The County is Not Taking its Budget Crisis Seriously

By Adam Pagnucco.

As I have previously written, MoCo government is in the throes of a dire budget crisis that rivals the near-death experience it suffered during the Great Recession. The county is looking at an estimated revenue shortfall of $522 million from FY20 through FY22. In response, the county executive announced back in March that he had “already instituted a hiring and procurement freeze for all programs not engaged in direct response to COVID-19.” The idea was to clamp down on all but the most necessary types of spending to weather the county’s pandemic-fueled budget downturn.

Nothing has improved since then. However, it’s apparent that the hiring freeze is over.

Today, I received this notice from the county’s Office of Community Partnerships that they are hiring for three community outreach positions and a program manager position.

That’s not all. The county’s online hiring system shows 43 open positions for which the county is soliciting applications, of which 22 were posted this month and 9 were posted in the last week. These positions include an adoption counselor in the Office of Animal Services, an administrative specialist in the environmental protection director’s office, a manager in the retirement plan office, a policy analyst in the budget office, a warehouse position at the liquor monopoly and three positions at the county council. It’s hard to argue that any of these positions are “engaged in direct response to COVID-19.”

So let’s add this all up. The county is facing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue losses. Nevertheless, it has committed to open-ended COVID pay that could total $100 million over the course of the year, is spending freely from reserves and passed a cream puff savings plan full of paper “savings” from lapsed positions. The county can’t stick to its previously announced hiring freeze and is even hinting at another raid on retiree health care money. The county’s fiscal strategy, such as it is, is to pray for a federal bailout.

Maybe the county will get a bailout after all. If the feds don’t do it, will taxpayers be asked to do it next spring?