MontCo budget gap grows to $136 million

By |
Photo -
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County is facing a $136 million budget gap next fiscal year, almost double the $71 million that had been projected, as taxes are bringing in less revenue than expected.

County finance officials on Tuesday predicted a drop in county revenue from property, energy and telephone taxes of about $8.8 million from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014, with costs expected to increase $98.8 million in the $4.1 billion budget.

"[The prediction] does not include any wage increases, any assumptions if in fact there were federal spending decreases, and you have to keep in mind the state of the economy," Jennifer Hughes, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget, warned the County Council. "The [economic] recovery is still relatively fragile and has been relatively uneven."

County agencies are facing a 1 percent reduction in their budgets while funding increases for Montgomery County Public Schools. Superintendent Joshua Starr asked for an extra $10 million above the state-mandated $39 million increase to the schools' $2.22 billion budget.

Funding for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, however, will drop by 4.9 percent under current projections.

"Given that the [state maintenance-of-effort] law handcuffs the county's ability -- and the taxpayers' ability at this point -- it doesn't make sense at all for the county to further handcuff itself to funding above the proposed level," said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, referring to Starr's request for more money than required.

Across town, Patricia O'Neill, the longest-serving Montgomery County school board member, called Starr's budget request "modest."

"Maintenance of effort is the floor, not the ceiling," she said. "We're not doing our job if we don't ask what we truly need. $10 million could have been $50 million."

The state maintenance-of-effort law requires counties to maintain or increase their per-pupil spending each year.

Montgomery County Public Schools staff say the district has added 12,000 students in the last four years but hasn't kept pace with adding staffing or instrumental music programs.

Council President Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County, told officials she had "fragile optimism" when looking at the budget. She said that based on the financial projections, giving MCPS more money than what is required would "place great pressure on other vital county services."

Lisa Gartner contributed to this report.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County reporter
The Washington Examiner