Wednesday, April 16, 2014 12:18 AM
Published on: Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Donna Broadway
ROCKVILLE – County Executive Ike Leggett is proposing a $4.8 billion operating budget that represents a $190 million increase over last fiscal year, but not everyone is happy with it.
Montgomery County Public School Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, for one, expressed his disappointed at the recommendations for public schools..
“Clearly, County Executive Isiah Leggett understands the need to continue investing in our staff and students. I am disappointed that he is not investing county dollars above the minimum funding level, but rather asking MCPS to use money it has set aside to ensure the long-term financial stability of our school district. If the budget recommendation is passed by the County Council, this would be the fifth year in a row that the MCPS budget would be at or below the funding floor,” said Dr. Starr.
While the budget funded schools at the minimum level required by state law, it was recommended that the board use $10 million of its fund balance for additional investments.
Under the recommended operating budget there would be a ten percent funding increase to public libraries, funds for a three year plan to add 120 sworn police officers and 23 civilians to the Montgomery County Police Department. There is also a proposed expansion of the Excel Beyond the Bell youth initiative, funding for English language programs, step increases and cost of living increases for federal employees, and expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
After six years of budget cuts, County Executive Leggett says the county is finally on the right track.
“This budget is well balanced and shows the sacrifice we’ve made to get to this point, where by making these decisions early and often we are in a better position. We have set aside some money in anticipation, whether we have enough is a difficult question. There may be legal challenges but hopefully it won’t be as deep as we think it may be. The county council may have a difference because we have never sent a budget over this size but I can’t see any major difference that will affect the budget,” said County Executive Leggett.
During the last two years, public libraries faced a 30 percent reduction in funding, a trend which will be reversed in Leggett’s current budget. Art Brodsky, a member of the Montgomery County Library board welcomes the proposed increase.
“This is a great reversal of fortune. More hours, more material, and more staff is great for the people of Montgomery County,” said Brodsky.
The recommended budget was sent to the County Council. Members there will spend the next two months reviewing and possibly amending the proposal. Councilman Phil Andrews, who has announced his desire to run for County Executive in 2014, says the budget fails to deliver on promises.
“County employees do deserve pay increases that are reasonable after several years of going without an increase because of the Great Recession. The County should and can provide employees with reasonable and sustainable pay increases while keeping its commitment to residents and businesses to, at the least, reduce the very large increase in the energy tax that the County resorted to during extremely difficult fiscal times. I propose that the County Council reduce the 2010 energy tax increase by 10 percent, or $11.4 million, and reduce Mr. Leggett’s very large proposed pay increases accordingly. This would treat both County employees and taxpayers fairly,” said Councilman Andrews.