Faced with increasing numbers of poor, homeless and uneducated people, Montgomery County will have to come up with new ways to pay for programs to help them, county officials and speakers at a conference on social problems said yesterday.
Relatively affluent residents are likely to face more user fees, new taxes such as an annual property tax on cars and diminished benefits.
For example, reduced-rate bus passes for the elderly could be restricted to those in need, they said.
"We have to put the urgent needs first," said County Executive Neal Potter. "We have to make a little go a lot further because of our fiscal problems," he said.
Potter, speaking at the People in Need Conference in Chevy Chase, moved to further outline his new administration's policies on human services.
He said the county, the state's wealthiest, will have to expand its use of private, nonprofit organizations to provide social services and must use volunteers to supplement county workers during this period of fiscal austerity caused by the economic downturn.
Conference participants, which included human service workers and advocates whose goal is to provide a blueprint for action for the next decade, said the county must rethink how it sees itself.
No longer is the county only a bedroom community of affluent white families but one in which one-fifth of the residents are nonwhite, where 10 percent of the population lives below the $21,000 income level a family of four needs to get by in the county and where there are growing numbers of the elderly and the elderly poor, speakers said.
"We need to stop saying our problems are minor ones compared to our neighbors in other counties or states," educator Joseph Hawkins said.
Also, in the last year, the number of households receiving Aid to Families With Dependent Children has grown by nearly 1,000, to 3,400, said Charles Short, director of the Department of Family Resources. The increase is due to the demographic changes of the county.
"We are seeing many more immigrants in the county, people who are chronically mentally ill and people who are marginally making it who are being laid off," Short said.
The county, said public policy analyst Juanita Tomayo Lott, is "in a process of growing pains."
"We are seeing Montgomery County as having characteristics that have traditionally been attributed to cities," Lott said.
To meet those social needs will require new infusions of money, including new taxes, the advocates said.
Potter agreed. He urged participants to lobby their state representatives to raise revenue from groups that can afford it, such as car owners and land developers.