Thursday, August 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

2014 budget proposal has costs down 8 percent, taxes stable

The 2014 budget of $371.5 million holds the line on taxes and brings the reserve fund up to recommended level, but does not fully fund the pension system.

2014 budget proposal has costs down 8 percent, taxes stable

The commissioners on Thursday released the 2014 draft budget of $371,473,973 -- an 8 percent reduction from 2013, with no tax increase. 

Montgomery County 2014 Proposed Budget

The sale of Parkhouse senior center, and to a lesser extent the Human Services Center in Norristown, pervades nearly every aspect of the budget. The county hopes to complete both sales by the end of this year.

The county last year spent $49.27 million to operate Parkhouse, but next year expects to spend only $2.98 million on some outstanding contracts.  That frees up room in the general fund to provide modest increases to almost every county department, a 1.5 percent raise for all non-union employees, and merit bonuses of up to 1.5 percent.

The privatization of Parkhouse reduces the payroll by about 400 employees.  It reduces energy costs by $1.78 million.  It reduces debt service by $19 million.  And proceeds from the sales will bring the county's reserve fund up to 11 percent, the recommended level.

The draft budget also includes the Open Space and Capital Fund budgets, which in previous years had been handled separate from the operating budget.

The county would spend $94 million in 2014 to repair county-owned parking garages in Norristown, the juvenile probation center, the youth center and One Montgomery Plaza, and to pay for the new public safety radio system, bridge upgrades, and other infrastructure investments.

Open Space spending for 2014 would be $11.7 million, mostly for site improvements to county parks and the completion or expansion of four regional trails.

One dark spot in the budget is the pension fund, which remains underfunded after the county failed to pay into the system from 2008 to 2012.  As of January 2013, the pension fund was at 92.3 percent, and the county paid only $3.2 million of an $11 million bill. 

We won’t know until this summer how much the county owes for 2014, according to county Chief Finance Officer Uri Monson. But Controller Stewart Greenleaf said, “We can be reasonably sure it will be at least twice the $3.5 million contribution proposed in the budget.”

Greenleaf urged the commissioners to commit to paying the full pension contribution, as required by state statute.

A public hearing will be held Dec. 12 at 4 p.m., and the commissioners expect to approve the budget at their Dec. 19 meeting.

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Jessica Parks and Carolyn Davis
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