2020 | Government

Rockville council eyes budget cuts for next fiscal year

Officials set priorities with revenue down

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As the economy and residents suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rockville officials have begun considering cuts and savings for the city’s budget in the next fiscal year.

Budget priority discussions come on the heels of a Dec. 7 report from city staff members on an expected decline in revenue. The city’s property tax revenue for the first quarter of the fiscal year was $3.8 million — approximately $490,000 less in than the first quarter in the previous fiscal year.

For the first quarter of the current fiscal year 2021, the city had more than $10,800 in revenue from property taxes, fines, permits, and other revenue.

Rockville adopted a budget expecting more than $84,600 in revenue before the end of the fiscal year. Most of its revenue comes in during the second quarter.

According to the report, expenses for the first quarter totaled more than $20,900 for the first quarter. The city adopted a budget with an estimate of more than $83,600 in expenses for the fiscal year.

On Dec. 14, the Rockville City Council released survey results on each council member’s priorities for the next fiscal year’s budget.

The five-member council answered 30 survey questions and had unanimous agreement on four priorities:
● Looking for opportunities to refinance existing debt to reduce debt-service expenditures
● Not adjusting the real property tax rate for FY 2022 (the rate has remained at 29.2 cents per $100 of assessed value since 2009)
● Not decreasing the total amount of grant funding for caregiver agencies if revenues drop in FY 2022
● Increasing nonresident fees for city programs to reduce the total amount of taxpayer subsidy (nonresidents account for 30% of current registrants)

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council Members Monique Ashton, Beryl Feinberg, David Myles and Mark Pierzchala could select “yes,” “no,” and “only if needed” on 28 of the survey questions. The remaining two questions were open-ended.

The majority of council members indicated they would like to:
● Eliminate vacant positions
● Reduce the use of nonemergency overtime
● Reduce the use of temporary employees
● Purchase smart parking meters
● Offer a senior and military property tax credit
● Offer a first-time homebuyer tax credit
● Add new or fund previously unfunded projects in the FY 2022 to 2026 capital improvement plan
● Issue new taxpayer-supported bonds

The majority of council members indicated they would not:
● Modify the city’s health insurance cost share
● Eliminate the senior staff and appointed official car allowance and 10% retirement contribution
● Eliminate cost of living adjustments

The city also has a survey for community feedback on budget priorities.

For saving money, council members mentioned the possibilities of hiring a grant writer, delaying cost-of-living adjustments, hiring a consultant to assess health insurance cost savings, and cutting severance pay for employees who violate the city’s ethics policy .

Pierzchala said during the meeting that he is looking for a “hold-the-line kind of budget.”

“We have opportunities to make adjustments and to include some belt-tightening, maybe some cuts, but also some different ways to use the money that we do have,” he said.

He added that the city has some funds specific to certain purposes, such as public art, public safety and transportation improvements.

Feinberg said that as the council considers potential budget cuts and priorities for the next fiscal year, it needs to keep the pandemic and potential federal relief in mind .

“Some of this we’re doing in a vacuum because we don’t know what the revenues are, what is our gap, what’s possible, what’s really not possible,” she said. “That’s part of the give-and-take of the whole conversation.”

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