Montgomery County taxpayers are witnessing something new.
At the last commissioners meeting, officials revealed a quarterly finance report. The current administration has made it a new policy to have quarterly reports concerning the county’s budget.
Last year, a snap shot look at the budget wasn’t released until a few weeks before it was due to pass.
Many residents were upset upon hearing about the numerous services scheduled for elimination. Taxpayers sent e-mails, called county officials, and attended meetings just a few days before any action on the budge was taken.
“The public needs to know that know (about) the borrowing, the fund balance, and the bond rating,” said Commissioner Bruce Castor. “All of those things are all connected so that the residents are not left with the ‘trust us because we are the commissioners;’ that (they) are able to figure out why is the commissioners are making the decisions that they are (making).”
The previous administration was responsible for cutting services they thought the public didn’t need in order to not raise taxes. When residents spoke up, a vote was passed to raise taxes 17 percent.
Today, the county may face a $3.1 million deficit.
“Very tough choices have to be made, and you will see those come out in the coming weeks and months,” said chairman Josh Shapiro. “You are never happy when you face a challenge like that. We are prepared to meet the challenges and we’ll meet them in a thoughtful way.”
According to Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson, the county will see about $30 million in additional revenue from the tax increase that was approved in December. The commissioners said they want to be open about the financial troubles.
“I think it gives residents time to understand it and digest it,” said vice chairman Leslie Richards. “I think in the past, a lot of numbers were thrown at people at the end of crunch time when all these decisions had to be made. The budget is very complex, and you just need time to really understand it and see where we are and see what information we have to base our decisions.”
Also, according to Monson, the county had to borrow $25 million in January to ensure it made payroll. There is the possibility of another tax hike.
Shapiro refused to comment if a tax hike would happen and said, “It’s premature,” to assume there would be one.
“It is more of a snapshot,” said Richards on the release of the budget. “I think we are making great strides and moving in a wise way, given with the issues and the challenges we have ahead of us. Our report today, which we will have several of as we put the budget together, is just helping us get to that zero deficit.”
The county’s money has shrunk significantly since 2007. That year, the county had roughly $95.5 million in reserve, but by the end of 2011, the figure shrunk to about $20 million.
“They [they prior administration] would throw stuff at people and no one understood it, so the easy way to deal with it was to trust their explanation,” Castor said. “Now we are giving the public the building blocks on which we are making the decisions so that they know not only we are making them, but why we are.”