Education, library funding, economic development and reducing government bloat were the major themes of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett’s budget forum in Germantown on Monday night.
The county executive fielded questions from the roughly 75 people seated inside the studio theater of BlackRock Center for the Arts, the forth of five that Leggett has devoted to discussing the 2013 operating budget. The final budget forum was scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center in Silver Spring. The presentation can also be viewed at the county’s website.
Leggett said he anticipates a $135 million deficit for 2013 — compared with the $300 million gap of 2012 — with the top five expenditures coming from Montgomery County Public Schools, public safety, existing debt, Montgomery College, and Health and Human Services.
While departments could see an average 1 percent reduction in funding in the upcoming budget, Leggett said that this time around, he was hoping to “maintain the status quo,” or refrain from cutting departments such as public libraries.
In fact, the sole applause lines Monday night followed those who made pleas to the county executive to spare public libraries from further cuts, if not carve out more funding. After about an hour and 20 minutes into the forum, Leggett flat out said, albeit in jest, “I’m not cutting libraries.”
The concern stems from what happened in fiscal year 2012. County agencies across the board faced cuts in an effort to reduce the budget deficit. Leggett proposed a slimmer $26.1 million budget for libraries, an amount the county council upped to $28.5 million by the time the budget passed.
In other topics, Marilyn Balcombe, executive director of the , asked how the county executive prioritized economic development and asked specifically about speeding up the demise the county’s energy tax, which is supposed to sunset in June.
In response, Leggett said he hadn’t made up his mind on what to do with the energy tax. He said while some businesses see the tax as a disincentive, county department heads have already trimmed the “low hanging fruit” from their budgets and were in need of new streams of revenue.
“We've taken away all the low hanging fruit, we've taken away the limbs on the trees, I'm now hitting at the roots of this tree,” Leggett said Monday.
The County Executive will submit his recommended operating budget to the County Council on March 15.