Montgomery County employees, including police and firefighters, are facing furloughs, though teachers have been spared.
The economic downturn forced the County Council to approve a $4.3 billion operating budget that represents the first decrease in spending since 1968.
Firefighters feel that their noses are being rubbed in the dirt by the council. The head of the firefighters union said they have already given up $20 million in negotiated pay raises and retirement benefits. The furloughs make them furious, and they are not alone.
There was a silent protest by the Montgomery County fraternal order of police as the County Council approved the budget.
The new budget, which takes effect July 1, mandates that all county employees except teachers will be furloughed three days, five days or eight days in the coming year based on their salary.
"They're just furloughing police and firefighters and other county workers and they're leaving the teachers, which are half of the budget, and they're not furloughing anybody from that side," said Matt Frasca, of the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police.
"The council supported furloughs for all employees and we have within our control furloughs for county government employees, but the school system has indicated that they don't intend to do furloughs, so it is up to the school system to decide how to take the cut that they are taking," said Councilman Phil Andrews, who chairs the public safety committee.
Council cut the school budget by $24 million, a reduction of about $1,000 per pupil. The Montgomery County Public school system has eliminated more than 400 jobs and will increase class size to accommodate an influx of students whose families can no longer afford to pay for private schools.
"We've got 2,800 hundred more students coming to MCPS and we expect greater enrollment increases next year, so furloughs aren't really practical at MCPS," said schools spokesman Dan Tofig. "But we have made the cuts that we need to make in the budget."
The Montgomery County Council put a priority on schools and public safety, saying furloughs are better than layoffs. Council approved money for 36 new police recruits, and instead of eliminating all 33 education facility police officers assigned to schools, they are retaining 9 of them.
But the balanced budget relies in part on a new ambulance fee, and that could pose a problem. There has been a fight over ambulance fees for years. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said they will be paid by insurance companies and medical transports will not cost patients anything out of pocket. But Montgomery County Volunteer Firefighters are opposed to ambulance fees and plan to take action against the fees.