Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland
Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

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Message by MCTL President Opposing Tax Increase

MCTL President Joan Fidler sent the following email April 25, 2016, to Nancy Floreen, President of the County Council, asking the Council to vote against any tax increase:

County Council Likely to Recommend Against Some Salary Increases

From Bethesda Beat April 21, 2016:

“With a property tax increase looming, a majority of County Council members on Thursday recommended against some already negotiated salary increases for county government employees set to kick in next fiscal year….[County Executive Ike] Leggett’s $5.27 billion proposed budget includes the county’s first property tax increase since 2009, in large part to help fund the school system at almost $90 million over the minimum spending required by the state.”

Budget presentation at Civic Fed meeting April 11

On Monday, MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2016, at 7:45 pm the Montgomery County Civic Federation will have a public meeting on the county’s proposed FY2017 Operating Budget and the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Speakers are Jennifer Hughes, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Steve Farber, the County Council Administrator. Ms Hughes provides the County Executive’s perspective while Mr. Farber provides the Council’s point of view.

The meeting will be held at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20814, in Room A. Everyone Is welcome.

 

MCTL Member Testifies in Opposition to FY2017 Budget

MCTL member Richard Fidler testified April 7, 2016, before the County Council in opposition to the proposed FY2017 budget: 

Testimony on Proposed FY 2017 Budget for Montgomery County

April 7, 2016 – Richard Fidler

I am Richard Fidler, and although I play second fiddle to the president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, I am here as a taxpaying citizen. I come not to praise the proposed tax increase but to bury it.

The proposed budget is more than $5 billion, of which about half goes to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The state requires all counties to fund the schools at the Maintenance of Effort level—no more, no less. So why are we adding another $83 million beyond the legal requirement?

What disturbs me about MCPS is the lack of accountability.

When the MCPS budget is created look who is at the table for the decisions. It’s the administrators themselves. Also around the table are representatives of the unions and the PTA. More importantly, look who is NOT at this big dance: The County Executive, who has very limited authority over the MCPS budget: He says he has approved about 99% of what they asked for. Also not at the table: You, the County Council, which by law must fund the schools budget and then figure out how to fund the request. Also not at the table: The School Board itself, amazingly—until they receive the budget as a fait accompli from the negotiators. Finally, also who is not at the table is the most important group of all: The taxpayers, who have to actually pay the piper but are not allowed to call the tune..

So what we have on the one side is the budget being formulated by a group of unelected negotiators with a strong vested interest in increasing the budget, and on the other side our elected officials who have to finance a budget they had no say in creating. And we the public peer at this Danse Macabre and wonder who choreographed it.

It is this fantasyland process which causes me to be extremely skeptical when the Superintendent of Schools says they have “cut to the bone”. What proof does the public have that in fact that is true?

But perhaps there is hope. When the Board of Education recently passed the budget it also passed a measure to move the audit function of MCPS to the Board itself. This is a step in the right direction, a recognition that MCPS actions have taxpayer reactions.

I will close by asking you not to give the Montgomery County Public Schools any more than they are legally entitled to until they agree to a complete performance audit. It is then that we will know whether the tens of billions given to the school system has produced the results for which they were intended.

Thank you.

MCTL Vice-President Testifies in Opposition to FY2017 Budget

MCTL Vice-President Gordie Brenne testified April 6, 2016, before the County Council in opposition to the proposed FY2017 budget: 

Testimony on Proposed FY 2017 Budget for Montgomery County

April 6, 2016

In the years leading up to the 2008 economic collapse, bankers, Wall Street, and mortgage originators got too greedy and were subsequently found guilty of fraud after the banks were bailed out.  Where were the regulators when this was happening?  Today, our county government is playing fast and easy with the people’s money, and the Executive has asked for a 9% property tax increase to bailout excessive payroll increases.  You, the Council are the regulators and we’re looking to you to reverse compensation contract mistakes made by MCPS and Executive management which imperil our kid’s education and bloat our payrolls.

MCPS is a snake eating its tail with solutions that fail our kids.  Payroll costs have gone up 37% over the last ten years (OLO Report, 2/23/16), in spite of the recession.  This is largely because annual step increases that will cost $55M next year, drive teachers average salaries over 12% above their peers in Fairfax and Howard counties (WABE FY2016 Guide), and force planned hiring cuts to pay for them.  When we spend more on existing teachers and overhead, there’s less money to hire new teachers.  It’s that simple.

Incredibly, there’s another step increase in this budget request, accounting for over half the increase above Maintenance of Effort (MoE), and overhead takes another 45 cents of every dollar (MCTL Study).  The problem with one-size-fits-all solutions is that more expensive teachers in west county mean fewer new teachers in east county, larger class sizes, more reliance on para-educators to tackle the achievement gap and a widening gap. Ironically, teachers on the front line for closing the gap are paid on average 6% less than teachers in our wealthier west county schools (OLO Report, 9/22/15) .

Board members will tell you that in hindsight, last year’s step increase contributed to growing student teacher ratios, yet they seem powerless to do anything about it (OLO Report 2/23/16, pg 14).  But you’re not powerless.  Ask yourself if your arguments over the last 8 years against spending above the MoE level are still valid; and, if not why not?  Our parents aren’t stupid.  Explain the value proposition to east county parents who make less than teachers and have only 10% of their kids graduate college-ready (4/14 OLO report).  Say no to more across the board pay raises.  If you can’t do that, at least tie any spending increases to a requirement that MCPS sponsor an independent review of its gap-closing plans and costs.

General county government doesn’t look any better.  Over three years (FY14-16), public safety employees have seen a 30% boost in pay, and other county employees have received 20% increases (Farber, 11/13/15 memo to Council).  (After the third round of pay raises last year the Executive was forced to implement unprecedented spending cuts to the FY’16 budget just approved.  Unfortunately, the cuts were to non-recurring expense items, postponing cuts needed to balance the FY’17 budget.  He then promised to cut spending by 2% in the FY’17 budget request, but failed to deliver, even though the Budget Director and Chief Administrative Officer reiterated this approach in the 12/8/15 Council meeting).

Where are the productivity increases to justify labor costs growing faster than inflation?  Our county’s health, transportation, and public safety haven’t seen dramatic improvements to justify big pay raises, while our safety net struggles to keep up with immigrant population growth, and our tax base hasn’t grown significantly.)

Lastly, budget request revenue projections could again prove to be too high (projections assume increases in the rate of personal income growth, 4.5% vs. 3.5% last year, that drives income tax revenues, and property tax revenues are projected to increase 10%- table pg. 3-8).  Recently projected budget shortfalls (December 2015, Dept of Finance, $179M) were largely due to overly rosy revenue projections last June, not the Wynne Case (those shortfalls were already in the June 2015 projection).  This could happen again. Scale back overly generous salary increases that keep bloating our enormous budget base and risk new budget deficits.  Be regulators, not enablers.

MCTL President Testifies in Opposition to FY2017 Budget

MCTL President Joan Fidler testified April 6, 2016, before the County Council in opposition to the proposed FY2017 budget: 

Testimony on Proposed FY 2017 Budget for Montgomery County

April 6, 2016

I am Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, and I am here to express our dismay and disappointment at the budget proposed by the County Executive for FY 2017.

It is indeed ironic that this budget was submitted to you on the Ides of March to which as taxpayers our reaction is: “et tu Brute”.

Built on a tax increase of 8.7% – an increase that is well over the Charter limit – the budget appeases all those in the County’s public sector who will get pay raises as well as the school system that will get its budget increased by $110 million ($83 million over the maintenance of effort level), which in so doing re-bases per pupil costs in perpetuity. As you are well aware, maintenance of effort is wholly and completely a maintenance of emolument as the effort it maintains is the salary and benefits of the employees of the school system.

Thus you will hear fulsome testimony from those who will benefit greatly from this largesse. They will all push to make the pie bigger. However, we at the Taxpayers League believe that a bigger pie leads to tax obesity. And in that spirit, we ask that you consider these questions while you deliberate over this unsustainable, unsupportable budget::

  1. How much of this proposed 8.7% tax increase is to cover the salaries and benefits of county government and school system employees? Are these compensation increases and generous pension benefits, especially those in the school system, similar to those in the tax-paying private sector of the county? How many in the private sector have pension benefits based on “defined benefits” rather than “defined contributions”? Is it fair to raise taxes to provide perks to county and school employees not provided to those in the tax-paying private sector?
  1. Have you considered what the overpayment of $83 million to the school system will cost taxpayers over our lifetimes and to what extent this re-basing of per pupil costs will mortgage our future?
  1. Is the increase proposed for the school system based on evidence-based results? Is the school system able to identify such evidence? Will you question the effectiveness of MCPS programs and provide or delete funding accordingly?
  1. And finally, we support your proposal to defer increases in property taxes for poor seniors until they sell their homes. It is a pity that you had to do so due to this unusually high tax increase. Kill the tax increase – we will all benefit, both seniors and juniors.

Remember the motto of Montgomery County:- “gardez bien”. Well, here is the taxpayers motto: “miserere nobiscum.”

 

 

 

Taxpayers League Quoted in Bethesda Beat

At our meeting of March 23 a reporter from Bethesda Beat was present. His story started thusly:

The county’s budget chief last week faced probably the toughest crowd possible at the toughest time possible.

Just a week after County Executive Ike Leggett proposed an 8.6 percent property tax increase for next fiscal year, Office of Management and Budget [OMB] Director Jennifer Hughes was the guest at the Wednesday meeting of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, a small but diligent group of residents known for proposing ways for the county to save money and trim its more than $5 billion annual operating budget.

Read the whole story.

The County Council will hold budget hearings as follows.

Apr 5, 2016 @ 7:00 pm (Sign up to testify by 4/5/16 at 10 am)

Apr 6, 2016 @ 1:30 pm (Sign up to testify by 4/5/16 at  5 pm)

Apr 6, 2016 @ 7:00 pm (Sign up to testify by 4/6/16 at 10 am)

Apr 7, 2016 @ 1:30 pm (Sign up to testify by 4/6/16 at  5 pm)

Apr 7, 2016 @ 7:00 pm (Sign up to testify by 4/7/16 at 10 am)

To testify call (240) 777-7803

Is the Montgomery County Government a More Lucrative Workplace than the Federal Government?

Are the salaries of some of the employees of the county government too high?  We took the most highly ranked person in 8 different county departments and compared their salaries to their equivalents in the Federal Government.  We found these county employees are handsomely rewarded.  For instance the Librarian of Congress makes $183,300 while the Director of the county’s Department of Public Libraries makes $210,142—a difference of almost $27 thousand..

The complete table is here.

County Council budget hearings April 5-7

The County Executive announced his Recommended FY 2017 Operating Budget on March 15.

“My recommended budget assumes a property tax rate of $1.0264 per $100 of assessed value. This rate is 3.94 cents above the current rate. Over the last three years, the net property tax rate increase is 1.6cents. I am recommending a property tax rate which exceeds the Charter Limit…”

The County Council will hold hearings on the FY 2017 Operating Budget for three days in April:

Tuesday,       April 5 at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Thursday,    April 7 at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

If you are interested in testifying, call 240-777-7803 to sign up to speak. You can also sign up online.