Amid Montgomery cuts, planning agency to go dark for a week to save money, jobs

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By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010

First, it was a plan to get rid of portable toilets in Montgomery County parks, since abandoned for the summer.

Then, the county parks agency announced that on Aug. 1, it will charge dog owners $40 a year for one dog and $5 for each additional dog to use the county's dog parks, complete with tickets from park police for violators.

Now the county's planning agency has announced that it will shut down during the first week of August, at an estimated savings of $500,000. The planning budget is $15.9 million for the year, down from $18.5 million last year.

"This has been a very difficult year for everyone, and, of course, we were not immune to that," said Marye Wells-Harley, vice chairman of the county Planning Board, which oversees parks and planning. The new chairman, Fran├žoise Carrier, was not yet on the board when the decision to shut down the agency was made in a closed session June 3; she took over in late June from Royce Hanson, whose four-year term had ended.

The shutdown is also expected to save about five jobs, Wells-Harley said.

"We would have preferred not to have taken any of these measures if we could have avoided it," she said.

The planning department will shut down Aug. 2-6 and again the week between Christmas and New Year's, traditionally slow periods at the agency, Wells-Harley said. The parks department, meanwhile, will undergo periodic furloughs to trim payroll, because the county's parks are open seven days a week.

The planning agency has induced 11 staff members to take retirement buyouts, and it has laid off 15 staff members and eliminated another 15 positions, said spokeswoman Valerie Berton.

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