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 Most notably, it has repealed the ill-conceived “ghost” COLA.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.