Council's Tough Consensus
For the Montgomery County Council, getting the budget to stick to the charter limit was not easy, clean, tightly organized or straightforward. We were clearing the brush as we hiked the trail. But that was what made the result of our well-chronicled odyssey so satisfying.
As we believe the county charter requirements always intended, the council's process resulted in an unquestionably clear and honest public debate about priorities, financial challenges and responsible solutions.
Since December, when we initiated the effort to set homeowners' property tax relief as our budgetary goal, the council's give-and-take has reflected the competing objectives of a progressive community. In the end, everyone gave a little, and, in our minds, the community got a lot. We continue to be committed to academic excellence, transportation enhancements, public safety, a safety net for our most vulnerable residents and maintenance of quality services.
Significantly, because of the council's action on property taxes, the average residential property owner will keep about $300 this year.
But what about the future? While "property tax relief" cannot be a rallying cry for turning our backs on community needs, it certainly cannot be ignored. Is a charter restriction limiting property tax growth to the rate of inflation reasonable given the real costs of employee benefits and the needs of a community increasingly forsaken by federal and state officials? It works only if our efforts to shift some costs to other resources can continue. The charter limit objective will never be easy to satisfy in our environment of big-ticket transportation and transit needs, affordable housing issues, and a growing community of children, seniors and vulnerable residents seeking services.
Would any one of us have done it differently? There can be no question that each of us would have preferred a different arrangement of priorities and resource solutions. But in our world, it takes seven to tango because our county charter required it.
At least seven people with very disparate views had to reach agreement about fundamental community priorities. Schools, transportation, our most vulnerable residents and public safety won the day. That all nine of us came to consensus demonstrated the extent to which those core objectives were supported by all in this budget.
That is huge, and the point of the charter rule in the first place, isn't it?
Nancy Floreen (D-At Large)
Michael L. Subin (D-At Large)
County Council members
School Board? Yes and No
While arguments can be made pro or con as to the advisability of having a school board and the power designated to that body, the most important considerations for the board are whether it is elected and whether it plays an adversarial role in determining not only the budget but also the programs for the schools.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the Montgomery County school board has not questioned the requests of the county school superintendent, thus leading to rapidly rising costs with essentially a blank check given to the superintendent and his programs.
Would it be better to have the school board appointed rather than elected? This would be doubtful, since it would abrogate the citizens' right to have a voice in the decisions of the school board.
Would it be preferred to have no school board and have the county school superintendent report directly to the county executive? At least in our county, this would present a quandary, because the superintendent's salary is higher than that of his would-be superior.
The system is broken, but there does not appear to be any easy solution.