Montgomery County's first proposed tax increase in four years has generated virtually no comments heading into a final vote this month.

The 9.8 percent increase, which would raise the average homeowner's bill by $51.85 a year, is needed to fund rising costs for debt service, general-fund expenses, and the employee pension fund, county officials say.

At two hearings Thursday, no one showed up to debate or comment on the budget.

"I think I've received two emails. . . . One that was supportive, and one that included several Bible verses," said Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro, a Democrat.

The relative lack of response was a stark contrast to 2011, when the prospect of $14 million in cuts or a 28 percent tax increase drew input from nearly 9,000 residents.

That board fought bitterly before agreeing to raise taxes 17 percent. Even with that substantial increase, a $10 million shortfall remained, and the reserve fund dropped as low as 4 percent (10 percent is the recommended level).

This year also pales in comparison with 2012, when the first budget under Shapiro's administration included broad cuts, a 24 percent reduction for the county community college, and elimination of all earmarks.

Budget hearings that year got emotional and stretched into the night.

Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr., a Republican nearing the end of his eight years in that office, said the lack of public input this time affirmed the board's work in turning around the county's finances.

"When you gather a level of trust in the public, they then believe you when you say you need to make adjustments," Castor said. "That's a level of credibility the previous administration lacked."

The county had anticipated that debt service would rise in 2016 as bills ramp up for the county's $25 million investment in a failed Norristown movie-studio project.

Even with the 9.8 percent increase, Montgomery County's tax rate would remain the lowest in the Philadelphia suburbs - roughly $199 per year for each $100,000 of property value. In Delaware County, that figure is $380. In Bucks County, it is $251, and in Chester County, it is $240.

Montgomery County is the only one of those counties to propose a tax increase for 2016.

Comments can still be submitted by email, phone, or letter, or via the county's website until the scheduled vote Dec. 17.


*Note: This article has been updated to reflect that the reserve fund dropped to 4 percent.