Montgomery County Commissioners on Wednesday approved the 2012 operating budget that increases the average property tax bill by about $80 per year.
The $417.4 million budget preserves 2011 funding levels for Montgomery County Community College, the Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library and the Elmwood Park Zoo. Each of those institutions were threatened with severe reductions in county funding in a preliminary budget posted last month.
"There's a certain threshold we must maintain in order to provide the services our citizens expect," Commissioner Bruce Castor said. "I simply don't see how we can continue to provide the services the county is expected to provide without (a tax increase.)"
The county's parks department and planning commission, which the preliminary budget would have eliminated, will incur a 2.5 percent budget cut. Most county departments will see a similar funding reduction.
"I believe that this budget is fair, as far as we can make it," said Board Chairman Joseph Hoeffel.
The 2.5 percent cuts "may require some layoffs," said Randy Schaible, the county's outgoing chief financial officer. Schaible estimated fewer than 50 layoffs would be needed.
The new budget also includes a two percent pay hike for county employees, which will take effect in July. It will be the first pay increase for county employees in more than three years.
Schaible said Montgomery County's taxes remain "by far" the lowest among surrounding counties.
Hoeffel, who leaves office this month, became chairman of the county board of commissioners on Dec. 7 following the arrest of Commissioner James Matthews.
"I want to commend my colleagues," Hoeffel said. "I'm very pleased that this was a unanimous decision. There was a lot of principle compromising and they acted in the best interests of the county."