Montgomery County officials on Thursday unveiled a proposed $413.8 million county budget for 2013 that includes no increase in county real estate taxes and sets aside $2.5 million to begin replenishing the county's depleted cash reserves.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro called the budget "honest" while county CFO Uri Monson characterized it as a "first step" toward solving the county's fiscal woes, which have drained the county's reserves and led to downgrades from credit rating authorities.
Shapiro said the $2.5 million allocation to the reserves was "a serious down payment on the future."
"When our predecessors took office, their reserve fund stood at $100 million," Shapiro said. "When we took office it was a mere $20 million."
Monson said the budget was developed using a "zero based budgeting" approach that disregarded previous budget figures and required all county departments to re-identify their missions and budgetary needs to arrive at a new, "real cost" figure for county government.
View the proposed 2013 budget and county CFO Monson's presentation in this article's PDF section. You may also download them from the county's website.
Monson said it was "too burdensome" for the 2013 budget "to make up for the $49.3 million in fiscal challenges" the county had built up over the previous four years, but identified numerous areas where, he said, inefficiencies and waste had been allowed to persist through previous years' budgets.
Commissioner Bruce Castor expressed admiration to fellow commissioners Leslie Richards and Shapiro for "doing what I did not think could be done, with [CFO Monson's] help," Castor said.
Though he did not name them, Castor said the budget addressed problems created by "the horrific choices" of his former colleagues on the Board of Commissioners, James Matthews and Joseph Hoeffel.
When he served in the county district attorney's office, Castor said he, "saw the immediate effects that criminal acts had on the people we were sworn to protect ... when you sit up here, there is a long lag time between the decisions that you make and the effect on people becoming evident. The temptation under the last administration was for the immediate gratification of the people who sat on the dais, and to hell with the people [they represented]."
Among other cost reductions, the budget reflects the elimination of 72 county positions between January 2012 and January 2013, including 12 positions eliminated last week in the information technology and domestic relations departments.
"We've had to layoff or furlough many dedicated members of our county family ... this was a necessary part of meeting our obligation to clean up a mess and govern a county that needed serious reform," Shapiro said.
Following public budget hearings at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Nov. 29, the budget is scheduled to come up for final approval at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Dec. 6.
Those wishing to comment on the budget at the Nov. 29 public hearings are asked to sign up at the county's website.