Also tentatively approves $4.8 billion budget

The Montgomery County Council voted to cut the county's energy tax 10 percent as lawmakers tentatively approved a $4.8 billion budget for fiscal 2014 that includes multimillion-dollar employee pay raises and increases in property taxes.

The council voted unanimously to approve the budget, which lawmakers will formally vote on next week, after finalizing which projects will be added to the overall budget. The biggest item included was a 10 percent reduction of the 2010 energy tax increase, which will save taxpayers $11.5 million.

This will be second time the energy tax has been reduced by 10 percent after the county raised the levy by 155 percent in fiscal 2011.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, introduced the 10 percent cut, saying he wanted to give back to residents directly by reducing their taxes.

He originally proposed funding the energy tax cut by reducing the $32 million that county firefighters and police unions were getting in raises for fiscal 2014. He called the pay raises excessive.

Instead, the council dipped into the county's retiree health insurance fund to help cover the cost of reducing the energy tax, upsetting at least two council members.

Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, said the money being taken from the retiree fund would be better spent on social services instead of a tax break.

"I would have preferred to use the funds we had to support and restore essential social services to our residents," he said. "I think if most of our residents were given a choice between reducing their average energy tax bills by just 65 cents per month or restoring some of the services [lost in the recession], they would choose the services."

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, agreed. She said citizens are better served when the county can provide better services and support for families hit by the recession.