ROCKVILLE – Last week the County Council heard from the residents. Now it has its chance to craft a budget.
After County Executive Ike Leggett released his $5.4 billion proposed budget in March, the Council took comments from the community in a series of public hearings before it deliberates during the next month or so to craft a budget.
Unlike last year in Leggett’s proposed budget, this fiscal year’s does not contain any considerable tax increase, and Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) said a tax increase over the County charter limit is not on the table this year.
Many of the people who showed up last week to testify asked the County to fund their particular interests, whether they are Montgomery College or one of the County’s nonprofit partners such as Manna Food Center.
Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, asked the Council about potential cuts from the federal budget and the impact on the County. Fidler asked how the County would cover costs.
“Since raising property taxes once again is not an attractive political option, will you then raise fees to cover these looming cuts?” Fidler asked. “If so, which ones?”
In March, President Donald J. Trump proposed significant cuts to many federal programs, including a 20 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health’s budget. Members of the Council have said Trump’s proposed budget would harm some of the 48,000 federal employees who live in the County.
“Make no bones about it: This would be painful if it were adopted,” said Berliner about Trump’s proposed budget.
Like Congress, the County Council will have the final say over the budget.
Given the potential impact from federal cuts, Leggett said his proposed budget was cautious, not raising taxes or spending dramatically while adding to the County’s reserves. This year, Leggett proposed a property tax cut of 2.51 cents per $100 of assessed value.
“We’re are looking at all the cuts across the board from the Affordable Care Act, individual departments to federal workers as a whole – all of those things I think pose a real threat to us, but I think we are simply prepared through our delegation to fight it,” Leggett said of Trump’s proposed cuts.
About half of Leggett’s proposed budget, $2.5 billion, would go to Montgomery College and Montgomery County Public Schools. Leggett said he proposed putting the County reserves at $457 million, something Leggett said the County neglected to do in the previous year.
While the members of the County Council have not been vocal about the proposed budget, some have expressed a priority to fund universal pre-kindergarten education.
Council members George Leventhal (D-at large) and Hans Riemer (D-At large) have supported the idea of universal pre-K in the County, but since the County is not raising taxes this year the funds for it will have to come from somewhere else in the budget.
Riemer said it is likely that the Council will cut certain County staff positions, not mentioning which ones, to fund universal pre-K.