The Montgomery County Commissioners have unanimously adopted a $409.6 million budget for 2013 that makes the first contribution to the county’s pension fund, begins to rebuild the county’s reserve fund, and does it without raising taxes.
The budget projects $412.2 million in revenues in 2013 and reserves $2.5 million for replenishing the county’s Fund Balance, which had shrunk from nearly $100 million to $20 million during the four years of the previous administration.
“This is an honest and transparent budget,” said Josh Shapiro, chairman of the board of commissioners. “This budget reflects the need to repair errors of commission and omission by prior administrations as well as absorbing state cuts to human services and continuing to grapple with the effects of the national recession.”
Vice Chair Leslie Richards praised the work of Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson and said the new budget ensures that the county’s reserve fund will not be used to pay county expenses.
“It is a tough budget,” Richards said. “It is a responsible budget. It is a transparent budget. We will continue to help others find other avenues for funding that we are unable to provide because it is not in the core responsibilities of what the county has to do.”
Commissioner Bruce L. Castor, Jr. called the budget “mean and lean.” He continued saying, “this budget gives us a base upon which to build and return Montgomery County back to its previous fiscal position.”
One of the most discussed sections of the budget involved the elimination of earmarks to 20 agencies in the county, several of which provide social services to residents.
“In order to protect the vital services that this county provides, we eliminated all earmarks from this budget,” Shapiro said. “While these earmarks supported many worthwhile organizations, legitimate questions were raised about the legality of these payments. Upon researching this issue, it became clear that the commissioners are not authorized to make these kinds of appropriations under the Second Class County Code, and that such transfers of taxpayer dollars are further prohibited by provisions of the Pennsylvania State Constitution.”
Shapiro said the law authorizes the county to enter into formal contracts with these organizations, to deliver those services and programs that the county would otherwise provide.
“This is in keeping with what I and the other commissioners have said since we began this budget process – that the county must focus its limited resources on providing the core services of government,” Shapiro said. “That is why we have worked closely with several of these organizations over the past few weeks to do just that.”
“Through these contractual arrangements, the county will be positioned to provide these vitally important services in a more targeted, constructive, and transparent manner, all while operating within the framework of the laws of our Commonwealth.”
Shapiro detailed six other highlights of the budget.
He also reiterated that the budget adopted was in many ways dictated by the “mess” that the previous administration created, including:” a $10 million budget shortfall that necessitated immediate cuts; county government buildings that were crumbling and will take at least $50 million to fix; an emergency radio system that will require at least $45 million to upgrade; and the need to borrow money our first month in office just to make the initial payrolls and pay operating expenses.
“If we fail to make these tough choices now, we will simply perpetuate a broken system that costs taxpayers more while giving them less,” Shapiro said. “In other words, these cuts are necessary in order to meet the County’s core responsibilities to our constituents. Notwithstanding the challenges, let me be clear—we are moving in the right direction. We effectively managed the short-term crises and now with this budget we establish a positive, long-term path forward for our county.”
Help for agencies
The following is a list of contracts approved by the commissioners with agencies that lost their earmarks in the new budget:
• A contract, not to exceed $200,000, with Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania for assistance with housing-related legal matters
• A contract, not exceed $70,000, with Legal Aid for case coverage assigned by the courts to represent lower income parents in Juvenile Court and Parental Terminations in Orphans/Juvenile Court
• A contract with Montgomery County Child Advocacy Project (MCAP), not to exceed $20,000 for case coverage assigned by courts for child advocacy
• A contract with the Women’s Center of Montgomery County, not to exceed $10,000, for assistance with Protection from Abuse Orders.
–Source: Montgomery County