The clock is ticking for Montgomery County to finalize its 2012 operating budget and the county government will be holding a series of public meetings over the next two weeks to achieve that goal, County Commissioner Joseph Hoeffel said this morning.
Hoeffel indicated that a county tax increase was likely to figure prominently in the discussions after commissioners received more than 4,000 public comments objecting to massive program cuts in the preliminary budget announced Nov. 30.
"We had 300 people in a public meeting who stood up and asked us to raise their taxes," Hoeffel said, referring to .
Matthews Expected to Participate
Public meetings will be held in the 8th floor boardroom at One Montgomery Plaza in Norristown at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Hoeffel said.
The Tuesday meeting will provide department heads and county row officers a chance to speak with the commissioners about their respective area's budget needs, though attendance at that meeting is optional, Hoeffel said.
The Wednesday meeting will focus on the county's open space program, which was singled out for criticism by the grand jury report that resulted in last week's arrest of former board chairman James Matthews. Matthews resigned as chairman, but remains in his commissioner's post.
Hoeffel said he expected Matthews to participate in the budget process.
"I believe that's his intention," Hoeffel said. Hoeffel said Matthews spoke to him by telephone on Sunday.
Additional public meetings are scheduled for next week. Dec. 21 is the earliest date that the Board of Commissioners can vote on a final 2012 operating budget. Hoeffel said additional meetings are possible if they are needed.
"We'll meet in the evenings if we have to. We'll meet on the weekends if we have to," Hoeffel said.
Hoeffel: Commissioners-Elect Will Not Reopen Budget
Asked whether Commissioners-elect Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards or their staffs have been involved in any of the budget discussions, Hoeffel repeated his earlier statements that he and the heads of the various county departments were "available" to Shapiro and Richards.
Hoeffel added that all three commissioners had already met with the commissioners-elect to discuss transition matters, and that Shapiro and Richards had told the current board they would not reopen any budget passed before they take office.
In a recent letter to the editors of The Intelligencer, Shapiro and Richards acknowledged a hands-off approach to the 2012 budget.
"We do not take office until January 3, 2012, and we have in no way tried to influence how the current commissioners approach and handle their budgetary responsibilities," Shapiro and Richards wrote in the letter.
Hoeffel briefly commented on his own plans after leaving office, saying he was "gladly" retiring from politics and considering writing a book.
In regards to the county's financial outlook, Hoeffel said he disagreed with Bruce Castor's characterization in a recent Intelligencer story of county government as "the Titanic sinking." Hoeffel stated he believed "the ship of state needs to be righted."
A final 2012 operating budget must be approved by Dec. 31.