Montgomery County Council President Elizabeth Scull said this week that the newly approved county budget of $568.4 million would be both a selling point and a liability when voters size up the council this election year.
"It Probably will not be very helpful with those who wanted a property tax reduction," she said. "But there are others who are paying high taxes, who really do want those services. If they are cut, they would be aggrieved."
At a press conference minutes before, the council announced that the tax rate, which will be set June 20, will probably remain the same as it is presently. That rate is $2.65 per $100 of assessed valuation.The various jurisdictions in the county levy additional taxes for services such as fire protection, however, making the average tax rate for a county resident about $3.70 on the $100 assessed valuation. The new county budget is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Scull noted that there had been several complaints last year about the budget decisions the council made.
"Last year, when we didn't fund the total negotiated cost-of-living increase the school system employes wanted the school board funded it. But they had to make big cuts elsewhere in their budget. We had so many complaints about that. So it goes throughout the rest of the population."
The new budget restores several services and expands others. For instance, funds for additional teachers, to reduce class sizes, were provided. The successful intercounty Ride-On Bus Service, which Councilman Dickran Hovsepian said people were using "morning and night," will be extended.
Added routes will include service to the White Oak area from Silver Spring and service from Gaithersburg to Rockville and Germantown. "We had more than 200 requests for that service," Horsepian said.
The council decided to set aside $400,000 to add staff in the county agencies that deal with the problems of youth, the handicapped and minorities. Other funds were allocated to bring the total number of new county employes to 330.
"In the past two years, the increase in county manpower has been cut to about 90 people a year," said council member johh Menke. "This year, it was 330. It's mainly because projects which the council approved are now coming on line - fire stations, youth centers, the crisis center. They serve needs, but I'm very concerned that we not go back to the days of unlimited expansion when we were increasing manpower by 400 people a year."
The council also was generous with salaries they set for the next council, which will be elected in November. "We raised council salaries a few thousand dollars," said council member Esther Gelman. "But I think it's still below the median income of the county."
Some council members noted that the budget process was more subdued then in previous years, with neither bitterness from county residents nor among Council members.
God, yes, it was more harmonious," Said Menke. "There was more money. There was money to pay the cost-of-living increases that county employes wanted. There were funds to restore services. That removed provocation both on and off the council."
One reason the council has more money is the surplus that will be carried over from this fiscal year. County Executive James P. Gleason had recommended that most of the surplus be used to fund a tax rate reduction. The council decided to be more cautious, however, and indicated it preferred to set aside about $10 million of what may be a $16 million to $20 million surplus, depending on revenues still to come.
"Gleason's prospect of leaving only $3 million of the surplus for the next year was totally unacceptable," said council member Neal Potter, noting that the next council might need to use of that plus raise the property tax. "No new elected body should face that."