UPDATE 4:40 p.m. The Montgomery County Council today tentatively agreed on a $4.8 billion FY14 budget that cuts the county's energy tax increase by 10 percent and adds $2 million in nonprofit grants.
Those two major changes from County Executive Isiah Leggett's recommended budget will be paid for in part by adjustments to the six-year Capital Improvement budget and a transfer of roughly $14 million from other county funds into its general fund. The 10 percent cut in the energy tax, which was instituted three years ago, will mean the loss of $11.6 million in revenue.
The Council unanimously agreed on the budget, despite councilmember Phil Andrews' contention that Leggett's proposed pay increases for county employees were too large. Andrews said he will vote against the County Government portion of the budget when it is formalized next week. Councilmember Marc Elrich said not enough money was dedicated to restoring social service cuts that came during the recession.
"I think if most of our residents were given a choice between reducing their average energy tax bills by just 65 cents per month or restoring some of these services, they would choose the services," Elrich said in a statement.
The Council also added $100,000 to Leggett's 10 percent bump in county library funding to increase the purchase of e-Books. In the six-year Capital Improvements budget, the Council differed on some of Leggett's recommendations by keeping funding for the Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance on track, accelerating more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and adding $4 million for bridge renovations, including on the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda.
In a statement, Leggett commended the Council for its work in finalizing the budget, but took issue with the energy tax cut. The Council approved 99 percent of Leggett's recommended budget, which is fairly typical:
I am, however, particularly concerned about two Council actions that create an $18 million problem this year and create greater difficulties in balancing the budget in FY15 and beyond.
The energy tax cut of 10 percent reduces revenues by $11.6 million in FY14 and well into the future. One of the many reasons why I recommended retaining the energy tax at the current level is that a substantial portion of the tax comes from federal and other tax-exempt facilities in the County that otherwise pay nothing to the County for the services that they consume. This reduction reduces our budget flexibility in future years.
I also do not believe the Council should “borrow” $6.7 million in funds I set aside to pay for retired County employees’ health benefits. Those funds will have to be repaid next year, which will result in higher future obligations.
I understand the Council’s desire to meet its own policy goals and the tremendous demands that make these decisions so difficult. My goal is to continue to improve our fiscal stability that we have worked so tirelessly and collaboratively to achieve.
The parking fee structure for downtown Bethesda will change, as Leggett recommended. The Council also agreed to add 40 police positions and double the amount of School Resource Officers from 6 to 12.
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