Montgomery County is well into the process of assembling its 2013 operating budget, but it's still having some trouble reckoning with its 2012 operating budget.
In presenting his third quarterly budget update, county chief financial officer Uri Monson said that the county's operating deficit had widened during the third quarter, from $1.7 million to about $3.9 million. The deficit remains down from the $10 million figure identified shortly after the current administration took office in January.
Monson placed the primary blame for the third quarter increase on state funding cuts for mental and behavioral health services, an explanation with which Commissioner Bruce Castor took issue.
While acknowledging the state cuts, Castor, who has rarely passed up any opportunities to criticize the governance of Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel, his former colleagues on the Board of Commissioners, said the primary reason for the deficit was that the 2012 operating budget they passed was "a false document."
"The primary problem is that the budget we were given [when the former administration passed it in December 2011] is a false document, full of lies and misrepresentations that we are now dealing with," Castor said.
Castor praised Monson for having "done a good job getting us to this point."
Though the county managed to cut expenditures by almost $5 million from the 2012 budgeted amount, county revenues are running almost $9 million behind the budgeted pace. Most of the revenue shortfall is in projected grant revenues that were adversely affected by the state budget passed last June.
Board chairman Josh Shapiro concurred with Castor, though somewhat less pointedly.
"There are a lot of external circumstances relative to the national recession that are often blamed for the problems of [local] governments all around the Commonwealth and the country. I think the unique circumstances we find ourselves in here is that it was less the external issues and much more the internal decisions and omissions of decisions that led us to this point," Shapiro said.
Asked by Castor whether he saw any way for the county to pass a 2013 budget without a tax increase, Monson would only say that it was his goal to present such a budget.
Monson also announced a virtual freeze on county hiring, with no new positions opened before the 2013 budget is passed unless they are needed for emergency services delivery, public safety, or regulatory requirements.
The county will hold two public hearings on the 2013 budget on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the Commissioners' Board Room on the eighth floor of One Montgomery Plaza in Norristown.