Proposed Montgomery County budget asks for 3% cut in general fund

Faced with a coronavirus pandemic revenue slump, Montgomery County commissioners are expected to approve a “cautious” 2021 budget today that cuts spending and freezes salaries except for employees contractually due raises.

“Sales tax has been down and it probably will continue to be down if things don’t change,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman. “I think everybody’s going into this budget year very, very cautious.”

The proposed 2021 budget of about $897.6 million is roughly 2% less than the $914.5 million first budgeted for this year but higher than the $870.9 million in calendar year appropriations commissioners approved for 2019.

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The county is proposing a 3% across-the-board cut from general fund departmental budgets, according to the draft resolution before commissioners today.

Lieberman said the county’s Office of Management and Budget came up with a balanced budget “without extreme pain” that keeps most programs afloat and preserves county jobs without layoffs or furloughs.

“It’s going to be a tight year,” she said. “We don’t have to lay anybody off or eliminate positions. But there are going to be things that we had hoped we were going to do this next year that we’re not going to do.”

The county’s proposed 2021 budget assumes no new federal stimulus for local governments to offset tax revenue decreases, according to Deb Decker, the county’s interim communications director.

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Sales taxes accounted for about $99.7 million in county revenue in 2019 and was estimated to bring in about $101.3 million this year before the pandemic hit. Collections dipped 13.9% and 11.1% in the first two full months of the pandemic. Although rebounding some, the county is bracing for sales taxes to fall about $5.7 million, according to Decker.

The county also expects a decrease in casino tax revenue and a lodging tax shortfall of 39% as well as a decline in investment income, however water and sewer rates will increase 5.6%, according to Decker.

Budget adjustments the county plans to make for 2021 are based on the adopted 2020 budget, rather than the budget as amended after the pandemic hit, which resulted in $29 million of downward adjustments.

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While this year’s initial budget called for a 2.5% salary increase, it’s unclear how many of the county’s roughly 4,200 employees will go without a pay increase next year. Of the 1,834 positions proposed for 2021 under purview of county commissioners, 1,089 are bargaining unit employees who will receive contractual raises.

Lieberman, who was sworn in Monday as the first vice president of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, is hopeful another federal stimulus will pass Congress or CARES Act money will be extended, particularly if the county public health departments are involved in delivering a vaccine.

“I’m very optimistic there will be another round,” she said. “And I’m virtually certain that public health is going to be funded.”

Today’s 1:30 p.m. meeting will be held via Zoom and livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page, @Montgomery County.

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