Dear CE Leggett and Council Members,
In my continued effort to digest as well as understand the current economic situation, I have reviewed compilations by the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) found on the county web site. As an employee and member of the county team, I believe that it behooves each of us to be a part of the solution during these tough economic times.
In my review, I came across the comparison between Montgomery and Fairfax Counties (OLO Report Number 2010-5). This was an interesting report that raised as many questions as it answered, but is relative because the two counties are quite similar. The report covers many items covered but I would like to concentrate of those that are relevant to the County Executive’s budget proposal and its effect of County employees.
The 2010 comparative study reported that Montgomery County consistently fell below spending in most areas in relation to Fairfax County. One area bucking that trend was Montgomery County Schools which the study reported that the costs per student in Montgomery County was 10.8 % greater than in Fairfax County and that the educators in Montgomery County received 14.2% more than those in Fairfax County. It was also noted that taxes in Montgomery County were lower than Fairfax County pretty much across the board.
The most recent OLO study (OLO Report Number 2011-2 Achieving a Structurally balanced Budget in Montgomery County), makes a number of interesting observations that should also be mentioned. It indicates that there will be continued support of growth for education and educational facilities, public services, transportation and planning. It goes on to say that costs to provide these types of services are rising and that the majority of these costs are personnel costs.
It further relates that the primary driver behind higher personnel costs was not an increase in the size of the workforce but rather the increase in average costs per employee. Across the four agencies (Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, County Government, and M-NCPPC), employee salaries grew by 50% in the aggregate and by higher amounts (up to 80%) for individual employees, while the costs of health and retirement/pension benefits increased upwards of 120%.
At this time, we should digress and consider the findings in OLO Report Number 2010-5 that indicates that Montgomery County employee’s salaries are not keeping pace with the rate of increase of those of employees in Fairfax County. That is: Montgomery County employee costs are increasing, but when compared with Fairfax County they are lagging behind. It seems that the findings and conclusions being made in OLO Report Number 2011-2 (that the cost of employees is breaking the county’s back) are being taken out of context if you consider the trends and findings of the earlier report comparing the two similar counties.
With this aberration in mind, we must also consider that the rising employee costs referred to above and documented in OLO Report Number 2011-2 were the increase across four agencies - Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, County Government, and M-NCPPC. In light of this, I must once again question why the major concessions made in the FY ‘11 and now the proposed FY ‘12 budget targets only employees of County Government?
With two school age children I am certainly concerned with the quality of education but, from the OLO reports mentioned, it seems that our schools are well funded even more so than our sister county in Virginia. I would once again suggest that Montgomery County Public Schools as well as Montgomery College, County Government, and M-NCPPC share in shouldering the burden of the county’s economic woes.
Another consideration, although a smaller county than Fairfax County, is Arlington County. Residents there who were unhappy with the conditions created by prior budget cuts demanded the restoration of positions and services. In response, in the FY ’12 Arlington County Budget, increased taxes and fees by 1.4% (about $90 per household) which allowed them to restore positions and services. It is time for Montgomery County residents who enjoy and demand such a high level of services share the cost. It is unrealistic in this world where prices of everything have increased to believe that that the cost of government good and services would not. It is unrealistic to place the burden solely on government workers who took a big hit in FY ’11.
We all realize that times are tough, but the bottom line is that we are all in this together. Its time for us all to share the cost, the burden, the pain so that when we get through this rough period we will all share the satisfaction of knowing we did our part. It is time for you: the County Executive and the County Council to do your part. Remember we are a team, and when the going gets tough, the tough gets going….lets go team!
Mark Terry, Area Engineer
Division of Traffic Engineering and Operations
Traffic Engineering Studies Section