After the Montgomery County Council approved raising property taxes above the charter limit for the first time in eight years, Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large) was adamant not to do it again.
“We are not going to raise taxes again, I’m not going to raise my hand,” Floreen said.
But not everyone in the County government is as strident as Floreen, namely Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
Leggett has repeatedly criticized the budget the council passed, saying the additional $25.5 million they added in the reconciliation process set the County on the fiscal edge in the future: either raise taxes next year or massively cut the budget.
“You have to look at budgets more than one year,” Leggett said. “You have to look at them as a cycle. What you do this year has an impact on next year.”
Though the County Council passed the final version of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget last Thursday, the debates about the budget are not done.
While members of the County Council have made declarations about passing an “education first” budget of $5.3 billion, Leggett maintains the council has the set the county up for future fiscal issues.
This fiscal year, the council increased services to residents.
“Over the past few years, we have reduced the reserves and increased the taxes,” Leggett said.
Additionally, another major tax increase would also be difficult for the council to propose after increasing the property tax rate by 8.7 percent or $326 for the owner of a $464,441 home, the average home value in the County.
Floreen said Leggett’s proposed budget was highly flawed with a large tax increase that went largely to funding pay increases for county employees.
Floreen said the council budget is a fiscally sustainable budget due to 3.94-cent increase per $100 of assessed value.
“His tax increase was largely to fund salary increases,” Floreen said.
Issues of funding a second step pay increase for county employees who are members of the Municipal and County Government Employees Union, the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters became a major cause of debate between the council and the executive.
Floreen said the contracts Leggett negotiated with the public sector unions were unworkable, adding if the County needed to raise taxes, it also needed to fund more services.
“Until the County Executive can figure out how to negotiate more effectively, I don’t think he has a lot to say about budget sustainability,” said Council member Hans Riemer (D-At large).
Riemer did concede projections for next year budget are not looking good for the County.
“Next year is likely to be a tough year,” Riemer said. “That is something we are aware of that, we projected. I think the council’s actions have improved the situation, not made it worse.”
The council voted to not fund a second 3.5 percent increase for MCGEO and FOP members and a 1 percent wage adjustment for IAFF members.
The move drew the ire of the county’s public sector unions and Leggett.
Leggett said the council’s decision to not fund wage increase for unions could hurt future negotiations in years to come.
Not funding the second step pay increases will save the county $32 million in FY’ 17 and $55 in FY’ 18. Leggett maintains the agreement he made with the unions is a fair deal.
“The council has spoken, we are actually in charge at the end of the day,” Floreen said.