Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is proposing funding cuts that — among other things — would reduce library hours and delay the arrival of police body cameras, part of an effort to deal with lower-than-expected revenues and the cost of tax refunds triggered by a recent Supreme Court decision.
The County Council must review the proposed $50 million in reductions, and Council President George Leventhal (D-At Large) said in an interview that lawmakers are likely to make substantial changes.
The cuts constitute a sliver of the $5 billion county operating budget that was approved this spring for the fiscal year that began July 1. But they would still take a perceptible toll on a local government that prides itself on providing a robust portfolio of services to residents.
Leggett’s plan calls for a cut of $24 million from county departments, $10 million from Montgomery County Public Schools, $5 million from Montgomery College and $1.5 million from the Montgomery National Capital Park and Planning Commission. It also slices $10 million in current tax money used for mostly bond-funded construction work.
The reductions would result in cancellation of some expanded library hours, along with cuts in new materials ($1.5 million); elimination of extra pay for workers who provide services to the developmentally disabled ($969,000); delays in providing all police officers with body cameras ($314,000) and 30 fewer subsidized housing units for homeless veterans and families with children ($650,000).
In a letter Wednesday to Leventhal, Leggett said the cuts are necessary because the county’s portion of income tax revenue from the state was $21.4 million below earlier estimates. Montgomery also faces tens of millions of dollars in reduced tax revenues over the next two years because of refunds mandated by the Supreme Court decision in Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne.
The court ruled 5 to 4 that Maryland’s income-tax law violated the Constitution because it does not provide a full credit to residents for income tax paid outside the state, a practice that amounts to illegal double taxation. Maryland withheld a credit on the “piggyback” segment of its state income tax, which produced revenue collected by the state and distributed to the 23 counties and Baltimore City.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Leggett said the state revenue outlook is unlikely to improve in the near future. Without making cuts now, he said, the county faced the prospect of major property tax hikes in 2017 and 2018. “We have to be realistic here, and we have to not bury our heads in the sand,” he said.
Leggett’s savings plan would cut about $4 million of the $7.3 million in new spending he proposed in the 2016 budget. About $8 million of the council’s $18 million in add-ons would also be sliced.
Leventhal said the council will carefully consider Leggett’s scenario but is likely to overhaul it significantly. There is significant opposition to some proposed cuts, especially the $5 million reduction in funding for to Montgomery College, and cuts to social safety net programs.
“We’ll change it substantially,” Leventhal said. “The council acknowledges that we need to adopt a savings plan, and we will do that. We are not obligated to agree with everything the executive sends over, and we won’t.”
Leggett said the council was free to disagree on the specifics of his proposal, but that it has to find other ways to trim spending by $50 million.
Leggett left it to the Montgomery Board of Education to decide how to implement cuts of $10 million — or whatever mark the council approves. School Board President Patricia O’Neill said the proposed reduction was disappointing but not unexpected.
“Everyone is well aware that we’re going to have to be tightening our belt along with other agencies,” she said.
O’Neill noted that budget cuts made earlier this year already have created concerns about increased class sizes and a delay in the district’s Chromebook technology rollout.
It’s possible, O’Neill said, that the system could take steps including a spending freeze and, after the new school year begins, a hiring freeze. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said. “It will be challenging.”