County Commissioners are “making progress” on closing the $44 million shortfall in the 2012 operating budget, said Chairman Joseph Hoeffel on Tuesday.
“We hope to have a budget to present [at tomorrow's regular monthly commissioners' meeting],” said Hoeffel, during the tentative agenda public meeting.
Commissioners are meeting individually with county staff and Randy Schaible, the county’s chief financial officer, looking for ways to compromise and crunch numbers on the proposed $384.4 million budget.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Hoeffel asked his fellow commissioners if they would like to comment on the budget. Commissioner James Matthews shared his budget wish list:
- Montgomery County Community College (MCCC): Matthews suggested giving MCCC the funding they approved for the school’s 2011-12 fiscal year. MCCC is asking for the amount it received in 2011.
- Parks and Heritage Services: “I could live with a five percent cut to keep the parks," said Matthews.
- Elmwood Park Zoo: “I want to go with their request,” said Matthews, regarding the Zoo's request for $114,000, which is the same amount allotted in the 2011 budget.
- The county library system: “I would like [the request] untouched," said Matthews, adding that the library system’s budget has been cut many times.
Hoeffel suggested that the commissioners “fully fund” the court system's requested budget increase of $400,000-$500,000, adding that he agreed with a judge who told commissioners that the courts are “the backbone of society.”
Commissioner Bruce Castor said he had no further comment on the budget.
Before commissioners went into executive session to discuss litigation, a union labor contract proposal and the budget, they briefly reviewed other agenda items for tomorrow’s meeting.
Positive financial news came from Julio Algarin, Montgomery County Correctional Facility Warden, who told commissioners that his office helped the county save $37,000 on a $25 million construction project by minimizing change orders. The commissioners were visibly impressed. Castor said, “I’m speechless.”
“We stuck to our plans," Algarin told Patch, adding that work on the MCCF included site development, fixing a sewage issue and changing a perimeter road around the building.
Schaible told the commissioners that the county needs to borrow $25 million in a Tax Anticipatory Note (TAN). The commissioners will be asked tomorrow to hire bond counsel, an underwriter and appoint a financial advisor to oversee the TAN.
“There will be a cash flow problem at the beginning of the year, and the county won’t have funds to pay bills in February." Schaible said. “We know we’ll have tax revenues coming in starting in mid-March… The county has not done this for ten years, but it is not unusual.”
After spending two hours in executive session, Hoeffel and County Solicitor James Maza spoke briefly on issues the commissioners addressed and will talk about in their meeting tomorrow. They include:
- The budget: “All three commissioners have a willingness to compromise. We’re not there yet," said Hoeffel. "We will meet individually with staff. I am optimistic we’ll have a budget for tomorrow, but I am not sure." Added Maza: “Randy [Schaible] is running numbers for the final proposal and the goal is to fit together the pieces of the budget."
- Taxes : “No comment,” is all Hoeffel said when asked about a possible property tax increase to help close the budget gap.
- A vote on a contact for AFSCME Local 1582-B District Council 88 is being deferred to the incoming county commissioners, said Maza. County Communications Director John Corcoran said 132 Adult Probation officers and Domestic Relations hearing officers have worked two years without a new contract.
Commissioners also answered questions from the press regarding:
- County employees: “[They] will be treated fairly,” said Hoeffel.
- Planning Commission: “I would like to keep the planning commission,” said Hoeffel. It was placed on the commissioners’ budget chopping block when cuts to MCCC, the library system, the Parks and Heritage Services and Elmwood Zoo were announced.
“Tomorrow is the earliest the commissioners can vote on the budget. The latest they can vote on it is Dec. 30," Corcoran told Patch.