Today, the Montgomery County Council tentatively approved the fiscal year 2014 budget. I thank the Council for their hard work on this important task. Balancing the needs of our residents and businesses in the current difficult economic environment is not an easy endeavor and I appreciate and thank them for their accomplishments.
The balanced $4.8 billion budget I recommended to the Council in March strategically restored some of the most critical and important services that we were forced to substantially reduce over the past six years as the County faced unprecedented budget challenges.
My recommended enhancements in FY14 balance the backlog of resident needs with the County’s new economic reality - holding the line on property taxes at the County Charter level at the rate of inflation; holding the tax-supported County government budget increase to 3.9 percent, which is half of last year’s increase; and increasing spending for our expanding school enrollment.
The Council’s action today approved 99 percent of my recommended budget.
I am, however, particularly concerned about two Council actions that create an $18 million problem this year and create greater difficulties in balancing the budget in FY15 and beyond.
The energy tax cut of 10 percent reduces revenues by $11.6 million in FY14 and well into the future. One of the many reasons why I recommended retaining the energy tax at the current level is that a substantial portion of the tax comes from federal and other tax-exempt facilities in the County that otherwise pay nothing to the County for the services that they consume. This reduction reduces our budget flexibility in future years.
I also do not believe the Council should “borrow” $6.7 million in funds I set aside to pay for retired County employees’ health benefits. Those funds will have to be repaid next year, which will result in higher future obligations.
I understand the Council’s desire to meet its own policy goals and the tremendous demands that make these decisions so difficult. My goal is to continue to improve our fiscal stability that we have worked so tirelessly and collaboratively to achieve.