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Montgomery County Prepares For Budget Cuts | News

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Montgomery County Prepares For Budget Cuts

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WUSA) --- County Executive Ike Leggett, projecting a budget shortfall of between $100 million and $200 million, is asking county departments to prepare for 10% to 15% budget cutbacks to make up the difference.

"We have to take into consideration what we have already come through. We have resolved this past year almost a billion dollar challenge. Next year is a challenge to us, but nowhere near that magnitude.

"I wanted to provide information so that, as we go forward, people understand the challenges that we have, and what are the potential resolutions for that as we prepare for the FY'12 and FY'13 budgets.

"If we proceed on the path that we're going, we anticipate that there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of a 10% to 15% reduction across the board. My objective, of course, is to maintain our public safety and provide as much cushion for those in most need in the county, and certainly to prioritize the schools," Leggett told 9NewsNow.

"I haven't made a decision about the schools and public safety and most needed but if you look at it across the board, and if you average it out. it's probably about 10% or 15%.

"If we protect some of those cuts and some of those reductions in those areas then, certainly, they may be less, or may not be at all..." he said.

Are tax increases on the table?

"No, not at this point in time and I do not anticipate any tax increases. We had an increase in this past year on the fees, for example, for energy services and for telephones, a small fee, but I do not anticipate, nor would I be recommending any tax increases at this time."

Even a careful budget forecast can lead to surprises.

"If you look at the winter we had last year, we spent almost $70 million, just in winter storms," Leggett said.

Are county workers going to lose their jobs?

"No, we don't anticipate, at this point in time, making a decision about county work employees. The employees, last time, we eliminated 11 hundred positions out of the workforce.

"Thus far, we had furloughs last year . We also had a freeze in place and we also reduced and eliminate cost-of-living adjustments so we will look at all of those things, but I do not anticipate having furloughs at this point in time, but everything is on the table,"Leggett said.

County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg, targeted successfully for defeat by workers' unions in this month's primary campaign, has long argued that generous benefit packages for those workers have to be reconsidered.

"I think the other thing that will clearly be on the table as the next council convenes is really the issue of taxes, and whether or not at the same time that we're reducing the quality and extent of services that are provided here in the county, we're also going to be looking at, perhaps, raising taxes on residents.

"And, in my mind, the balance here has to be struck not only around those two issues but in relationship to the overwhelming obligations that the county has with compensation benefits, because that's really the battle.

"Ultimately, that's going to have to be fought because there is no way to maintain the level and quality of services that we've been providing here in Montgomery County without taking a serious look at the enormous obligation that we have around our compensation and benefit packages," Trachtenberg told 9NewsNow.

"I'm not saying that we don't value our employees but there are a lot of things that we committed to in good times that are not sustainable and that is perfectly clear if you look at the six-year fiscal plan that the council adopted in May, and this is a conversation that the ratings agencies have had with the Council, as well as that what is on the books right now is not sustainable long-term," she said.

"At some point, you have to look at the quality of what you're providing, what the needs are in the community, but you have to be honest about what you can afford to pay for the services that you're actually able to provide and that you need to provide," Trachtenberg said.

"I think those cuts ( next year) will be in some core areas. They're undoubtedly going to be in the public safety category. They're going to be in the health and human service categories, programs that aid disabled children, programs that aid the mentally ill, programs that aid the terminally ill. There are a lot of bad things that are going to be out there as possibilities and I happen to believe that in this kind of tremendous situation you put the focus on people and on the services that you need to provide to them.

"And if that means you pay your employees a little less and they don't get as big retirement benefits, so be it," she said.