Wednesday, April 28, 2010

MCCAB Recommendations to County Council on FY-11 Operating Budget

April 23, 2010

The Honorable Nancy Floreen
President, Montgomery County Council
100 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear Council President Floreen and Councilmembers:

The Mid-County Citizens Advisory Board (MCCAB) appreciates the opportunity to share with you our suggestions on how to address the very serious budget crisis facing our County and to re-enforce your resolve to protect our most vulnerable residents even during this budget crisis.

This is, in every sense of the term, a real budget crisis. Therefore, with great angst, we are making these very difficult, but very critical recommendations. We don’t relish any of the proposals we are making; however, we strongly believe that the alternatives are worse.

First a few words of appreciation and encouragement. We recognize that health and human services and public safety programs have suffered fewer cuts than most areas of the County government and agencies. We urge you to retain that set of priorities. We must first protect the most vulnerable among our residents.

We have one immediate suggestion and four longer term suggestions for dealing with the current budget crisis.

Short-term Recommendation #1
Our County has lost many great employees due to job cuts and even more are slated to be cut in the coming months. Our suggestion is that in these painful times, we stand together and ask everyone endure a little bit of the pain instead of a select few absorbing the brunt of it. We recommend across the board paycuts for everyone who receives a paycheck from the County. Everyone, means everyone: elected, appointed, union and non-union, public safety employees, every single person who works for the County government and the full alphabet of agencies that receive one dollar of the over $4 billion dollars in this operating budget: Montgomery College, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, etc.

We recommend a permanent, tiered pay adjustment which would be set at various rates according to salary levels and be sustained for the future. This is especially important since 80% of the County’s operating budget is earmarked for personnel costs.

Recommendation #2

Looking beyond the current moment, we believe there is a long-term structural budget deficit, especially if you account for the unfunded County liabilities. We recommend an across the board validation and reclassification of every single job funded by this $4 billion dollar operating budget.

Recommendation #3

While General County Government has already done so, other County agencies who have not, especially Montgomery County Public School employees, should be required to replace the defined benefit package with a defined contribution package for all new and existing employees.

Recommendation #4

Reallocate central staff and decision making to the Regional Services Centers. We suspect that the County has reached the point of diminishing economies of size. Further, we believe the residents will be better served by decision makers living closer to them. Rather than cut the regional offices to 3 people or eliminate them altogether, we think the County would save money and improve services by reallocating people, decision making and services from the central office to the regional offices.

Recommendation #5

Commit to zero based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting requires a review of all budget items every year, rather than the current process of concentrating on new items. We believe such justification of every dollar will inevitably lead to improved fiscal efficiencies.

We thank you for the opportunity to share our suggestions with you and we wish you well in your budget deliberations.


Sheldon Fishman

cc: County Executive Isiah Leggett

1 comment:

Thomas Hardman said...

Zero-based budgeting has much to recommend it. Requiring justification of programs or services is something which will certainly be necessary, on a periodic basis.

Yet I don't know how much sense there is in annual justification for continuation of a program. Perhaps this would be better done every two years, five years, or other comparable intervals?

Annual review for zero-based budgeting might tend to decrease delivery of services, as there will be an endless struggle, at some level, to always be preparing for the next-budget challenge to provide justification, on the one hand. On the other hand, without justification on a per-program basis, how can anyone say that a program is filling a need, and/or to what degree it effectively fills that need?

These are all minor issues that need to be addressed, to be sure. In any case, whether it's an annually-reviewed justification for zero-based budget, or a less-frequent justification cycle, more and better metrics all across the board should give the taxpayers, as well as administrators and elected officials, a much better idea to what ends and with what effects our money is spent.