Council supports $5.9B budget after about $69 million in cuts

Council supports $5.9B budget after about $69 million in cuts

Capital improvement budget would be $4B

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The Montgomery County Council supported a $5.9 billion budget for the next fiscal year. The final vote will be on May 21.

File photo

The Montgomery County Council on Thursday unanimously supported a $5.9 billion budget for the next fiscal year, with about $69.3 million in cuts.

Numerous cuts were made across the budget for fiscal year 2021 as county officials have discussed budget priorities for the last few weeks.

The council aimed to modify the budget to reflect that it would allow a “continuity of services,” which means most new programs and initiatives would not be funded.

The council also unanimously supported a $4 billion capital budget.

Final votes on the operating budget and capital budget are expected on May 21.

Council President Sidney Katz said the operating budget would be “entered into the history books as both unique and challenging.”

“The budget before us now is not the budget that I nor anyone else had hoped for. It is not a budget of plenty, but it is a budget that we can be proud of, and it reflects who we are and what is important to us,” he said.

“I know that this budget is the very best we can do right now, and I look forward to beginning the process of re-examining every aspect of it — just as soon as we are able.”

By not supporting County Executive Marc Elrich’s two proposed property tax increases and recommended change in interpretation of the charter limit, the council reduced its available money and revenues by $67 million.

Up to $600 million in tax revenues is expected to be lost, combined for both the current and next fiscal years.

The county is on track to have about 10.2% in reserves, or about $551 million. Elrich proposed a 10% level in reserves, or about $549 million.

The council is expected to reconsider proposed budget items that were preliminarily cut. The discussions likely would be in the summer or fall, when more information is available about the county’s financial situation.

Some costs in the current and next fiscal years are expected to be covered by the $183.4 million the county received through a federal stimulus package. Only costs related to responding to the pandemic can be covered with the federal funding.

One item was removed from the budget before a straw vote was taken. The majority of the council voted to defund a vacant director position with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission.

The council voted 7-2 to defund the position, with Council Vice President Tom Hucker and Council Member Will Jawando voting against the motion.

The operating budget includes no new raises for employees or added benefits.

Some capital projects are proposed to have funds shifted between years, creating delays for completion.

Hucker said the capital projects should be revisited in the fall.

Council Member Gabe Albornoz said the cost of construction could go down in the near future and would be an opportunity to put some of the delayed projects back into the budget for next year.

Council staff members suggested an additional reduction of $32 million in PAYGO funding in FY21 to provide funding to the operating budget to address ongoing fiscal uncertainties. PAYGO refers to the principle of not adding debt when there is an expenditure.

The council rejected the recommendation since it did not have enough time to consider the reduction after receiving it on Wednesday night.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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