No Tax Hike As County Adopts 2013 Budget

The $409.7M budget adds money to the county's general fund for the first time since 2007.

The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners on Thursday unanimously adopted a $409.7 million operating budget for 2013, completing a year-long process that county officials said involved an essentially complete teardown and rebuild of the county's financial operations.

Board chairman Josh Shapiro said the budget, which does not increase the county's property taxes, establishes "a positive, long-term path forward for our county."

In addition to funding "core" county functions, the budget sets aside $2.6 million for the county's general fund balance, which had shrunk from about $100 million at the beginning of 2008 to about $20 million when the current county administration took office. The county's shrinking cash reserves had led to credit downgrades from Moody's and other rating agencies.

All three commissioners had high praise for Uri Monson, the county's chief financial officer, who received a round of applause for leading the effort to measure each county department's financial requirements from a baseline of zero dollars, rather than using the 2012 budget as a guideline. Commissioner Bruce Castor also credited him with ferreting out numerous irregularities that Castor said had been introduced into the budget through the financial mismanagement of former Commissioners Jim Matthews and Joe Hoeffel, with whom Castor served during the previous administration.

"I'm enormously impressed with Mr. Monson and the things that he and the finance department have done ... the things that I knew were there [from the previous administration] were uncovered and documented," Castor said.

Legal Aid, others awarded contracts

"It is a tough budget. It is a responsible budget. It is a transparent budget. We will continue to help others find other avenues for funding that we are unable to provide because it is not in the core responsibilities of what the county has to do," Commissioner Leslie Richards said.

Richards's comments alluded to the county's elimination of earmark grants from its budgeting process, which led a number of affected service agencies to come before the commissioners on Nov. 29 to plead for the preservation of their funding. Shapiro said that though the grants had "supported many worthwhile organizations," the county's legal research indicated that the disbursement of taxpayer funds in that manner was both illegal and a violation of the Pennsylvania State Constitution.

One agency which did manage to get the bulk of its previously earmarked funding was Legal Aid of Southeast Pennsylvania, which was the recipient of $270,000 in county contracts that were awarded following the approval of the budget.

Harvey Strauss, co-executive director of Legal Aid, said he was "very happy, very pleased, very grateful" for the contracts, which he said would enable Legal Aid to keep its Pottstown office open and to "continue to provide services that we're proud of."

In a press briefing following the meeting, Shapiro explained that Legal Aid had received the new contracts because situations in which the court is required to appoint outside counsel for indigent defendants would have been more expensive with a provider other than Legal Aid.

"Legal Aid was uniquely positioned to provide those services," Shapiro said, adding that the commissioners had consulted on the matter with several judges on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas following last week's budget hearings.

The final regularly scheduled meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners will take place on December 20.

Joe Koenig December 07, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Is it me, or does it seem easier for the Dems to cut with less pushback?? Either way, it is good that all programs are looked at closely. As a resident of Upper Dublin, and a witness to the whole budget review, it is heartening that they as well did a great job at looking at all Township expenses. I wish this would translate to national policy as well!!!!!
p bresn December 08, 2012 at 05:31 AM
well praise the lord..??.....property taxes still are indiscriminatley raised without any assessment whatsoever..........they do what they want with our money.....it is a disgrace.......i pay more than my neighbors with more land and improvements and thy now charge a fee to contest the taxes.duh...i e mld all commisioners abt this to no avail,,,,,,,,of course........good ole montco ..what a disgrace.....i am sick of living in montco ............
linda spreeman December 09, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Congratulations to Montco for their fiscal responsibility. Now the challenge goes out to each and every township in Montgomery County to do the exact same thing when it comes to their budgets. If that means that local officials, teachers and administrators salaries are held to their current level, then that's fine too. We are all in this economic crisis together, yes?? <Linda Spreeman, King of Prussia>
Ida Marre December 10, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I live in Lower Providence and our township supervisors didn't raise out taxes either, this is the 9th straight year in Lower Providence without an increase. We are lucky to have such good leaders.
linda spreeman December 15, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Upper Merion just adopted a budget also that has no tax hikes. Yippee! I live in a townhouse development and am actually on the Board of Directors. We worked very hard to keep costs down, find honest vendors who charge reasonable costs, contain capital expenditures. It is great to see communities, townships and other governing bodies working together to hold down costs. Too bad it takes a bad economy for creativity in fiscal savings to develop. Better late than never, as the old saying goes. {Linda Spreeman, King of Prussia}


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