Budget Picture Rosier In Montgomery County, At Least For Now

Leggett includes bonuses in budget proposal

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    Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has released his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, and unlike past years, it actually adds county jobs instead of cutting them and includes bonuses for current employees.  Even so, there are still many hurdles to clear before those things can become reality.

    Eighty percent of the county's more than $4 billion budget is spent on employee wages and benefits. During the past four years, the county has sacrificed a lot, Leggett said, so this year he's including $2,000 bonuses for each worker.

    "They've not received increases in salaries. They've been furloughed," Leggett said. "Seen reductions in health care, reductions in pension. And they continue to provide a productive level of service for this county."

    In addition, Leggett wants to add 92 positions countywide after cutting more than 1,200 jobs in the past three years. Almost 60 of those new spots will be in the police department, and Chief Thomas Manger said that will allow his department to better respond to spikes in crime in specific areas.

    "Countywide we saw a decrease in robberies," Leggett said. "Our Wheaton district, saw a 20 percent increase in robberies. There are specific neighborhoods in Aspen Hill and downtown Wheaton -- that's where you're going to see additional patrol officers."

    But state lawmakers can change all of this. One bill in Annapolis would shift part of the burden of paying teacher pensions to county governments. That, and a few other proposals, could cost Montgomery County almost $200 million, Leggett said.

    "It would affect our bottom line. It would affect potentially our credit rating," Leggett said. "And it would affect the quality of services."

    Should the doomsday scenario occur, Leggett advised against raising taxes at the county level: "Our income tax is at the maximum level at 3.2 percent. Our property tax the last few years have at least been at the charter level. The increase in the fuel energy tax. You add all those together, there isn't a whole lot of flexibility."

    The county council will have the final say on the budget.

    Complete story at wamu.org

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