Montgomery County Executive Neal Potter yesterday proposed limiting school construction to essential classrooms and said the county couldn't afford new road projects, in announcing a frugal capital construction budget.
"We just have to get along with what we have until times get better," Potter said. He proposed that the county's $1.97 billion, six-year capital improvements budget should grow only 1.1 percent from last year. When factoring in inflation, Potter said, the budget is actually down $36.7 million.
As he released the budget, Potter also disclosed that he wants to revamp the way the county manages its growth and development, and further limit the creation of jobs and construction of houses in the county.
Although the sluggish economy has for the moment slowed growth, Potter said current policies have resulted in periods of "boom and bust," harmful to developers, citizens and government.
Potter, swept into office on a wave of residents' discontent over development, said he wants to limit construction to 6,000 houses a year and jobs to 9,000 a year. Potter said specifics of his plan would be offered later. In 1989, 8,000 houses were built and 12,000 jobs were added in the county.
"Those are dramatic changes," said Planning Board Chairman Gus Bauman, predicting a great public debate on the issue.
Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) said he expected opposition from members of the business community. But he added that he was "not going to fight" Potter's proposals because election results showed the community wants growth controlled.
Potter also said yesterday that he would not back away from his support for new ways to raise money. He said he is considering various taxes on new development and that he would continue to press state lawmakers for county authority to levy a license tag tax on motor vehicles.
Reaction to Potter's budget, presented at a morning news conference, was muted.
Leggett said the budget, which goes to the County Council for action by May 15, spreads the pain around. "Everybody is taking a hit; the question is how long," Leggett said.
"This budget reflects the fact that the 1980s are over," said council member Bruce T. Adams (D-At Large). He said the budget leaves great education and transportation needs unmet, but the county simply doesn't have the money.
Release of the capital improvement budget is the first step in the months-long process of putting together a county budget. The next step comes today when School Superintendent Harry Pitt presents his proposed budget to operate the schools. County officials are projecting a budget deficit of more than $150 million, and the sharpest clashes are expected over school spending.
School officials reacted warily to Potter's recommendation for a $503 million school construction budget, $54 million less than requested.
Potter stressed that he is placing a priority on the schools. He said his budget would mean the addition of 19,000 classroom spaces to handle the increase in students, which by 1997 is expected to mean an all-time high enrollment of 131,250. However, most school renovation projects and some proposed new schools will be delayed or denied.
A major change is Potter's elimination of $12 million for an addition to Montgomery Blair High School and his suggestion that school officials instead reopen Northwood High School.
"It completely disrupts our plans," said school board President Blair Ewing. He said reopening Northwood would not save money, would cause crowding in elementary schools and would create difficulties in drawing boundaries that would produce a racially balanced student body.
Transportation, which was cut last year by then-County Executive Sidney Kramer, would receive even less under Potter. Under Potter's proposal, the transportation budget is down 5.8 percent, with the road budget cut by 7.5 percent -- a reflection of the county's completing various projects and Potter's decision not to undertake anything new.
Three major road projects slated for Germantown -- Father Hurley Boulevard, Maryland Route 118 West and Maryland Route 117, are delayed until developer contributions for the work are put into place.
Potter said he was including $30 million in the budget for the county's portion of the proposed trolley and hiking trail between Silver Spring and Bethesda until he and state officials determine the fate of the controversial project. State officials, who previously said they would pay for the line, are awaiting a study on costs and feasibility. Potter has said in recent months he thinks the project should be deferred.
Other major changes in the budget include Potter's recommendation to reduce spending for a proposed jail by $14.2 million, or 15.3 percent.
The only new spending proposed by Potter are modest amounts to build sidewalks and bicycle paths. Potter also proposes some money for projects aimed at improving the environment, such as increases in storm water management.
He also includes money for small neighborhood projects to be matched with funds or labor from local civic groups.
-- PROPOSED CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS BUDGET --
Cost: $1,971,506,000 for all agencies, 1.1 percent increase over current budget.
Montgomery College: $46.5 million, down 6.3 percent.
Park and Planning Commission: $74.4 million, down 20.7 percent.
Public Safety: $101.3 million, down 14.9 percent.
Libraries/Recreation: $31 million, down 10.1 percent.
Conservation of Natural Resources: $46.3 million, up 32.9 percent.
Public Schools: $503 million, down 3.1 percent. Among highlights: 19,000 new classroom spaces; 17 new facilities, including 6 new elementary schools and replacement of 1 elementary school; 6 new middle schools and reopening of 2 middle schools and the reopening of 1 high school and the replacement of 1 high school; 53 additions and addition/modernizations.
Transportation: 10 central business district parking facility projects; Shady Grove Metro Station commuter parking with 900 additional spaces; 1,900 commuter park-and-ride spaces in Glenmont parking garage; 350-space park-and-ride lot at Fairland; and 700 park-and-ride spaces in Scaggsville.
Environment and Neighborhoods: New tree planting program for the public right of way for county roads and for some state roads; increased support for sidewalks and bicycle paths in existing neighborhoods; expansion of storm water management program.