MONTGOMERY COUNTY, like most local jurisdictions, is in for a rough budget cycle. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's $3 billion budget proposal for the coming fiscal year would add $352 to the tax bill of the average county homeowner along with new fees for ambulance runs, trash collection and Ride On buses. He proposes a 3-cent increase in the local property tax rate to raise about $30 million a year for badly needed road and mass transit initiatives. And even if the County Council approves the increases as well as a $15 million dip into the "rainy day" reserve fund, Mr. Duncan's proposal still requires program cuts.
Mr. Duncan would reduce by a modest $31 million the schools' request for $1.5 billion. Money from a proposed quarter-percent increase in Montgomery's add-on to the Maryland income tax would be earmarked for the school system, enabling the county executive to increase education funding by 5.3 percent and raise per-pupil spending to an all-time high of $10,562. The schools are complaining anyway, as enrollments reach record highs. But something's got to give, and the system, which takes nearly half of the county's resources, might take a look at reducing the number of additional positions requested.
Montgomery and neighboring governments also suffer from expensive salary wars. Blaming competition for top government officials, firefighters, police officers and teachers, local governments have approved pay raises higher than those in the private sector. Meanwhile, state and federal tax cuts mean that the squeeze on local budgets -- and on the taxpayers forced to ante up -- will continue.