Montgomery County Council passes budget savings amid pushback

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A tight budget calls for tough decisions, and in Montgomery County, a financial crunch early in the fiscal year led to some tense moments between County Executive Ike Leggett and the Montgomery County Council.

Some of that was reflected in the way the council found $54 million in cuts. Instead of accepting a number of Leggett’s proposed cuts, the council restored a number of budget items in a range of agencies to achieve the savings.

At first, Council President George Leventhal questioned the need for Leggett’s proposed cuts totaling $50.8 million.

At a briefing with the media earlier this month, Leventhal said the county’s reserves were at a record high, and instead suggested that top-level salaries among the county executive’s staff should be examined. That generated a terse memo from Leggett, who disputed Leventhal’s contention that the county’s salary levels were out of sync with other similar county budgets across the country.

On Monday, Leventhal told reporters he supported cutting the budget to achieve savings required by a Supreme Court decision that will cost the county millions — but that he didn’t agree with a number of the areas Leggett suggested cutting.

Tuesday’s vote by the county council highlighted the differences the council had with the executive in terms of from where the cuts should come.

Instead of cutting salaries of staff serving the developmentally disabled, for example, the council deferred infrastructure spending, such as holding off on a $3.8 million project at the Bethesda Metro South entrance.

The council chose to retain spending in some other areas:

  • “We restored funding in the fire department for three primary response units,” council member Marc Elrich said.
  • “Takoma Park people are glad that we restored money in funding for the Piney Branch Pool,” council member Nancy Floreen said.
  • “Stump removal! Oh my goodness, did we hear from our constituents with respect to that!” said council member Roger Berliner on the restoration of money for a Pepco tree-trimming project that went too far. Berliner explained money would finish the removal of the stumps the utility crews left behind.

The vote on the budget savings was unanimous.

But the council’s budget-cutting chores are not over. As a result of the Brian and Karen Wynne case, which found that the way the county had taxed out of state income was unconstitutional, the county is still on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in the next two fiscal years.

When the council gets back to work in September, more tough decisions will be waiting.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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