Montgomery budget leaves list of ‘needs’ on table

May 17, 2013

An additional therapist for the child and adolescent mental health clinic: $72,000.

More resources for child custody mediation and supervised visitation: $230,000.

An expanded contract with CASA de Maryland for tenant counseling: $50,000.

A $100 -per-month increase in reimbursement to assisted living group homes for adult foster care: $138,000

These are some of the items the Montgomery County Council left unfunded when it passed its $4.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2014 on Thursday. They come from a larger $18 million “reconciliation list” of unmet needs put together by council members during their deliberations this spring. The unfunded items come to $5.6 million.

That is close to the amount the council will give up in lost revenue to increase its cut in the energy tax from 5 percent to 10 percent. The savings to taxpayers, while politically symbolic, is beyond modest: on average, 64 cents a month for residential users and $6.74 for businesses and other non-residential users.

In other words, the council could have zeroed out its reconciliation list for the price of a tax cut that will make scarcely a ripple.

Council members Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County) both voted for the budget, but with reservations. They said the damage done to the county’s most vulnerable populations by the recession remains significant.

“I would have preferred the council spend its money doing things for people, rather than giving the money back in the form of the energy tax [cut],” Elrich said.

“I just find it really hard to believe that if you read the list of things that we could be doing with this money and say [to residents] would you take 65 cents a month in your pocket or would you rather see the county try to address these unmet needs” the answer would be obvious.

But other members felt strongly that the council needed to provide the same 10 percent trim in the 2010 energy tax increase that it made last year.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said council member Nancy Floreen (D-At-Large) “It continues what we were able to do in harder times last year.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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