The Montgomery County Commissioners approved a 2012 operating budget Wednesday that will increase the county's 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 had been threatened with severe reductions in county funding in a .
"There's a certain threshold we must maintain in order to provide the services our citizens expect," Commissioner Bruce Castor said. "I'm loathe to vote for a tax increase, but I simply don't see how we can continue to provide the services the county is expected to provide without one."
The county's parks department and planning commission, which the preliminary budget would have eliminated, will instead 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 that fewer than 50 layoffs would be needed.
The new budget also includes a 2 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.
"I want to commend my colleagues. 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," Hoeffel said.
"It's the glory days of the Hoeffel chairmanship," quipped Castor. Hoeffel, who leaves office at the end of the year, took over as chairman of the Board of Commissioners on Dec. 7 following the arrest of fellow Commissioner James Matthews.
"We raised household taxes 75 cents a month for 120 months to run the finest county government in the Commonwealth," Matthews said.
The current Board of Commissioners is not scheduled to meet again before its term expires at the end of the year.