Every year, for the past 15 years, John W. Short has listened patiently as the "savers" and the "spenders" have alternately praised and attacked the annual Montgomery County budget. By now, he can predict with a quiet confidence who will turn out at each year's budget hearings and what they are likely to tell the County Council.
Short, who is the county budget director and may know more about county finance than anyone else, was in the council hearing room Monday night, prepared to listen for the 16th year to those who want the county to spend more for favored projects and those who want the county to spend less and cut taxes.
He was joined at the annual ritual by the Taxpayers League, the PTAs, the Council of PTAs, the League of Women Voters - all bringing with them their revisions and critiques of County Executive James P. Gleason's proposed $564.5 million budget for fiscal 1979.
The mood was quieter than last year when the budget deliberations were accompanied by vigorous protests and picketing by county employes seeking a 6 percent cost-of-living pay increase instead of the 4.2 percent raise finally granted by the County Council.
This year, six good natured members of the Montgomery County Tax-payers League stood outside the council room with placards that read, "We Want Tax Relief," and "Join the Tax Revolution."
Short, whose bemused smile is as parennial as county taxes, knew what was coming. "The school PTAs want more and the taxpayers will want cuts," he predicted before the hearing began. "The League of Women Voters usually have better testimony - they don't ask just for a cut or an increase."
He was right. Karl Schlotterbeck, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, told the council members they had a "moral obligation" to curb increases in spending - and cut the executive's proposed budget increase of $45 million to $22.5 million.
The Montgomery County PTAs told the council that priority for funding should go to the young people of the county. Joyce Constantine told the council that, percentage wise, the school board has received a decreasing share of the budget each year.
And the League of Women Voters pointed out the wise and wasteful points in the budget with suggestions for clarification.
Schlotterbeck's statement was more detailed than reports the Taxpayers League has made in the past, said one council member. The 17-page statement, with sections such as "Hidden Subsides and Other Extravagances," was the result of an analysis by League members and by retired CIA budget analyst, Nelson Brickham.
"My copy of the budget and my calculator have been constant companions," Brickham said after his testimony, as he held his inch-thick copy of the budget, now dog-eared and stuffed full of notes.
Since the last day of February, when Gleason released his proposed budget, Brickham has combed almost every page, focusing on cuts he believed the council could make. Asked if he skipped any pages, Brickham thought for a moment and replied, "I would say I missed not more than 10 to 15 pages."
Following the speakers at the public hearing were the Damascus citizens with color slides of the flaws in their community. What they wanted was a new master plan, with funds for the plan set aside in the new budget. Damascus has traffic-choked streets at rush hour, townhouses on sliding hillsides and a master plant that is inadequate as a tool for guiding and controlling rapid development, according to John Clark of the Damascus Homeowners Association.
"Time is running out of Damascus," he said calmly five times during his testimony.
But, mainly, the message was that money was running out for the county, its residents, its taxpayers and its tenants.
During its short history, the Inter-neighborhood Council, which is a tenant advocacy group, has always had a little surplus to carry over into each budget year, said Director Bob Sahedi, but htis year there is no surplus and the alloted $25,000 just will not do.
"We've raised a lot of expectations that we can't let down," Sahedi told the County Council. Currently his organization is helping the Rosemary Village Tenants Association to purchase their apartment building and make it a cooperative.
"There are people in my complex who are afraid to go to agencies for help they need - too many papers and forms," said Dave Sears from the Rosemary Village Tenants Association. "The Interneighborhood Council helps them out." He and Blanche Cure, from the Broadmoor Tenants Association, had testified on behalf of the Interneighborhood Council.
"I'm a regular," said Sears with a grin. "I've testified maybe 10 or 15 times on housing issues and other things that are important to me." Both he and Cure said they believed the County Council was attentive to their requests.
"I have to compliment them on that," said Sears. "In spite of the 80 hours a week they spend here they still stay awake."
During a break in the public hearing the council members walked through the aisles thanking people for their testimony and asking a few questions here and there. Councilman John Menke exchanged pleasantries with Schlotterbeck.
"I don't increase or decrease the budget because of what people tell me," Meneke said. "I take fairly extensive notes. When people say increase this or decrease this - I study the suggestions myself or I ask another councilman to study them. There are very few people who say reduce the budget and when they do, they're not very specific."
Menke stopped to talk to a few more taxpayers, then he went back to continue his evening at the public hearing. After this night's hearing, council members had only five more public hearings on the budget to go.