Montgomery County

Montgomery County budget proposal cuts spending, raises taxes

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort on Tuesday presented his 2016 budget proposal, a $108.6 m
Montgomery County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort delivers the 2015 State of Montgomery County Address at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course on Friday, February 27, 2015.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Montgomery County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort delivers the 2015 State of Montgomery County Address at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course on Friday, February 27, 2015.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort on Tuesday presented his 2016 budget proposal, a $108.6 million spending plan that would raise property taxes 1.98 percent even as it cuts spending $600,000 from 2015.

At 1.98 percent, the tax increase comes in under the state’s tax cap by 0.37 percent, allowing eligible homeowners to receive tax relief reimbursements from the state.

“I think the county is in good shape, we’re on solid financial footing,” Ossenfort said Thursday. “There’s plenty of work to do moving forward, but I feel very confident about this budget. I think there’s a good amount of support in the legislature. Obviously, there’s going to be some changes made, but my hope is they’re not significant.”

The plan calls for using $3 million from the county’s fund balance, which is projected to be about $14 million by the end of 2015, according to Ossenfort’s presentation. The fund balance, the reserve of money not spent in previous years, equals about 13 percent of the total budget, which is within the state’s recommended 10 to 15 percent.

The county appropriated about $3.9 million from the fund balance in both 2014 and 2015, though it used less than $1 million in 2014 and is projected to use about $2.7 million in 2015.

“What we want to do is work toward a balanced budget and not have to use fund balance to plug the budget deficit,” Ossenfort said. “We were hoping to get to $2 million in ’16. Given that sales tax remained relatively flat as well as the property tax base not expanding like we would like it to, it really made it difficult to do that without significant layoffs or cuts to services.”

Sales tax, the county’s largest source of revenue, is projected to continue to decline. It dropped from $29.2 million in the first half of 2014 to about $27.9 million in the first half of 2015 and is projected to be about $27.5 million in the first half of 2016.

Ossenfort’s budget proposes a reorganization of the county’s Department of Public Works that results in a net decrease in personnel and $15,000 in savings. He said Thursday that the DPW has been a “hodgepodge of a department that has withstood many cuts over the years,” resulting in unclear lines of accountability and command.

The new structure calls for a commissioner, deputy commissioner and four department heads. The department currently has a commissioner and two deputy commissioners.

“This way all of the employees have a very clear chain of command,” Ossenfort said. “It created a more efficient organization but also saved us some money.”

He said the reorganization does not eliminate any currently filled positions. There are, however, two filled positions in the Department of Social Services and one in the Public Defender’s Office that are cut from the budget. Ossenfort said there may be some grant money available to keep the employee in the Public Defender’s Office.

The budget proposal also contains investments in the expansion of the county’s Public Safety Building, maintenance of roads and bridges, radio communications upgrades for emergency personnel and energy-efficiency programs.

The budget will now go to a public hearing sometime before Oct. 5. The legislature will then meet by Oct. 10 to consider its adoption. Ossenfort will be able to approve or veto the legislature’s decision by Oct. 23, and the legislature can override by a two-thirds vote by Oct. 31. The final budget takes effect Jan. 1, 2016.

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