Montgomery County Council votes to approve operating budget -- Gazette.Net n$4.8 billion spending plan includes property tax hike, energy tax reduction" /> n$4.8 billion spending plan includes property tax hike, energy tax reduction" /> n$4.8 billion spending plan includes property tax hike, energy tax reduction">


This story was updated on May 24, 2013.

Montgomery County residents will pay a bit more in property taxes and a bit less in energy taxes, after the County Council unanimously approved the fiscal 2014 operating budget Thursday morning.

The council passed a $4.8 billion spending plan, up $12.3 million from the previous budget. The budget follows the charter limit, in which spending cannot grow faster than inflation without a supermajority’s support on the council.

The budget includes a $692 tax credit for most homeowners, whose average tax bills will increase about $80 a year. The weighted tax rate will increase by 1.8 cents — from 99.1 cents to just more than $1 per $100 of assessed property value. The energy tax decrease saves the average resident about $1.29 per month. Montgomery County Public Schools will get its full request without the county exceeding state-mandated funding minimums, known as maintenance of effort.

Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg opposed the employee pay increases and property tax increases. He called the pay increases “unsustainable” and “excessive.” The increase in property taxes, he said Thursday, would “pose a hardship to many of our residents.”

Employees will receive pay raises that include a mix of cost-of-living and step increases. The county will also continue to restore money that was cut from categories such as public safety and libraries, which Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said was important to constituents.

She called this year’s budget “very balanced.”

“I think this year was definitely slightly better than the last three years,” Navarro said. “I think that we were able to restore some very important services which I think was really critical.”

Similarly, Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said economic circumstances have improved since the start of the current budget year. He said he was glad to see street outreach resources to identifying homeless clients in need were added to the budget, which he called a priority.

“We made sound decisions,” Leventhal said Friday of the spending plan. “Just generally, this budget reflects that things are looking up [and] that the economy’s getting better.”

The council reduced the energy tax, which has varying rates depending on the type of energy. For the 2011 budget, the council increased energy tax collections 85 percent to get through the recession, with a plan to sunset the increase July 1, 2012, which was the start of the current fiscal year. Instead of ending the increase, the council crafted the 2013 budget with a 10 percent decrease.

The 2014 budget includes a 10 percent reduction in the tax, which reduces revenue by about $11.4 million.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said that while he was disappointed that the council chose to reduce the energy tax, he was “reasonably pleased” with the council’s decision to keep 99 percent of his recommendations. The council will put only $137.9 million — about $6.7 million less than Leggett recommended — in its retiree health insurance fund, known as OPEB, and it will give $1.9 million less to capital projects.