Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Council makes tentative decision not to cut salaries

Members reject finance committee's recommendation

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County Council members decided tentatively Wednesday not to cut the pay of members of the county's employee and schools unions, killing a recommendation to cut $40 million to save the county money to fund its fiscal 2009 budget.

In a repeat of a council finance committee meeting last week, union members packed a full council meeting in protest of the pay-cutting recommendation supported by Council members Duchy Tracthtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda and Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.

In a preliminary 6-2 vote, a majority of the council decided that the cut was not in the best interest of employees, citing the services union members offer to the county's almost 1 million residents.

Wednesday's vote sets the stage for a straw vote on the full budget on Thursday. A final vote on the budget is scheduled for next week.

As Trachtenberg and Andrews detailed the reasoning behind their pay-cut proposal, union members in the audience booed and yelled out their dissatisfaction.

When Trachtenberg reminded the union members that she not only represented them, but also her constituents who were not union members, some in the audience yelled out, ‘‘not for long,” and ‘‘you've forgotten about us.”

Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said the inequality of the cost-cutting proposal led to his dissenting vote.

Leventhal reminded the council that with the county's Board of Education having say over the 21,000 school unions' members, the $40 million savings would have to be absorbed by county government employees, whose contracts are governed by the County Council.

School board president Nancy Navarro told the council that if the cut was approved and passed on to the school board, she would vote against it.

In addition to the compensation decision, the council decided to cut the proposed increase to the county's property tax rate by 2 cents, down to 5.5 cents.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) had recommended raising the rate to 7.5 cents per $100 of assessed value, as part of his $4.3 billion recommended spending plan. Leggett proposed the tax increase to help close a $297 million budget gap.

Leggett's budget also exceeds the county's charter limit on property tax collections by $138 million. The council still has to decide the amount the charter limit will be exceeded.

Because the budget will include an increase over the charter limit, seven votes will be required to pass the final budget on May 22.

Also left on the agenda is a decision on whether to revise the construction budget to use that money to balance the budget.

Wednesday's decisions are tentative until Thursday's straw vote. A final vote will come next week.