Montgomery County Council members Credit: Official photo/ Montgomery County website

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday approved about $53.4 million in cuts to the county’s current budget as it finished work on a savings plan.

Council members unanimously approved the cuts to the fiscal 2018 budget, which covers spending until June 30, as the county faces a $120 million budget shortfall mostly due to declining income tax revenues.

The cuts were made to reduce the amount of the shortfall that will impact the fiscal 2019 budget. County Executive Ike Leggett is formulating the $5 billion plus annual spending proposal for the next fiscal year, which he will send to the council in the spring.

Leggett had recommended cuts totaling about $60 million from the current budget and the council mostly approved his recommendations. Leggett had largely recommended that county departments cut their budgets by 2 percent, savings achieved mostly by departments not filling vacant positions.

Among the approved cuts was the $25 million that Leggett recommended trimming from Montgomery County Public Schools’ $2.5 billion annual budget.

Council member Craig Rice, the chair of the council’s Education Committee, said the Board of Education and Superintendent Jack Smith gave the committee “assurance that these cuts will not trickle down to the classroom.”

The cuts were focused on reducing funding for the central office and administrative functions, according to the school system.

“The savings and reductions will focus more on the central office and not hit our classrooms,” Rice said. “I want to caution people out there who think there is still fat in the central office—there is not.”

The council altered some cuts that Leggett had recommended to programs run by the Health and Human Services Department, deciding instead to continue to fund specific mental health, childcare and dental programs the county offers to needy populations. Council members cut about $3.8 million from the health department’s budget—about $500,000 less than the $4.3 million in cuts Leggett recommended.

The council’s public safety committee also restored about $2.5 million in cuts Leggett had proposed that would have resulted in the removal of three fire service vehicles from operation and reduced staffing on a fourth. The council restored the funding for the vehicles to make sure emergency response times weren’t impacted.

The council also approved $9.3 million in cuts to county’s six-year capital budget. That total included $2 million resulting from delaying a Ride-On bus fleet replacement program and $2.4 million from transportation programs designed to streamline traffic—The Advanced Transportation Management System and the Traffic Signal System Modernization program.

The council voted to keep about $2.7 million in funding for the school system’s technology modernization program as well as $1.2 million for Montgomery College’s information technology improvement program that Leggett had proposed cutting. Both programs aim to replace outdated technology in the schools and community college. The council did approve about $2.2 million in cuts from the programs, with the bulk, $1.9 million, being trimmed from the college’s capital budget.

Leggett had requested about $13.5 million in cuts to the capital budget.

Steve Farber, who was working his last meeting of the council after serving 27 years as council administrator, told the members their work was “prudent and responsible” given the county’s current fiscal situation. Farber is retiring next month.

“Strong financial management is a hallmark of Montgomery County,” Farber said, noting the county has maintained a AAA bond rating from all three primary Wall Street ratings agencies for 44 straight years.