Montgomery County Council tentatively agrees on $4.6 billion budget -- Gazette.Net


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Montgomery County will operate next year on a $4.6 billion spending plan that accounts for recently shifted state teacher pension costs, funds its school system and Montgomery College at maintenance-of-effort levels, grants its employees a one-time bonus, and increases overall spending while keeping its property tax revenue static and reducing the energy tax.

The Montgomery County Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on the fiscal 2013 operating budget, which it informally approved last week.

"The budget we have just adopted accurately reflects the tenor of our time — a time when there is both guarded optimism about our economic future and the lingering effects from one of the worst recessions in our nation's history," Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said in a written statement last week.

Among the plan’s highlights on the revenue side, rather than eliminate the energy tax increase of 2010, or continue it at the current level as proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), the council chose to decrease the energy tax by 10 percent, a reduction of $11.4 million in revenue.

To accommodate decreased property assessments and keep property tax revenue steady for another year, the council followed Leggett’s proposal to increase the property tax rate by 4.5 percent to 99.1 cents per $100 of assessed value but also provide a $692 property tax credit for homeowners.

It also included $8.3 million in revenue from an emergency medical services transport reimbursement program passed last week — which if not challenged and overturned by voter referendum, would begin Jan. 1, 2013. The bulk of that money is intended to fund fire and rescue service improvements and a patient advocate for the EMS reimbursement program.

The council expanded spending above Leggett’s proposed $199 million increase.

It’s plan reflects a 5.6 percent overall increase of $245 million more than the fiscal 2012 budget and makes what Berliner called strategic restorations to county services.

Of the 998 positions reduced in the last three years, the fiscal 2013 budget restores 92 positions, including 58 in the Montgomery County Police Department and 15 in the library system.

The council restored and expanded Health and Human Services spending, funding 7,500 additional visits to Montgomery Cares, $500,000 in additional utility assistance, $1 million in tax credits and $500,000 for child care assistance, according to Berliner.

Going $200,000 above Leggett's recommended funding for libraries, the council increased the department's budget by $2.9 million from last year to $31.4 million.

For the first time in three years, most county employees will receive pay bump — a $2,000 one-time lump sum payment that will not increase an employee’s base salary. The budget also includes funds to reinstate longevity raises for eligible employees and to reinstate limited tuition assistance for all employees.

Also for the first time in three years, the county will fund Montgomery County Public Schools at maintenance-of-effort, which for 2013 is $2.001 billion, plus an additional $27.2 million for shifted teacher pension costs.

kalexander@gazette.net