and I'm taking you up on your interest in hearing from people in this forum about the budget.

The more I learn about the budget, the happier I am that I am not in your shoes. But this is what you signed up for, so you and your colleagues must make the hard decisions and work with the public.

From my vantage point, I'm already seeing diminished services. My eight year old attends second grade in a portable classroom at Rosemary Hills. We are now told that next year the school may need to reduce the number of paraeducators there from 12 to 3, maybe 6 if we're lucky. The school is already over crowded, the teachers over worked, and now we're likely seeing fewer resources.

The condition of our neighborhood roads is other issue that hits home. Just last May, our roads were degraded by micro pave resurfacing, which left them horribly rough and unattractive, not to mention the substandard workmanship which DPWT says they will now try to correct. Now the Council is signing off on an increase of more than 100% for residential/rural road resufacing in the CIP. A wise investment, frankly, since this priority has been underfunded for so many years. Micro pave communities blew the whistle on the quality of life problems the county now wishes to avoid elsewhere, yet there is no plan to restore our neighborhoods by a date certain. Remember - none of us are asking for relief tomorrow, but we do want a plan, and relief should be sooner, rather than later. I'm delighted other communities will be spared micro pave, but what about those of us who continue to suffer the impacts?

I am seeing diminished quality and level of services in key areas that really hit home, yet you are now considering a major tax increase. And for what? As you point out, our state taxes have also gone up, and let's not forget WSSC increases and escalating energy costs, too. Of couse the economy is hitting all of our paychecks. To top it all off, next year is going to be difficult as well.

Maybe it is time to consider a different approach. Many people in the Rollingwood Chevy Chase community were interested in incorporating. Schools are a different matter, but much of the incorporation interest was driven by a desire to have more control over local services. Road maintenance is one example, and I note that none of the Chevy Chases have micro pave. But you and your colleagues said no to allowing a community vote on incorporation, fearing the slippery slope, and, to be fair, recognizing sincere opposition within the community. The pro-incorporation movement asked for nothing more than the long tradition that has well served the Chevy Chase municipalities -- and Garrett Park, too!

Montgomery County is a $4 billion enterprise, bigger than some states. Can you think of any better example than this year's budget to illustrate the problems we have in delivering services to such a large and diverse community? Prove to us that our county leadership is capable of delivering responsive government that you so promised. I'm not going to be one of those people who just throw rocks at you at public hearings. Invite us in, let's put our heads together. But let's also be open to new ways of thinking. This year, like no other, should force us to do so.

-Fritz Hirst, Chevy Chase

The Athens Project said...

Dear Councilwoman Floreen,

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss budgeting.
As public schools compose half our funds, I went to item # 10 in the CE Operating Budget link provided at right.

In every section of the school budget, labeled "Funds", Salaries and Wages are tallied up as 0. Several other entries cost nothing too. This isn't particularly informative and lets gadflies stew in conspiracy theories about hidden waste. It is hard to argue for or against either increases in taxes or tax cuts without access to good information and budgets summaries like this border on the absurd.

I stopped in at the library budget as well and it was almost as disappointing.

There are many voices in our county clamoring for waste reduction, but documents like these provide very poor data with which to make suggestions.

Perhaps you can provide access to superior numbers we could crunch together?

--Bill Jacobs
Olney, MD

Bruce R. Meier said...

Nancy: Could you please explain why the Council chose not to adjust the Spending Affordability Guidelines this Morning (Tuesday, 4/15)? I'm especially curious given that now, per the County Code governing the SAG process, the agencies must, in writing, inform the Council how they would reduce their requests to the allocations made in December. This means that MCPS must write ands explain how it would reduce its request by $104 Million!

Councilmember Nancy Floreen said...

Good observation, Mr. Meier. Agencies have been asked to show how they would reduce their requests. They have until April 22 to do so.

Anonymous said...

why does it always have to be an either or thing. Raise taxes or cut services. How about cut wasteful spending and mis-management as a fiscal strategy.

L. Cunningham said...

I was told today that a animal shelter is proposed for the intersection of Airpark and Muncaster Mill Road. As a Derwood community member and as a resident near this new proposed shelter,I am greatly opposed to this. No one asked us, and there is a reason why animal shelters throughout the US are in business parks, not in communities. Where is the environmental study and the noise study, as if that would matter! It did not matter for ICC! DO NOT APPROVE THIS NEW PROPOSED SHELTER. Please, support your community!