$2.6 million budget OK'd in Montgomery

Council makes small cuts in spending plan, taxes

May 21, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- The Montgomery County Council, often accused of being dominated by tax-and-spend liberals, did a little less of both in approving a $2.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2000.

The council gave County Executive Douglas Duncan almost all the money he asked for in March, but trimmed $2.6 million from his proposed spending plan. It also passed along to taxpayers a series of small cuts totaling $7 million in the first year, and increasing to $24 million after three years.

The fiscal spending plan is 7 percent above the current year, but 1 percent below a spending cap the council set last month.

A final vote will be taken by the council Thursday, before the budget goes to Duncan for his signature.

The robust economy and a surplus of nearly $100 million gave Duncan and the council more room to maneuver than at any time this decade.

"It is a big budget, but it is a balanced budget," said council President Isiah Leggett. "It gives tax relief, it pays for new initiatives, it gives us flexibility."

Duncan concurred, calling the budget "a balance between tax relief and improved services."

Residents will get a tiny income tax break -- about $50 on a $50,000 salary -- and the pesky 90-cents-a-month excise tax on cellular phones will be eliminated.

Property taxes will drop, too: a decrease of 2.6 cents per $100 of assessed value from the current average rate of $2.54 per $100.

County officials have been on the defensive about taxes since they raised the piggyback tax from 50 percent to 60 percent in 1992 during the height of the recession.

Leggett acknowledged this year's cuts are small, but said it "sets a trend" and keeps faith with taxpayers who supported the council's budget authority during numerous tax cap ballot questions.

The budget includes $1 billion for education, a 6.3 percent increase over the present budget.

It reduces class sizes, including limiting first- and second-grade reading classes to 15 pupils and ninth-grade algebra classes to 20, and raises per-pupil funding to $8,448, the highest in the state.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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