- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday proposed tax increases to pay for education and transportation, and said layoffs, tuition increases and other measures are needed to balance the fiscal 2004 budget.
The $3.1 billion budget, which Mr. Duncan called the most difficult of his tenure, calls for a property- and income-tax increase, the elimination of 50 jobs, cuts to some department budgets of up to 6 percent, and elimination of raises and cost-of-living increases for nonunion employees.
"This year, we are facing unprecedented fiscal challenges so we must continue to make hard choices," he said.
The budget now goes through a series of public meetings before the Montgomery County Council makes a final decision in June.
The local income-tax rate will increase from 2.95 percent to 3.2 percent so public schools will have money to add full-time kindergartens and reduce class sizes, according to the proposal.
The proposed 3-cent property-tax increase from $1.885 per $100 valuation to $1.915 would help improve the Go Montgomery! transportation initiative by adding transit buses, subsidizing fares and improving roads.
Mr. Duncan wants to increase Ride On bus fares and tuition at Montgomery College, but has no plans to raise water and sewer fees.
He said the tax increases and cost-saving measures are necessary because of the sluggish economy, the slower rate of growth in tax revenue and proposed cuts in state aid.
The budget includes increasing the public school system's budget by 5.3 percent, to $1.5 billion. Montgomery College's budget will increase by 4 percent.
Mr. Duncan said reorganizing such departments as Public Works, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Recreation and Public Libraries will save the county more than $4 million. Library hours at full-service centers will not be cut, but the Bookmobile program will be reduced.
He said the budget should include an additional $2.3 million for public safety technology because the county is so close to the nation's capital. The money would pay for an alternative emergency communications center and a bioterrorism team.
The budget, 4.7 percent larger than last year's, includes money to improve health and mental services for children and uninsured, low-income adults. Mr. Duncan plans to keep rental assistance and child care subsidies and increase the local earned income tax credit by $500,000, to $5.5 million.

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