The Montgomery County legislature narrowly passed the 2017 budget in a 5-4 vote Tuesday night that hinged on the amount of fund balance that lawmakers want to draw on next year.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort’s $111.2 million budget proposal for next year included a $258,000 property tax levy increase, which was designed to be the maximum amount that would stay within the state’s property tax cap.
But Tuesday night legislators said they were alerted to an error in the budget this past weekend by county officials who found the county owes the City of Amsterdam an additional $29,000. With that money restored, Ossenfort’s original budget proposal would exceed the tax cap by that amount.
“You can take the argument that let’s just add that to the amount of fund balance we’re going to use, that would be an easy way to do it,” said District 9 legislator Robert Purtell. “But I think you all know the way I feel about using fund balance. I’d like to reduce as much as possible of that.”
District 8 legislator Joseph Isabel said he was “upset” to learn over the weekend that the county owed the city an additional $29,000, and advocated for reworking the budget to be under the tax cap before voting on it and any amendments.
“I was upset with the amount of taxes we were over and I feel that we should … get it under the tax cap and proceed from there,” said Isabel.
But, as was pointed out at the meeting, legislators had until Oct. 15 to act on the budget or Ossenfort’s original proposal would be adopted. Legislators spent much of last week working on amendments to the county executive’s budget and brought a resolution to Tuesday night’s meeting that would add $72,000 in spending to Ossenfort’s original proposal to use $3.8 million of the fund balance.
Other legislators, like Roy Dimond (District 3) and Thomas Quackenbush (District 2) were in favor of using the fund balance to stay under the tax cap and passing the budget with the amendments that were proposed.
In the end, legislators Martin Kelly, Terry Bieniek, Joseph Isabel and Robert Purtell voted no, while legislators Thomas Quackenbush, Roy Dimond, Ryan Weitz, John Duchessi and Barbara Wheeler voted yes.
The budget, as passed Tuesday night and including the $29,000 owed to Amsterdam, includes the $258,000 property tax levy increase and spending $3,897,000 of fund balance, which currently sits at around $11.8 million. The amendments that were passed Tuesday night with the budget added $72,000 to Ossenfort’s original proposal to spend $3,825,000 of fund balance.
District 7 legislator Barbara Wheeler, who initially passed when voting occurred, was the deciding vote at the end. She said she supported passing the budget because the amendments added more money to the county’s office of emergency management, “which is very close to my heart.”
The amendments, among other items, added $19,000 to the office of emergency management.
“It’s very difficult for me to make this decision, but I am the voice of the people that elected me, and I am so proud to make this decision right now, and I am honored to do so, so I vote yes,” said Wheeler.
Ossenfort, who did not attend the meeting, said he was pleased with the outcome when contacted after the vote.
“Some of the changes that were made are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, so for me, I’m just happy we got through another budget year,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.
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