Montgomery County legislators Tuesday night passed a package of amendments to County Executive Matt Ossenfort’s 2016 executive budget that calls for drawing more heavily on the county’s cash reserves while maintaining the budget’s tax levy increase.
Legislature Chairman Martin Kelly said Wednesday legislators discussed nearly 80 resolutions before settling on their final proposal. The package increases the use of fund balance — the county’s reserve funds — in the $108.6 million spending plan from $3 million to just under $3.4 million. It sets the tax levy increase at 1.97 percent, virtually the same as the 1.98 percent Ossenfort proposed.
“The use of the fund balance is a concern and something we have to keep a close eye on as we move forward and do our best to try to bring the budget back into balance,” Ossenfort said Wednesday. “But I think it was a very positive, professional discussion.”
He said some proposals that concerned him, such as canceling his proposed Department of Public Works reorganization, failed to make it into the final resolution. As he looked at the resolutions Wednesday, he said he was not likely to issue vetoes.
“The few I’m considering are very minor,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole lot that passed that were deal-breakers for me.”
The legislature’s amendments included the purchase of two new patrol cars for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, the addition of $27,000 to the Office of the Aging for a total of $247,000, and an increase of $20,000 in funding for the Cornell Cooperative Extension, for a total of $100,000.
It also included reinstating two jobs that had been cut from the Department of Social Services, replacing two part-time positions at the Board of Elections with full-time positions, adding a human resources employee in the Department of Personnel, and adding a position in the clerk’s office that will carry over from this year.
Kelly, District 5 Legislator Terry Bieniek, and District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell voted against the resolutions.
“I think that if we are to create new jobs and invest in our county, we need to take a more serious approach at looking at our expenditures,” Kelly said. “The fund balance did not grow last year. Last year’s budget, we used about $4 million to plug the budget hole. This year we’re using almost $3.4 million. Seeing that the fund balance hasn’t grown, if we continue this trend, it could put the county in a serious situation.”
The legislature has not offered a resolution designating the county’s tourism promotion agency, which was contracted out to the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce last year with a total of about $160,000 in funding. Ossenfort said he pushed for the move last year, but there is some concern among county legislators about doing so again in 2016.
“At some point before the end of the year, we have to designate an official tourism promotion agency,” he said. “That needs to happen so we can continue to participate in I Love New York and other state programs.”
Ossenfort’s executive budget, presented in early September, cut spending by about $600,000 while keeping the tax levy increase under the state’s cap at 1.98 percent. Ossenfort said at the time the county is projected to have about $14 million in its reserves by the end of 2015.
“In regard to our fund balance, we’re in good shape this year,” he said Wednesday. If sales tax revenue does not improve, however, he said, “we might have to make some tough choices down the road.”
Sales tax revenue 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.
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