ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal (D-At large) objected to County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposed savings plan on July 13, saying it does not target the right budget areas for cuts.
He said the council should look at high-salary positions and implementation of the budget as ways to save money. On Tuesday, the Office of Legislative Oversight agreed to put together a report on high-level personnel salaries, according to OLO Director Chris Cihlar. Although it is not an “on paper” change to the OLO’s upcoming work program, the office will do it as part of the coming year’s reports, he said.
“Our managers do an excellent job, but my sense is that in many cases their salaries are well above those of their counterparts elsewhere and well above where they need to be … our scarce resources should go to people most in need,” Leventhal wrote in a memo to the council.
Leventhal said he also wants to look at how the budgets are implemented.
“We also need to secure greater clarity as to whether the Council’s decisions on County government expenditures in the approved annual operating budget are being fully implemented – neither reduced nor exceeded,” he wrote in the memo.
Leventhal said that in developing the fiscal 2016 budget, the council members learned some expenditures, such as support for a mobile crisis team for children and teens, never happened, while some departments made other spending decisions that were not in the year’s budget.
Leggett announced the need for a savings plan on June 26, given the Supreme Court decision in Comptroller v. Wynne, which will require the county to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes retroactively over the next few years, in addition to a loss of revenue going forward. Income tax revenues from fiscal 2015 and 2016 also fell short by at least $43 million, according to Leggett’s spokesperson, Patrick Lacefield.
On July 8, after departments had about a week to suggest cuts, Leggett proposed a $51 million savings plan. Those cuts would include $10.4 million of the reconciliation list the council developed during the budget process, according to Leventhal, a list that showed priorities on which the council wanted to spend more money than Leggett recommended.
Leventhal said he supports the savings plan, but only to prepare for fiscal 2017, not because the county needs it for fiscal 2016.
“FY16 is not the problem; our approved reserves are at their highest level ever, $383 million or 8.2 percent of adjusted government revenues, $12 million more than the target for FY16 that we set in 2011,” Leventhal wrote.
But Lacefield said it is a problem, and Leventhal’s characterization otherwise is “not accurate.”
“Our reserve target is STILL below the 10 percent we promised Wall Street – plus Council already took $8 million out of it to fund their budget. We need $50 million for this FIRST savings plan,” Lacefield wrote. “As (Leggett) said, Council can change priorities but getting to $50 million is critical. The earlier in the (fiscal year) we make reductions the less painful it will be.”
The council has to vote on the savings plan July 28 but in the meantime has been considering cuts in committees. So far, many department heads said they need more time to figure out exactly where they can cut their budgets.
Leggett’s proposed savings include $10 million from Montgomery County Public Schools, $5 million from Montgomery College, $2 million from the Montgomery County Police Department, $3.9 million from the Fire and Rescue Squad and $1.5 million from Montgomery County Public Libraries, according to council documents.
Alexis Brown contributed to this report.