Leggett Recommends Slight Increase in Montgomery County Budget
County executive doesn't propose tax increase, but says one is likely next year
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said he exhausted all options in order to avoid a property tax increase in his proposed fiscal year 2016 operating budget, but that a “significant” increase may be likely next year.
Leggett released his budget recommendation Monday, which largely held spending levels at their current rates. The $5 billion budget increases spending by 1.4 percent, a smaller increase than the 4 percent spending increase that was included in the current budget, which ends in June.
Included in the recommended budget is $1.5 billion for county government, a 2 percent pay increase for county employees, a 5 percent increase for public library spending, $44 million for affordable housing and $2 million in funding for police body cameras and new bulletproof vests.
Leggett said the increase in library funding is a step toward restoring full funding to the library department, which saw its budget cut by 28 percent in the years after the 2008 recession.
Leggett recommended a $2.3 billion budget for Montgomery County Public Schools. That number is less than the $2.39 billion requested by the school system. The figure includes $27.2 million to fund MCPS retiree health benefits and represents a 3.8 percent increase in county funding compared to current spending. Leggett noted this meets about 97.6 percent of the Board of Education's request.
Interim schools superintendent Larry Bowers said the budget recommendation would likely mean the school system would have to move forward with a plan to cut more than 400 positions, including about 150 teachers.
Leggett recommended a $3 million spending increase for Montgomery College.
Property taxes are set to decrease slightly from about $1 to 99 cents per $100 assessed value thanks to a requirement in the county’s charter that links the property tax rate to property values. Local property values are on the rise, so the tax declined slightly.
However, Leggett warned that next year the county will likely have to raise property taxes. In December, he warned that due to financial challenges in the county and the state, as well as pending litigation that could significantly impact future revenue, he would propose raising taxes either this year or next.
He said during a budget presentation Monday that the “assumption is we’ll probably have to do it next year.” He said the county exhausted all available options in order to not raise taxes this year after he determined it would be difficult to convince the County Council to do so.
The charter requirement, which is responsible for the slight reduction in property taxes, also requires a unanimous vote from the council to raise taxes over the rate of inflation.
“I want to be cautious,” Leggett said. “I do not want to win the battle this year and lose the war long-term.”
The recommended budget now goes to the full council, which will begin its work on the proposal. Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled for April 14-16.