Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett once again made the case against ending the county’s control of alcohol distribution Wednesday night in Silver Spring at the first of five public forums on the next fiscal year’s operating budget.
Leggett told residents at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center the county already may need to reduce spending by 11.5 percent to balance the 2017 budget and that the loss of up to $30 million in profit generated by the county’s Department of Liquor Control would make the situation worse.
“If the residents of Montgomery County want to lose $30 million, suffer the consequences from it, then fine,” Leggett said. “But I want you to know the true picture of what is at stake and what the implications are.”
Forum attendees who asked Leggett questions after his presentation seemed more concerned with libraries, crime, social services and affordable housing. Two people expressed concern about a State Highway Administration plan to cut off access from a road to Route 29.
One resident of the Dumont Oaks neighborhood near White Oak told Leggett he’d gladly pay $10 more a month in property taxes if the county needed it to maintain services such as the 3rd District Police Station, which moved from downtown Silver Spring to White Oak in 2014.
During last year’s budget forums, Leggett said a hike to the county’s property tax rate could be necessary to balance the county’s roughly $5 billion budget. On Wednesday, Leggett tied any talk of tax increases to losing Department of Liquor Control profit.
He said the state comptroller’s office recently told the county its revenue projections might be off and that “we’re going to figure out why that might be the case.” In December, the county lowered its revenue projections for fiscal year 2017 by $98 million based on a lower-than-expected income tax revenue distribution from the state.
Leggett pointed to about $183 million in tax revenue that could be lost through 2019 due to the outcome of the Wynne case as another reason why the county might have to make more budget cuts or raise taxes.
“When I ran for this office this time, I told my wife that despite all the difficult budget challenges we had had the past few years, that going forward it would be much, much easier and all the difficult budget challenges we had were in the past,” Leggett said. “Well, the Wynne case happened, the economy has not been as robust as we had anticipated and then, on top of that, we get something that we all have not fully understood called Liquor Control.”
Leggett will submit his recommended operating budget for fiscal year 2017 (which starts July 1) to the County Council on March 15.
He’ll speak Monday at a 7 p.m. budget forum at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center and then at three more budget forums around the county this month.