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Thursday, April 24, 2014 3:23 AM

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Council concerned with economic forecast


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Published on: Thursday, June 27, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Council unanimously agreed to approval the tax-supported fiscal plan summary for the fiscal years 2014-2019 for public services, but it did not come without concern from some of the county council members.

Stephen Farber, a council administrator, presented the plan to the council. The money available to agencies such as Montgomery County Public Schools is projected to decline by five percent, Farber said.  He then cautioned that state law requires maintenance of effort spending for schools, and the decline would put pressure on the council to fund the county government and the park and planning commission. Farber said the gap between the agency resources and the budget proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett for fiscal year 2014 was 4.3 percent – almost $300 million.

Councilman Phil Andrews said he noticed a gap between the fiscal plan and what is actually going to occur. He also noted the employee pay raises Leggett proposed and the council passed will have a $73 million impact, causing further strain on the county in light of the plan’s revelations.

“You are looking at increases of 7-10 percent in fiscal year 2015 for those county employees,” Andrews said. “It seems to me there is a big disconnect there and that it is obvious that when you have a hole that this projects, it calls for being much more careful about making those kinds of commitments.”

The plan is just a “snapshot in time,” Farber said, and more information will be available in December before Leggett proposes his next budget.

Andrews, a candidate for county executive in 2014, also noted the shift of teacher pension costs from the state to the county and said by fiscal year 2017 the county will be responsible for more than $60 million in teacher pension costs. He said the county needs to do a better job of protecting itself in Annapolis.

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said she had similar concerns as Andrews, and the council “does not know what it does not know.”

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Nancy Floreen said it is important the government continues to provide services, and the employees deserved decent wages. She said council members can continue to argue about the details and fiscal impacts of pay raises, but it is the government’s responsibility to deliver services to the people.

Council President Nancy Navarro said she does not see the plan as a blueprint or a warning, but rather it is an opportunity to reflect. Decisions will be made in the future, she said, when more exact information is available instead of projections.

Ervin responded to Floreen and Navarro by saying she supports the county employees, but the county is also responsible to the taxpayers and the council needs to make sure there is a viable government.

Councilman Marc Elrich said it is not necessary for the council to “get all nixed up” and cautioned against making any rash changes.

“I can’t imagine what action you would take today based on this report,” Elrich said. “These reports have been wrong before. Revenue projections have been wrong before. It would be a terrible thing to start cutting things to bring things in line today and then discover the revenues did not pan out or were better than what was in this report.”

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