I’d like to share with you some facts about the 2014 Montgomery County Budget. This budget represents a 4.9% increase in spending over the 2013 budget. The population is expected to grow at 3.3%*, while inflation is projected to rise at 2.5%** during 2014. Many conservative groups like to see spending tied to inflation and population growth. The Montgomery County 2014 budget comes in at .9% UNDER the anticipated combined population and inflation rate of 5.8%. This represents the SMALLEST increase in both dollars and percentage in a decade.
WHY THE INCREASE?
This year a budget review committee was formed to seek opportunities to recognize efficiencies and potentially reduce the budget. While it’s disappointing that total spending was not decreased, the good news is that the increase in spending fell into three needed areas:
1) Road & Bridge
Road & Bridge:
Commissioners took a proactive step toward funding mobility by increasing spending by $3,782,728 for road projects.
In addition to increasing the debt service rate, Commissioners approved setting aside an additional $3,952,484 for future debt service.
The county is working with a firm to review our salary structure and pay. While the results were not finalized in time for the budget hearings, the preliminary data revealed in general that our salary grades have fallen behind the market, and action is needed to fairly compensate our civilian and law enforcement personnel.
Since 2011 inflation has increased by 9.5%. During that same period our employees have received one cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment for 2%. The 5% approved brings our employees total COLA during that same time period to 7%, still 2.5% under inflation. Had I unilaterally made the decision, I’d have likely considered a 3% COLA and 2% merit. Nevertheless, the 5% COLA was unanimously approved.
Commissioners also took action to more fairly compensate our law enforcement personnel. Sheriff and Constable deputies will participate in the same compensation structure, bringing about long overdue parity between the departments. The starting pay for deputies will rise from $39,700 to $42,500. Changes were made to the STEP program to realign pay, to change the timing of increases, and to admit Constables into the program for the first time. This action is essential for Montgomery County to retain its law enforcement personnel after incurring significant training costs.
The total estimated cost associated for these increases including benefits was $5,710,004.
I believe the budget review committee positively impacted the budget process and brought awareness to elected officials and department heads that Commissioners were approaching the budget with tighter controls in place. The only way we could address the pay inequities was to curb spending in all other areas. When you consider that we are using current tax dollars to fund some road projects instead of incurring additional debt and that this budget is appropriating additional funds for future debt service, we passed a responsible budget. This is a good step in the right direction. I will continue to press for a hiring freeze to reduce our headcount by attrition with the goal of reducing future budgets by 5%. Montgomery County is both blessed and challenged by the growth that we are experiencing, and continued diligence is necessary to best utilize and allocate taxpayers’ dollars.
* 2014 population based on Economic Development Council projections (average for five years)
** 2014 inflation assumed to be 2.5%