Several Montgomery County Council members yesterday renewed their attack on a $1.03 billion building and renovation budget proposed by County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, saying there was too little money to pay for it.
Council members are not calling for a cutback on the six-year building budget, however. They argue the county can probably afford to issue more bonds to raise funds -- a move Gilchrist and his staff say would imperil the county's AAA bond credit rating. Gilchrist has recommended that 42 percent of the budget be financed by bonds.
The criticism comes in addition to requests by school officials to include more funding for school projects in the budget.
Appearing before a council finance committee yesterday, Gilchrist's finance director Max Bohnstedt acknowledged that the budget provides only 80 percent of the money needed for bond-financed projects identified in the six-year plan. But in the past, he argued, at least 20 percent of the projects have been abandoned or delayed.
Council members and their aides say an underfunded budget could deceive the public into believing that planned projects would automatically take place, allow housing or commercial development to go ahead without adequate public support facilities and allow Gilchrist to decide what projects are completed.
Gilchrist's aides repeatedly have said the budget should allow for a "fudge factor." Peter A. Hutchinson, coordinator of the Capital Improvements Program for Gilchrist, told council members yesterday that last year, for instance, executive departments carried out just 42 percent of planned capital projects. The school system carried out 95 percent of its planned projects, he said.
But council staff aides argued that this year is different: Gilchrist has appointed a new transportation director and promised to quickly carry out road projects, the biggest single item in the budget. If the road and school money is spent, there would be hardly any money left for other projects, they said.
Council budget officials say they also fear housing developments would be approved on the basis of public facilities provided for in the building budget -- but items such as firehouses, drainage systems and bus transport would not materialize.
"Who are we trying to kid?" Council president Michael Gudis demanded. " . . . We we are telling citizens out there that we are going to be building libraries and other things."
An underfunded budget, Gudis added, would give Gilchrist the power of choosing which projects are completed -- a power normally reserved for the council. If the council did that, he said, "we have signed a blank check" and given it to Gilchrist.