Montgomery County's libraries, health services, employees hardest hit in proposed budget
Council weighs cuts broached by executive
Library patrons in Montgomery County likely have noticed longer lines, fewer books, outdated materials and fewer staff members to help them.
And according to Parker Hamilton, the county's director of libraries, the situation only will get worse under the budget proposed March 15 by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
In his $4.35 billion fiscal 2012 spending plan, Leggett seeks to cut library spending by about $2.8 million, or 9.7 percent.
Leggett's budget calls for filling a $300 million shortfall with cuts, increased fees, a modest tax hike that falls within the county's charter limit and an increased contribution from government employees for their health care and pensions.
In response to Leggett's proposed cuts, advocates for those with mental health needs have mobilized and are planning an educational forum tonight. The county's employee unions also are arguing that Leggett's budget is illegal.
And the union that represents general government workers has planned a rally Thursday in front of Leggett's office in Rockville.
The county executive is seeking to increase employee health care contributions from 20 percent to 30 percent, and for employees to contribute 2 percent more to their retirement.
Those proposals along with Leggett's recommendation to eliminate 216 positions, 140 of which are filled would save the county $29.6 million.
The county's fire and police unions also have filed prohibited practice charges, alleging Leggett violated the county's collective bargaining law by proposing the changes to employee benefits.
Similar changes were rejected by an independent arbitrator during contract negotiations with the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighter Association earlier this year, and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 35 said Leggett is violating a contact agreed to a year ago that expires in 2012.
The council is expected to vote on the budget in May.
Already some County Council members say they would like to restore some money for health programs, and council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring is questioning Leggett's recommendation on employee benefits.
However, some council members said Leggett did not make as many cuts as they had anticipated.
"Nothing was hit as hard as I was expecting," said Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring. "I was told to expect cuts, like laying off police officers, closing recreation centers and dramatic reductions to various services."
Riemer said he also was concerned about consolidating much of the staff in the county's Regional Service Centers, office of Community Partnerships, and commissions for Human Rights and Women into a new Office of Community Engagement.
Although Leggett's budget slashes his own office's budget by 20 percent, much of that money is shifted to the new Office of Community Engagement and not eliminated from the budget.
Councilwoman Nancy M. Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring pointed out the proposed Office of Community Engagement would have 15 managers and between four and six frontline workers.
"This proposal is a little odd," she said. "Maybe maintain two directors and keep the frontline staff."
She also noted that while the consolidation abolishes 15 full- and part-time positions, most of the highest-paid employees have been spared.
Riemer also said he was concerned about cuts to the library budget.
The libraries would have a budget of $26.14 million in fiscal 2012 under Leggett's plan, down from about $40 million in fiscal 2008.
Hamilton said her department has eliminated 146 positions in that time. Leggett is calling for another 38 positions to be abolished next year.
"We're not able to buy materials," she said. "We're not able to purchase databases. We're not able to buy magazines. There's a huge impact."
Hamilton said her materials budget has been cut in half since 2008, when the county spent $6 million on the latest books, magazines and reference materials.
In response to the cuts, library employees have issued an open letter to the County Council and are gathering signatures from supporters of restoring money for the libraries.
"We are not only dedicated staff we are also voters, and we are paying attention to the decisions that you make," one petition states.
That also is the message from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, which represents library employees. The union has posted signs in county government buildings that show a picture of Leggett under the word, "Wanted."
The sign reads, "Bring this fugitive to justice."
By the numbers
Impact on some county departments of the proposed Montgomery County budget for fiscal 2012:
Montgomery County Council: From $8.7 million in fiscal 2011 to $8.47 million in fiscal 2012 (2.7 percent decrease)
County attorney: From $4.5 million in fiscal 2011 to $4.04 million in fiscal 2012 (11.3 percent decrease)
Ethics Commission: From $218,250 in fiscal 2011 to $191,430 in fiscal 2012 (12.3 percent decrease)
Public information: From $4.9 million in fiscal 2011 to $4.74 million in fiscal 2012 (4.3 percent decrease)
Correction and Rehabilitation: From $61.81 million in fiscal 2011 to $61.19 million in fiscal 2012 (1 percent decrease)
Fire and Rescue Services: From $182.63 million in fiscal 2011 to $179.38 million in fiscal 2012 (1.8 percent decrease)
Montgomery police: From $230.57 million in fiscal 2011 to $231.79 million in fiscal 2012 (.5 percent increase)
Transportation: From $40.82 million in fiscal 2011 to $39.59 million for fiscal 2012 (3 percent decrease)
Health and Human Services: From $174.84 million in fiscal 2011 to $169.12 million in fiscal 2012 (5.3 percent decrease)
Public libraries: From $28.95 million in fiscal 2011 to $26.14 million in fiscal 2012 (a 9.7 percent decrease)