Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

Uncategorized

“In giving 117 years of comp time, Montgomery official hopes to heal budget wounds”

From the Washington Post of July 27, 2010:

“To salve the wounds left by an unusually tight budget, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett has agreed to give county employees the equivalent of more than 100 years off.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

Our take:

Mr. Leggett’s gift of compensatory time to county workers is not a gift to the taxpayers of Montgomery County.  Our recent property tax bills are not a gift; neither are our increased cell phone taxes.  Compensatory leave, he claims, is not a cost to the taxpayer.  We taxpayers claim that it is.  Leave is a liability on the books of Montgomery County.  According to the Council, the gift of compensatory leave translates to $7 million.  These are not phantom dollars but translate to real money when employees choose to accrue and eventually cash out their leave.  The gift was supposedly given to raise the morale of county workers.  What will it take to raise the morale of county taxpayers?

“Who really controls the Montgomery schools”

From a letter of July 25 to the Washington Post by Laura V. Berthiaume,  Member, Montgomery County School Board:

“What the critics miss is who really controls the school system: the superintendent and the entrenched, unaccountable bureaucracy, who make almost all the real decisions.”

Read the full article in the Washington Post.

Our take:

When a School Board member expresses frustration about the power of the School Superintendent and his senior bureaucracy, and the resulting inability of the School Board to take action on important matters, it is a bit jarring to taxpayers – and voters –  to discover that the elected members of the Board are unable to affect the actions of the appointed Superintendent – one appointed by them.  They can react but not propose? They have no input, can provide no guidance, in contract negotiations with the Unions? All power resides with the Superintendent?   Is something rotten in the state of Denmark when the School Board is powerless to control the Superintendent while complaining about his cozy relationship with the Teachers Union?  Thus while School Board Member Berthiaume would like to increase the co-pays for doctor visits of school employees from its current astonishing low of $5 and use the savings for direct services to school children, she claims that she is powerless to do so.  So in weighing the balance between benefits for school employees and increased services for the school children of Montgomery County, the School Board which is “responsible for the direction and operation of the public school system” claims that it is helpless!

“Fairfax schools undercut Montgomery on costs”

From the Washington Examiner of July 18, 2010:

“For the 2009-10 school year, the cost per pupil in Montgomery County was nearly $15,500, up from about $8,500 in 1999-2000.  In Fairfax County, the cost was about $12,900, up from $8,200 a decade earlier.”

Read the full story at the Washington Examiner.

Our take:

While comparisons are sometimes invidious, the glaring difference in per pupil costs between the public school systems of Montgomery County ($15,500)and Fairfax County ($12,900) raises some very logical questions.  Both counties have excellent school systems:  Nationally acknowledged to have high graduation rates, high SAT scores and high pass rates in advanced placement tests, to cite a few.  Both systems have dedicated teachers; however, the dedicated teachers of Montgomery County have an average salary exceeding that of their counterparts in Fairfax County by $10,000.  Does the generosity of the taxpayers of Montgomery County result in proportionately higher graduation rates, higher SAT scores, and higher pass rates in AP tests?  No.  Could we then infer that higher teacher salaries are not necessarily linked to better education results?

“Leggett approves more time off for county workers”

From the Washington Examiner of June 27, 2010:

“County Executive Ike Leggett has signed off on an arrangement granting municipal employees and police officers 26 hours more in paid leave next year. Firefighters would get an extra 48 hours….

However, some were flabbergasted with the agreement, saying it sends the wrong message to residents — who will pay roughly $250 in new taxes next fiscal year, go without toilets in public parks, and pay to park at certain libraries because of the county’s unprecedented $1 billion shortfall.”

Read the full story at the Washington Examiner.

“Consequences of the Budget”

Adam Pagnucco of MarylandPoliticalWatch.com wrote five very informative articles  (May 24-28, 2010) about the FY2011 county budget:

Part1:  “[B]ecause the county made a political decision to avoid the property tax, it instead chose to rely on a job-killing measure that targets employers to help close its budget gap.”

Part 2:  “The school system fared decently.  It did not suffer nearly as big a cut as most county agencies and its employees will not be subject to furloughs.   It now accounts for 57% of the county’s budget, its highest percentage in recent memory.”

Part 3:  “Most importantly, the six unions could not agree on a common approach to the budget. While the three school unions largely stuck together, the remaining three county government unions (MCGEO, the police and fire fighters) not only went against the schools, they also went against each other.”

Part 4:  “As bad as this budget year was, the county eliminated just 450 positions out of its nearly 30,000-person workforce and only 90 of those positions were occupied.  With labor costs accounting for roughly 80% of the budget, is this enough to achieve long-term balance?”

Part 5:  “Montgomery County has lagged behind Fairfax and much of the rest of the region in population, employment and real wage growth for decades. That hurts the business community by limiting profits. It hurts county employees by limiting the tax base. It hurts the non-profits, the poor and the immigrant community by limiting services. And it hurts the pursuit of smart growth by limiting revenues necessary to build transit projects.”

“Powerful unions drive Montgomery’s huge spending”

From the Washington Examiner of June 6, 2010:

“Salaries doubled for most Montgomery County workers between 1999 and 2009, while inflation rose 37 percent…. Montgomery County Public Schools’ tax-supported operating budget has grown by more than 75 percent in the past decade, far surpassing other county agencies.   Teachers enjoy salaries 20 percent higher than their Fairfax peers.”

Read the full story.

Taxpayers League Quoted In Gazette

The president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, Joan Fidler, was quoted in a June 2, 2010, article in the Montgomery Gazette:

“Joan Fidler, president of the nonpartisan Montgomery County Taxpayers League, said the council made many “courageous” decisions, like eliminating pay raises for employees, supporting furloughs for teachers, keeping the property tax rate the same and eliminating so-called ‘ghost COLAs’ that provide employee pension benefits based on raises they never received.

“Less courageous were the council’s decisions to establish an ambulance fee, increase energy taxes and raise the cell phone tax — all of which shift the burden of balancing the budget to the taxpayer, Fidler said.”

Read the complete article at The Gazette.

“A tale of two counties”

From the Washington Post of May 30, 2010:

“Montgomery, having already pruned the low-, medium- and some high-hanging budgetary fruit, is facing annual deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars as far as the eye can see…To put it bluntly, Montgomery is lurching under the weight of irresponsible governance, unsustainable commitments and political spinelessness — particularly in the face of politically powerful public employees unions.”

Read the full article.

Letter in Montgomery Gazette from MCTL President

The following letter from MCTL President Joan Fidler appeared in the May 26, 2010, edition of the Montgomery Gazette:

With the budget for fiscal 2011, the day of reckoning has finally arrived for the County Council. Unfortunately, it is the taxpayers of the county who will pay the price for the profligate budgets of years past. It would be fair to acknowledge that in facing the current crisis — one largely of its own making — the council has exhibited some degree of courage. It has held the line on property taxes. It has not bowed to the unions and has eliminated pay raises for county staff. It has attempted to extend the reach of furloughs to all tax-supported agencies, the superintendent’s grandstanding notwithstanding. Most notably, it has repealed the ill-conceived “ghost” COLA.

However, the decisions to institute an ambulance fee and to raise taxes on energy and cell phone usage punish the taxpayer for the sins of the council. Despite predictable revenue shortfalls and its deliberate budget decisions of the past four years, the council has smoothly shifted the burden unfairly to the taxpayer. Residents and businesses that choose to remain in the county will pay higher taxes while simultaneously experiencing reduced incomes and continued unemployment.

Furthermore, the council has caved to the school system. It has trimmed only gingerly from an agency that constitutes 57 percent of the budget while slashing libraries, transportation and health and human services. It has not mustered the courage to modify the gold-plated health benefits teachers enjoy but that most residents could only dream of: How many county residents pay only 5 percent to 10 percent in health care premiums and a $5 co-pay for a doctor visit?

Can we be assured that as we move through fiscal 2011, we will not be surprised with newly-discovered budget shortfalls? Will the council feign ignorance and punish county taxpayers again? And then there is 2012, with predicted revenue shortfalls, will taxes rise even higher? Just asking.

Joan Fidler, Bethesda

The writer is president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League.

Testimony for FY 2011 Fiscal Budget by Robert Monsheimer

Following is the testimony given by Robert Monsheimer, Vice-President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League before the Montgomery County Council on April 7, 2010:

Testimony for FY 2011 Fiscal Budget

I would like to thank the President Floreen and the Council for allowing me to speak tonight on behalf of the FY 2011 proposed budget for Montgomery County Public Schools. While I am speaking as an individual I am currently the Vice President of Montgomery County Taxpayers League and have coordinated my testimony with our leadership. I have been a part of the budget process review for the last 15 years. When I heard the proposed MCPS budget I was very worried about what programs needed to be cut and numerous other losses. Especially with the letters of staff reductions already remitted by the Superintendent.

After reviewing the proposed budget and comparing it with the BOE recommended budget, I am fully in favor of the Executive recommended budget and here is why:

The Budget that the County Executive proposes is 137.5 million lower than the request from MCPS BOE. But let’s talk about what this really means.

A: The BOE added an additional reserve of 37.2 million to cover fines and potentially other shortfalls. These areas do not need to be funded and will not impact student services.

B: The County Executive has asked that we defer the reserve for retiree health benefits for another year. While I think funding is prudent, this reduction of 30.9 million will not change services or classroom size.

C: The County Executive states that no employees will receive a Step Increase this year in his proposed budget, if MCPS is to follow with this logic, then an additional 25.9 million dollars will be eliminated without changing classroom size or the number of teachers.

Thus we now have reduced the 137.5 million to just 43.5 million dollars.

D: The Fiscal FY 2011 budget by the BOE asked for the hiring of over 225 FTE’s, of these positions are not created next year, the savings will be another 14.9 million dollars.

Thus now we see a shortfall of just 28.6 million.

E: Now we have to get down to the way we have managed our business. MCPS employees enjoy a tremendous health benefit where the taxpayers pay between 90 and 95% of the costs. If the School system simply matched the other county employees’ percentage of around 23%, then approximately 30 million could be funded for direct programs.

Thus now we have a surplus of approximately 1.4 million dollars.

F: In the proposed FY 2011 budget, MCPS has plans to initiate a new pre-school pre-K special education program that primarily serves the same population as a private/public partnership has met the needs of Montgomery County for over 30 years. This is not the year to initiate this program and could result in savings of up to 1 million if the old program was left in place.

Thus now the surplus is 2.4 million dollars we can restore nearly 20% of the teaching positions requested to account for growth

So as an individual I am for the education of our children, as a parent advocate I look at the possibility of holding class sizes, full employment for current staff, and possibly a small increase in direct teaching available.

So my question is to you, why did the superintendent not do the math that I just did? Why propose laying off 225 teaching positions rather than make changes to health benefits? .

Other area that should and could be looked at before cutting valuable front-line teaching positions is:

A; Outsource many of the IT functions to a private company

B; Eliminate free life insurance for employees spouse and children, saving nearly $100,000, per year. This change adds 1.5 teaching positions back to the growth model.

C: Review why MCPS requires a $2.86 million increase in workers compensation. Measures should be available to keep this in check and save at least $1.5 million that could be used to fund direct education requirements.

D: Supplies and materials are slated to increase by 3.721 million dollars, of which 2 million was for textbook purchases above current year funding.

So not only did we produce an ability to fund everything requested but we believe as much as 6 million can be really available to restore direct education resources.

My contact information for further information and clarifications is rlmcity@hotmail.com, or cell 240 475 6039