Council Rejects Some of Leggett's Budget Cuts

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Montgomery County Council unanimously rejected $4.5 million in budget trims proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett, voting yesterday to protect emergency services and programs for the most vulnerable residents.

Council members signed off on most of Leggett's $37.8 million in cuts to the current budget, a move that will result in reductions in Ride On bus routes and police overtime and delays in hiring. But the council drew the line at Leggett's suggested cuts to what it considers essential services.

Council Vice President Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) said proposed changes in fire department services were at odds with efforts to speed up responses to emergencies.

One trim would have transferred some firefighters on weekend and evening shifts from Glen Echo and Laytonsville to busier stations in Gaithersburg and Kensington.

"While we're going to have to make a lot of tough choices this year," Andrews said, "it does not mean we're going to cut everything."

The council's discussion in Rockville yesterday foreshadowed difficult decisions in March when Leggett (D) presents his spending plan for fiscal 2009 that must close a $401 million projected shortfall.

Leggett first proposed trimming 2 percent in November to save a total of $64.1 million. The $37.8 million package presented to the council yesterday included $10.2 million in cuts to the school system and $23.6 million from county departments.

Leggett reacted somberly to the council's push back, saying it would only "prolong the agony."

"If they are having challenges dealing with $23 million, I dread to see how they will react to something that would be far, far more than this," Leggett said. "I think the council potentially may be backing itself into a corner."

Overall, the council rejected about 20 percent of Leggett's $23.6 million in trims to county government, voting to continue a taxi voucher program for low-income seniors; a summer camp initiative for children who live in subsidized housing; a new pre-kindergarten program; and services that help disabled seniors and residents with substance abuse or mental health problems.

Leggett acknowledged that the reductions were painful. In the face of criticism from parents and council members, he reversed a proposal that would have ended a popular program that allows students to travel free on Ride On and Metrobus.

But he faulted council members for not offering alternatives to his trims.

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