Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist yesterday proposed a $781 million "no frills" budget that would reduce the request of the county school board by $3.6 million and trim nonschool county employment by 200 full-time and 112 part-time positions.
The budget that Gilchrist submitted to the County Council is 6.9 percent higher than the current one. He said it is "designed to maintain the quality of the community and avoid frills" while holding the line on essential county services.
"This has been an extremely difficult budget to prepare," said Gilchrist, a Democrat who is seeking reelection this year. He blamed "significant, amorphous . . . and contradictory" cuts of $2.3 million in federal and state funds for part of the reductions.
The $51 million increase in the budget will be financed largely through higher real estate assessments, along with $4 million in additional fees and higher income tax collections. Although the real estate tax rate will remain the same, the inflation-bloated assessment process will result in tax-bill increases of between 3.2 percent and 14.1 percent, depending on when a house was reassessed. Typically, the tax on a house with a fair market value of $100,000, reassessed last year, would go from $1,552 to $1,607.
The council has until May 15 to adopt a final budget. As usual, the most strident disagreement may come on the amount to be spent on schools, which account for nearly half of the spending by local government.
Gilchrist said he was disappointed that the Board of Education's request had exceeded his recommended ceiling of $353 million by $3.6 million. Gilchrist acknowledged the necessity to "reaffirn our strong support for public education . . . after a difficult period of school closure," but said that $353 million represented a "generous" 6.8 percent increase over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
"That much growth is all that can be justified when other programs have to be scaled back and reduced," Gilchrist said, noting that school enrollment continues to decline.
School officials said yesterday that their request already represents a "bare bones" budget that cannot be cut without affecting instruction.
"This amount $356.6 million is definitely necessary and doesn't even include all the teachers I think we need," said school board vice president Suzanne Peyser. "It would be a big mistake to cut further," she said.
Ken Hill, budget director for the schools, said the cuts sought by Gilchrist would force the schools to "sweep out all the instructional improvements" such as planned all-day kindergartens and a change from six- to seven-period days for 13 high schools.
Gilchrist suggested that the school board could make the cuts in administration rather than programs.
The executive proposes increasing funding for mass transit 7.8 percent, to $41.5 million, to permit expansion of the Ride-On bus program and added facilities for the handicapped.
In the area of public safety, Gilchrist praised the work of the county police in reducing serious crime and increasing arrest rates, and suggested it was due in part to a 13.7 percent increase in the police budget last year. Gilchrist said the proposed 6.5 percent increase for the new fiscal year, to $47.2 million, would help the department reach its goal of 789 sworn officers, the highest ever.
The fire department's appropriation would be increased 8.8 percent, to $29.1 million.
Gilchrist also recommended approving the 5.2 percent increase sought by Montgomery College, from $34.6 million to $36.4 million, to offset "the continuing effect of underfunding by the state."
A 7.7 percent increase Gilchrist recommended for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission would raise that agency's budget by $2.1 million to $29.4 million, but it is $1.2 million less than the planning commission wants.
Gilchrist said he hopes to achieve proposed employment cutbacks through attrition or by transferring employes to departments where vacancies exist.
Salaries of county employes, including 2 percent incremental raises, would increase a maximum of 8.4 percent under Gilchrist's plan, although no employe would receive more than the $70,000 ceiling he proposed earlier.
The county executive said that because of federal and state cutbacks, "there will be little if any enhancement of social service programs for the foreseeable future." But the county will take over some programs being abandoned by state and federal budget cutters. For example, Gilchrist said, the county will assume funding of a child sexual abuse control program previously funded by a $88,805 federal award.
Perhaps looking ahead to election issues, Gilchrist noted that he has limited budget growth in each of his four years as executive at below the rate of inflation. "Had the budget been allowed to increase at the rate of inflation since 1979, people would have been faced with a $821 million, $40 million more than the $781 million I am recommending today," Gilchrist said.