- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan made public his $2.9 billion budget proposal yesterday, which features no tax increases or layoffs.

The spending plan for fiscal 2003 fully funds the county's public schools and maintains essential services at current levels, Mr. Duncan said, increasing overall spending by 5 percent.

"The gap was filled through the improving economy," Mr. Duncan said. And $30 million was saved through a freeze on hiring and services this year that helped avoid cuts, he said.

"This budget successfully balances our community's most pressing needs, including heightened homeland security," Mr. Duncan said. The $323 million set aside for public safety will pay for 1,070 uniformed police officers.

The budget sets aside $17 million for homeland security, including $9 million in grants received from the federal government since September 11. Mr. Duncan is also seeking another $16 million in federal aid.

"With the new threats we have, we need to make sure our employees are trained," said Gordon Aoyagi, administrator of the county's fire and emergency medical services department.

The budget includes $1.6 billion for schools, including a $77 million increase. School spending represents nearly 54 percent of the county's overall budget. Montgomery has the largest school system in the state and 19th-largest in the nation, with 136,653 students attending 190 schools.

"We put together a unified plan. Duncan was honest with us about the revenues and we were honest about what we needed," Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said.

"This is a major achievement in our tight fiscal climate," County Council President Steve Silverman said. The council set a series of public hearings for early April to gauge support for Mr. Duncan's plan.

County law requires approval by June 1 of the operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year.


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