Friday, September 19, 2008

What Are Our Priorities?

As we look at the likelihood of furloughs for our employees and probably deeper cuts than we had previously thought, we are forced to examine our priorities. For every County program, someone benefits, and someone stands to lose when we make cuts, which we inevitably will. A cut in library hours is unacceptable to many County residents, but so is a reduction in housing assistance or the number of cops on the street. So are furloughs of hardworking employees, for that matter.

Some have suggested halting major infrastructure projects, while the State budget cuts have virtually assured delays to several transportation projects. With programs, such as summer camps, we see the benefit of spending almost immediately. With infrastructure, though, we face delayed gratification even in the best of circumstances. What’s worse, we don’t feel the pain of a poor choice until it is way too late. If a transportation project takes ten years from concept to completion, and we delay that project for a year or two or even more, then we create a bigger mess down the road, so to speak.

It’s tough spot, and we’ll be discussing it for at least this budget year, probably longer. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m looking at some funding options. Take a look, and let me know what you think. New revenue options or cuts to service? Where do we go from here?


Fritz Hirst said...

With a county whose budget and population are greater than several states, perhaps county government is now too large to effectively deliver some services. Perhaps if Montgomery County could delegate certain responsibilities it would free up resources and better enable our leaders to address big ticket items that impact the region.

A case in point. -- Many people in Chevy Chase's Rollingwood community wished to incorporate so the people could have greater control over delivering more efficient, higher quality services. While governance at any level is never easy, people in towns as small as Garrett Park and as large as Rockville understand the benefits of municipal government without imposing huge additional tax burdens. In spring and summer of 2007, as the County Council was pledging more responsiveness while it moved to reject the petition that would have permitted a public vote on Rollingwood incorporation, the County was busy degrading our neighborhood streets with "micro pave" resurfacing. Subsequently, public rejection of this unsightly rocky material helped prompt the county to ban further use of micro pave in favor of better materials -- a decision that more than doubled the residential road resurfacing budget even during these difficult times. In spite of lessons learned from the experience of micro pave communities, the county cannot promise such communities the better surface now being applied elsewhere because the demands far outstrip the resources. Micro pave communities are left behind without a plan for relief, while they wait potentially decades for a surface suitable for residential neighborhoods. It is but one example of how massive demands on the county impact its ability to address needs at every level, from big regional projects to those that impact our neighborhoods every time we leave our homes.

In these difficult times, let us have the courage to embrace new ways to look at our problems. Let us consider amending state law to better articulate the responsibility of local government in utilizing state income tax revenue toward deliverance of local services. By empowering more people locally in this manner, perhaps our county leaders might be in a better position to address our significant regional needs.

tony said...

I hope that you will give stong endorsement to the light rail purple line as being proposed by MTA. Please contact me to discuss how you can help. tony hausner

Anonymous said...

I agree that it would be short sighted to postpone infrastructure projects. The budget choices will be difficult and painful but we need to try to spread the pain as fairly as possible. Smaller cutbacks in more areas is probably fairer than large cutbacks in just a few areas.