County Council President Steve Silverman (D-At Large) is fond of saying that budgets are not about money, they are about priorities. This year’s budget was no exception. “We have made some hard choices,” Silverman said on May 20 when the council presented its operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The $3.3 billion budget gives $1.6 billion to the schools. Also approved was the county’s six-year, $2.2 billion Capital Improvements Program (see sidebar).
The property tax rate was lowered by one cent to $1.06 per $100 of assessed value, costing the county almost $11 million. As a result, the owner of a $400,000 home will save $40 next year.
To offset the loss in property taxes, the council raised the energy tax. Council estimates are that an average homeowner will have to pay $37 more per year in energy taxes. Also increased, from seven to 10 percent was the amusement tax, paid on items like movie tickets, concerts and greens fees.
Councilmembers were largely happy with the budget which they produced.
Howie Denis (R-1) expressed optimism about the county’s future and praised the choices made in creating this budget. “The County Council struck a great balance between the taxes we hate, and the services we love,” he said.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) noted the transportation funding which is increased by approximately $67 million — primarily for road and intersection improvements — in the capital budget.
“We can’t build out way to transit relief, but we can sure give them some options,” she said.
“I am proud to support the budget we’re going to pass,” said Tom Perez (D-5). Perez said he was happy that the budget didn’t turn into a regional fight of upcounty versus downcounty or east versus west. “I’m happy about the broader picture,” he said.
Several Councilmembers took issue with the budget presented by County Executive Doug Duncan (D), which they said did not include funding for negotiated teacher contracts. “What he’s effectively saying is we don’t need to honor our negotiated contracts with teachers,” Perez said.
“I don’t hear from people in Montgomery County, by and large, that we treat our teachers too well,” said Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large).
Others were not as upbeat. “I think we can be optimistic, but I think it is a very scary time,” said Councilmember Marilyn Praisner (D-4).
She noted that with the current economic upturn, the county can probably expect to receive more money, but that those additional monies have already been factored into the budget. “This budget is unsustainable.
Councilmember Phil Andrews (D-3) echoed Praisner’s sentiments. While he was happy about some of the programs which the council was able to restore, he thought they may have gone too far in some cases. “I think we are taking on more projects than we can afford,” he said.
Andrews presented a chart showing that property taxes might double for the average homeowner in the next few years, and said the council needs to rein in the tax rate. “I think we need to look at what is sustainable in terms of property taxes,” Andrews said.