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Supporting Public Financing of Campaigns for County Government 

It is a privilege to serve a county that has so many civically engaged residents who take the process of governing seriously and are not afraid to speak out on the critical issues facing us.

 

That is why I was proud to join Councilmember Phil Andrews and every one of my council colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation that will provide public financing for candidates seeking to serve on the County Council or as County Executive.  Under Councilmember Andrews' bill (Bill 16-14), Montgomery County would be the first jurisdiction in Maryland to provide this funding option for candidates running for office.

 

Since 2001, Councilmember Andrews and our Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly adopted a bill that enables counties to provide for the option of public financing for county elections beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates would be voluntary.

 

This bill represents a significant step forward in leveling the playing field for individuals who may not have access to traditional donors, but possess vital expertise and experience that would benefit the people of Montgomery County.  I think it is good for the health of our democracy.  

 

FY14 Budget: An Overview

This morning, the Council took final votes on our FY14 Operating Budget, which this year is $4.8 billion. Approximately half is allocated to Montgomery County Public Schools.  Roughly 12% is directed towards public safety, and about another 7% is given to Health and Human Services and safety net services.  Everything else our County does - the College, transportation and transit, parks, recreation, support for the arts, and, of course, our wonderful libraries, is contained in that remaining third of the budget.   

 

As is often said, a budget is a reflection of our County's shared values and shared prioritiesIt fully funds the request of our outstanding school system, it provides our public safety personnel the necessary resources to keep our residents and neighborhoods safe, it protects our County's most vulnerable residents, it ensures that our local economy remains strong and vibrant, and it continues the strategic restorations to services we began last year following the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

 

It also provides, for the first time in four years, a compensation increase for our hardworking employees as negotiated by the County Executive.  It has been a difficult few years for everyone, and our County employees have shared in the necessary sacrifice resulting from the weakened economy. Several years with no raises, furloughs, and changes to employee health and retirement cost-sharing have saved the County $469 million over the last four years, and continue to save approximately $154 million annually.         

 

While our budget this year, as in years past, generally concurs with the recommendations of the County Executive, one of our most significant departures from his budget proposal was our decision to reduce by another 10% the increase in energy taxes we adopted as an emergency measure in 2010.  It was very important to me, as a matter of principle, that we continue to wean ourselves from relying on revenues that we had promised would sunset when our fiscal situation allowed.  We should not build our budget around measures that were intended to be stopgap.  Moreover, the level of the tax is a particular burden on our business community that consumes considerably more energy than homeowners and I fought hard to provide some relief. 


While the Council honored the Charter Limit when it came to property taxes this year, the County Executive proposed a modest increase in property taxes (1.8 cents per $100 of assessed value) and a majority of my colleagues concurred with his recommendation.  I voted against increasing property taxes this year.  At a time when the value of many people's homes remains below pre-recession levels, raising property taxes doesn't sit well with me.   

 

You'll find a brief (well -- the Berliner version of brief) summary of the major components of our budget below. Hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Roger Berliner

District 1

FY14 Budget: Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College
The Council fully funded the school system's FY14 budget request, consistent with the County Executive's recommendation.  Applying about $10 million from MCPS's approximate $40 million fund balance, the Council fulfilled its obligation under the state Maintenance of Effort law and still provided 100% of the resources the school system requested.  

MCPS continues to be my #1 budget priority.  So many parents choose to move to or stay in Montgomery County because of our incredible school system.  I am particularly pleased that this budget begins to restore positions that MCPS eliminated in recent years -- positions like school counselors and paraeducators, for example.  I know that having these positions goes a long way toward improving teaching and learning and that they are a priority of our PTA community.

Although they are included in the Montgomery County Police Department's budget, and not the school system's, I am also pleased that the number of School Resource Officers will double next year.  Having these officers in place in our high schools is a proactive approach to school safety and I appreciate the ongoing collaboration between MCPD and MCPS to ensure that it is a successful program. 
 
Montgomery College is an outstanding institution that our County can be very proud of, as well.  The Council also fully funded the College's request, which held the line on tuition this year, ensuring that Montgomery College remains an affordable choice for our students and adult learners.  
FY14 Budget: Economic Development
We must keep our economic engine chugging along at a steady clip if we are to continue to thrive as a county. That means sometimes taking a more nimble approach to planning and development, embracing innovation, and supporting new and emerging industries as they grow here in Montgomery County.
   

The County Executive recommended a budget for the Department of Economic Development that reflected a stronger focus on marketing and business development. The Council supported this approach, along with resources to support DED's efforts to focus on retaining companies of strategic value to the county, including the County's largest employers and fastest growing companies, as well as businesses that have received incentives through the county's Economic Development Fund (EDF) or assistance from the County's incubator network

 

I am particularly pleased that my colleagues supported the County Executive's recommendation to include funding for the Green Investor Incentive Program, created by legislation I sponsored near the end of my term as Council President.  Coupled with my work on Utility 2.0 and the Chief Innovation Officer position that I proposed, my goal has been to help reposition the county so that it is known as a place where cutting edge green tech business will feel welcomed and supported.  

 

Our Planning Department obviously plays a critical role in our economic development work as well -- and the Council funded 100% of the Park and Planning Commission's FY14 request.  The Planning Department has an ambitious work schedule in the coming months and years, including a minor master plan for Bethesda that could potentially lead to significant improvements for the Capital Crescent Trail.  Planning staff is working on their draft version now, which, after being heard by the Planning Board, is planned to make its way to the Council this October.  A broader Bethesda CBD master plan will get underway later this summer for a planned arrival to the Council in Spring 2015. 

FY14 Budget: Public Safety
One of the most important responsibilities of any local government is to provide for public safety. 
 
FY14 will see the implementation of the second year of a three-year staffing plan that adds forty positions to the Police Department. These additional "boots on the ground" will target strategic areas of the County and respond to any upticks in crime.
 
The Council also added funding for an additional sharpshooting operation, as an effort to control the County's significant population of deer.
FY14 Budget: Safety Net, Seniors, and Help for Our Non-Profits
Safety net services are a critical component of our budget.  They provide safeguards from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and protect our County's most vulnerable residents.  This year, the Council provided funding for a variety of services, including eviction prevention, food, and utility assistance.
 
The Council continued its strong support of Montgomery Cares, our network of primary care clinics.  We added resources to the budget that provide increased reimbursements for Montgomery Cares services, additional capacity to perform mammograms and colorectal screenings, and expanded behavioral health services. We also increased the County match to the state's Working Families Income Supplement to 85%.

 

The County Executive's recommended budget contained several important services geared toward seniors, and the Council enthusiastically supported these recommendations.  We also added support to the new position of Mobility Manager, so that our new senior transportation initiative is managed from a senior level within the County and is as effective as it can be.  Additionally, the Council added funding for a senior village coordinator -- villages like the Burning Tree community in District 1 -- and funding for additional printed materials for seniors.
 
The Council provided a 3% inflationary increase to eligible non-profits, including those providing developmental disability services.  It has been a difficult few years for our non-profit organizations, and the need for their services has only increased. This measure begins to restore the County support for these organizations to their FY09 levels.  Often our non-profit community fills in the gaps in needs far better than County service delivery could, and I am pleased to support these ongoing partnerships.
FY14 Budget: Libraries
Our library system was one of the hardest hit departments over the last few years.  From FY09-FY12, funding for Montgomery County Public Libraries fell 29%.
 
I continue to believe libraries are one of the great pillars of any great civic community.  I was very pleased that starting last year, when the Council was in a position to begin making modest restorations to services, libraries were one of the first targets of our efforts:  restoring branch hours, staffing levels, and providing resources for new materials for the first time in several years.
 
There's good news for my constituents in Poolesville:  the County Executive recommended and my colleagues on the Council supported my request to bring hours at the Poolesville Library in line with other branches of comparable circulation, upping the weekly service hours from 42 to 46.  This will hopefully help the branch stay open a bit longer on week nights so that residents have an easier time getting to the library.

And despite our ongoing fiscal challenges, the library system has adapted remarkably well to rapidly changing uses of technology.  The Council provided additional funds, on top of what the County Executive recommended, for the library to purchase more e-books this year.  
FY14 Budget: Transportation:  Fixing the Potholes, Increasing Pedestrian Safety, Improving Bike-ability, and Trees
Bikeshare As I've said before, few things are as basic to local government as fixing the potholes, and this budget contains a 30% increase for road resurfacing and repairs.  This includes hot mix asphalt road patching (temporary and permanent roadway repairs, skin patching, and crack sealing); shoulder maintenance; and storm drain maintenance, including erosion repairs, roadway ditch and channel repairs, cleaning enclosed storm drains, and repair and/or replacement of drainage pipes.

 

The Council also added funding to enhance pedestrian safety, which is more critical than ever as we move toward having more walkable neighborhoods and encourage use of transit.  In order to make sure that traffic flows as smoothly as possible, the Council also added funding to improve traffic signal optimization and to replace loop detectors.
 
Capital Bikeshare is expected to expand to Montgomery County this September.  If you're a regular reader of The Berliner Brief, or even if you're not, you've probably heard that our County has worked very hard to bring the sturdy red bikes across the District line.  We are almost there.
 
But whether riders are using Capital Bikeshare or their own personal bikes, we need to improve our County's bike-ability.  We have made strides in this regard, and I am particularly pleased with what appears to be a significant breakthrough in what had been a protracted process to complete the Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs from Silver Spring to Union Station.  At the recommendation of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee, which I chair, the Council added funding for improved bike markings and signage in Capital Bikeshare's service area so that CaBi users and regular bicyclists alike have identifiable, safe spaces to ride.  I recently participated in Bike to Work Day and I quickly came to appreciate the significant importance of having these safe spaces!  These safety improvements are expected to get underway this summer.

Also included in the Department of Transportation's budget is significant funding to manage trees.  Due to severely constrained resources, our Department of Transportation has been struggling mightily to keep up with the backlog of dead and dying tree and dangerous limb removals throughout the County.  Throw the leftover stumps on top of that backlog, and it's not a pretty picture. 

I am very pleased that the full Council supported the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee's recommendation to increase funding for tree services. For the first time in years, DOT now will have a budget for stump removal, tree planting, tree pruning, and tree removal, totaling almost $1 million. 
FY14 Budget: Preserving Our AAA Bond Rating
Montgomery County is one of only 23 counties of comparable population in the country to retain a AAA bond rating with all three rating agencies.  Having this coveted rating saves us hundreds of millions of dollars when borrowing for critical capital projects like new school facilities, roads, and libraries.

 

We have taken unprecedented steps in recent years to protect our AAA bond rating, and this year was no different.  The Council set aside a significant amount of funding for our retiree health benefits, snow removal and storm cleanup, and our reserves that provide a cushion for unexpected economic hardships.  These were all items where the bond rating agencies wanted to see improvement a few years ago -- and we continue to deliver on those commitments.
Council Takes Straw Vote on FY13 Operating Budget and FY13-18 CIP
May 17, 2012

The Council has been hard at work finalizing our Fiscal Year 2013 Operating Budget and the FY 13-18 Capital Improvements Program (CIP).  We took our most significant "straw vote" today, essentially finalizing both budgets but for the formal vote a week from today.

 

It is a budget that, in my view, accurately reflects the tenor of our time, a time of both guarded optimism and lingering effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression. We stayed $32 million under the Charter Limit for property taxes and reduced our energy taxes by $11.4 million. These taxpayer sensitive decisions are even more important given the income tax increases passed by the State Legislature.

 

Our great school system and premier community college is fully funded; public safety was enhanced with 58 more police officers; and our safety net was strengthened. We have sought to improve the business climate in our county by partnering with the business community to attract and retain jobs for our county; provide more assistance to small businesses; and create more "innovation" to attract "new economy" entrepreneurs.

 

Our capital budget moves us toward a transit first approach to transportation without stinting on improving our road network; and makes significant investments in Wheaton and beyond.  I am very pleased that the Council was able to fulfill the Board of Education's requests for school modernizations, additions, and gymnasiums at all of our District 1 schools:

BCC Cluster

Bethesda Chevy Chase HS (Anticipated completion TBD)
Bethesda Chevy Chase MS #2 (Anticipated completion 2017)
Bethesda ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
North Chevy Chase ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
North Chevy Chase ES Gymnasium (Anticipated completion 2012)
Rock Creek Forest ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2015)
Rosemary Hills ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)

Rosemary Hills ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2021)
Westbrook ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)
Westbrook ES Gymnasium (Anticipated completion 2013)

Churchill Cluster

Hoover MS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2013)

Beverly Farms ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2013)

Potomac ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)

Wayside ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2016)

 

WJ Cluster
Tilden MS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Ashburton ES Addition (Anticipated completion TBD)
Kensington-Parkwood ES Addition (Anticipated completion TBD)
Luxmanor ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Wyngate ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)

 

Poolesville Cluster
Poolesville HS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2021)

Whitman Cluster
Bradley Hills ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)

Wood Acres ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2016)  

  

We have approved a budget that is lean but not without substance; a budget that makes strategic investments wisely; and a budget that restores vital services without being reckless. And it was a consensus budget that built upon the solid framework that was provided by the County Executive. A copy of my remarks upon the unanimous vote in favor of the budget can be found here, or check it out on Youtube here.     

Message on FY12 Operating Budget June 2, 2011
Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  

 

I hope you thoroughly enjoyed the long Memorial Day Weekend, notwithstanding the heat.  But, today is the kind of glorious day that late May and early June are supposed to be all about.  Enjoy. 

 

As you may know, last week the Council passed the Fiscal Year 2012 Operating Budget, which begins July 1.  This budget was - no doubt - one of the most difficult any Council has had to grapple with.  There will definitely be people in our community that will be disappointed that certain services will be reduced as a result of the budget we approved.  And I understand that disappointment. 

 

Budget HighlightsThis is the third year most of our County agencies and departments will be asked to do more with less, the third year our residents may notice reduced services -- whether it be at our libraries, our recreation centers, or our parks department.  And it is the third year that our public employees will be asked to continue to work hard and professionally even when they have not seen a pay increase in a long time, have suffered furloughs, and are now being asked to assume more of the financial burdens associated with the cost of health care and pensions.  That's a lot to ask from our employees -- who represent 80-90 percent of our budget outlays -- but we are fortunate: our County is blessed to have employees who take great pride in their work, who are great public servants, and who work hard every day to make Montgomery County a great place to live -- even in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

 

Our overriding goal in this budget, and the reason we took such strong measures across the board, was to put our County on a sustainable fiscal path going forward We simply had to hit the reset button.  While we do expect our economy to rebound, and we are blessed to have one of the best economies in the entire nation, we also believe that we should assume that lower economic growth is the "new normal." That is why we needed to make "structural" reforms, modifications to pensions and health care that will produce tens of millions of dollars in savings annuallyAnd that is why we needed to modestly alter our future Maintenance of Effort obligation for our schools that had required us to repeatedly ask for waivers from this well-intentioned but poorly-implemented state law, a change that will also produce comparable savings over time. 

 

This is not a budget to celebrate, that's for sure.  But my colleagues and I do believe we did right by you, our residents. 

 

As is normally true, our final actions paralleled the recommendations of the County Executive in many cases.  There were some notable differences however, and below I highlight a selected number of services, including a few where we either restored dollars that had been proposed to be cut or put in more dollars into programs we believe were worthy of such support in this difficult economy.  

  
Sincerely,


Roger Berliner

District 1

FY12 Budget: Education

I believe the quality of our public schools directly contributes to our overall quality of life in Montgomery County - and that is why Montgomery County Public Schools is my number one budget priority.   I have heard from an overwhelming number of constituents who have told me they moved here because of MCPS's stellar reputation - a reputation that is entirely deserved and is a credit to our excellent educators and MCPS staff.  

 

I know that some members of the school community are disappointed in the decisions this Council made with respect to the MCPS budget.  As the parent of two MCPS graduates, I know first-hand what a world-class education our MCPS students receive.  Given the significance of this part of our budget, I shared my thoughts with you on it at some length (as is my habit) two weeks ago.  So, I will not go on and on now, but I will say that I think this Council did the best it could to achieve the necessary budget savings while minimizing potential cuts that will impact the classroom.  

 

I also think it is worth noting that the total tax-supported budget for MCPS is actually a $31 million increase over FY11.  This in a year when the budgets for other County departments and agencies are being further cut from their already significantly reduced levels.  MCPS has benefited from an influx of State Aid this year that our tremendous Montgomery County Delegation helped secure.  You should know that this Council always has and will continue to appropriate all state aid for education to MCPS.  This State Aid will protect MCPS from having to sustain the kind of reductions other departments and agencies are facing.

 

I want you to know that it is with the most careful consideration that I work through these decisions.  I understand that some of you still may be disappointed - but I do believe that a total budget that represents a $31 million increase over last year and that minimizes impacts on the classroom is a budget that fulfills our obligation to our MCPS students and one that preserves our world-class school system.

FY12 Budget: Public Safety

Besides education, I know that public safety is a primary concern in our community - and in fact, the public safety budget comprises 40.4% of our total County Government budget.  I believe my colleagues on the Public Safety committee and I made appropriate restorations to the County Executive's recommended budget that reflect this concern in a way that balances the need to make budget reductions while providing our public safety personnel with the resources they require. 

 

One such restoration I felt strongly about was the need to have our Bethesda Police Station open 24 hours a day.  The County Executive had recommended that it be closed to the public over night in order to achieve savings, and I am pleased that my colleagues supported my inclination that it is best left open during overnight hours.  We also restored funding for a Fire Recruit Class that is badly needed to address retirement and other staffing challenges.  I believe having this class in place will go a long way toward staving off personnel deficits and overtime costs.

 

Finally, we heard from many members of our school community that they consider School Resource Officers to be tremendously important.  I am pleased that the Council restored, to be funded out of the Police budget, six of these positions - one for each police district - so that their work of contributing to a safe environment for our students will continue.

FY12 Budget: Transportation

There is perhaps nothing that gets under one's skin like sitting in traffic.  That is why it is crucial that we protect and expand our transit services in the County and we did just that in this year's budget.  As Chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee (T & E Committee), I was pleased that the County Executive had not recommended any cuts to the County's Ride-On routes for FY12.  We were able to maintain all routes while at the same time, plan for a future countywide Bus Rapid Transit System that will provide new, attractive transit options for the County.  Sixteen routes throughout the County will be studied in the coming year taking us one giant leap closer to making Rapid Transit a reality in the region.

 

But not everyone is able to utilize mass transit; many of us rely on the extensive road networks in the County.  Our road infrastructure is in bad shape given the significant storms over the past few winters.  To address the enormous need for repairs and resurfacing, the Council increased funds by 600% compared to FY11 levels.  This will help our Department of Transportation repair potholes and continue their highly sought-out neighborhood road resurfacing program.

 

Other good news in the transportation budget included funding to restore the Kids Ride Free program, money to continue the County's efforts to make pedestrian crossings safer by extending the walk signal time, and additional funding for tree maintenance and tree removal.  In a difficult budget year, I was grateful to my colleagues on the T&E Committee, Councilmembers Floreen and Riemer) for their assistance in protecting these essential services.

FY12 Budget: Libraries

I remain a strong supporter of Montgomery County Public Libraries (I had the privilege of serving as Lead for Libraries on the Council during my first year), and deeply regret that it has had to endure devastating budget reductions over the last several years.  I do believe that libraries are citadels of our civic life - part of what makes a community a community.  That is why I was particularly alarmed by the County Executive's proposal to further reduce staffing and services at Chevy Chase Library and other "neighborhood branches."

 

For that reason, I am quite pleased that my colleagues and I were able to add back in just over $2 million to the library budget.  Of that $2 million, $460,000 will go toward restoring information staff at these neighborhood branches - and another $1 million will be used to purchase materials.  I believe this funding, along with the library system's talented and dedicated staff, will go a long way in preserving the County's library system that we so treasure.

 

FY12 Budget: Park & Planning

There is perhaps no agency more important to the economic development and shaping of our County than the Planning Department.  It is in the able hands of the planning staff that master plans are drafted, forest conservation plans reviewed, and new projects are evaluated.  Without the Planning Department, economic activity in the County would come to a standstill and we could not plan for exciting new developments like the recently approved White Flint Sector Plan.   

 

In the past few years, the Planning Department's budget has been hit harder than almost any other department or agency in the County - suffering a 40 % reduction in staff over previous levels, yet charged with the same amount of work.  Accordingly, the Council restored approximately $1.5 million above the County Executive's recommended FY12 Budget which will allow the Planning Department to help keep our economy moving out of the recession by being able to conduct timely review of development projects, maintain their current work program of master plans and neighborhood studies, and get to work on amending our Master Plan of Highways to plan for a countywide Bus Rapid Transit System.

 

Our vast system of beautiful parks is part of what makes Montgomery County so special.  Like all other County departments and agencies, the Department of Parks has been charged with "doing more with less," even as the commission acquires more park land and open space.  The Council restored some priorities identified by Parks staff, including park maintenance, seasonal staffing, and Park Police patrol of the Capital Crescent Trail from 2AM - 6AM.  I am confident that with the good work of the Department of Parks staff, our unique parks system will continue to be a valued gem that is truly special to Montgomery County.  

 

FY12 Budget: Environment

This year's budget will fund the expansion of our Department of Environmental Protection's stormwater management, environmental site design and water quality protection programs.  These actions should have a direct positive impact on efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. 

 

In addition, the County's new bag fee legislation will go into effect in January and is expected to raise $200,000 that will be deposited in the Water Quality Protection Fund.

 

I have been seriously concerned that the County was neglecting the protection of the tree canopy found on the County's right of way and thus is the responsibility of the County to protect and maintain.  Budget shortfalls in prior years necessitated significant cuts to this program.  Given the need to protect the lives and limbs of our citizens and to do our part to eliminate tree debris from disrupting utility performance it became prudent to move funds from the Street Tree Protection fund that engages block preventative pruning and use some of these monies for tree removal.  The County's back log of requests for removal of dead trees from the County's right of way had reached 1300 and counting.   $350,000 was shifted from the block pruning budget and an additional $350,000 was added to insure that dead and dangerous trees can be dealt with more quickly.

 

In order to continue a number of important efforts by the WSSC not the least of which is an aggressive large diameter water main inspection, repair and acoustic fiber optic monitoring program Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's charges were increased by 8.5 percent.  This will provided full funding for WSSC's FY12 operating budget and full funding for WSSC's FY12-17 Capital Improvements Program.  

FY12 Budget: Health and Human Services

Safety net services protect our County's most vulnerable residents from the worst effects of the economic downturn.  These are services I find to be among the most critical items in any year's budget, and this year was no different.   

 

I am pleased that this year's HHS budget funds contracts that provide for utility assistance and eviction prevention, so that residents most impacted by the Great Recession do not become homeless.  The Council also restored funds for 75,000 primary care visits through our Montgomery Cares program, so that access to basic health services remains available to our low-income, uninsured residents.  And we restored funds for community-based pre-kindergarten programs.  

 

FY12 Budget: District 1 CIP Projects

The Council considers our Capital Improvements Program (CIP) biannually.  And while this is a CIP "off-year", no news is good news, as they say, for District 1 schools. All of our District 1 school CIP projects remain funded and on schedule.  To take a look at where your school's project stands, click here.   

 

I am pleased that these projects remain on schedule - these are the classroom additions, renovations, and modernizations that so many of our schools so desperately need to help ensure our students have the learning environment they deserve.  In the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster, a "solutions project" at the middle school level was approved to be added so that the cluster is not subject to a building moratorium under the public school adequacy test.  A more specific PDF (project description form) for this project is expected to be completed for the FY13-18 CIP once MCPS concludes its feasibility study for the new middle school.  

 

The future North Bethesda Recreation Center is also in the "good news" category.  The County Executive, as an off-year CIP amendment, had proposed completely closing out the project.  I found this to be unacceptable for a community that has already waited too long for a project called for in their 1992 Master Plan.  For that reason, I wrote to my colleagues on the PHED Committee and asked that they reject the County Executive's proposal, and instead ask him to include funding in future years so that the project essentially remains alive.  I am pleased that the Council approved an amended PDF for the project that does just that - and I remain confident that, even though it has been a long wait, the residents of North Bethesda will eventually have an alternative to driving to Potomac or Chevy Chase. 

FY12 Budget: Recommendations of the Organizational Reform Commission

I want to thank the members of the Organizational Reform Commission (ORC) for their work over the past year.  I believe their efforts to identify ways in which the County can function differently will put us on a more sustainable path and will have a lasting impact on the way we operate.   

 

This Council has embraced many of the ORC's recommendations, with respect to arbitration, Maintenance of Effort, and liquor control.  One recommendation that we have embraced fully - moving the County's technology systems to "cloud computing" - will save $31 million.  Some recommendations the Council did not accept totally, but accepted in part in order to still achieve some savings.  There are certainly issues where the Council disagreed with the ORC - in considering 28 recommendations there were bound to be.  But even in areas where the Council arrived at a different point of view, the matters still received robust debate and honest consideration.  That in itself is valuable.  I believe their work was a critical part of our budget decisionmaking and I am most grateful for having had the benefit of it. 

Message on FY12 MCPS Budget
May 18, 2011

As the Council comes down the homestretch of finalizing the Fiscal Year 2012 Operating Budget, you probably have heard a lot about and may even have been contacted about one of its most challenging aspects: the budget for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). I wanted to offer you my perspective on the matter, in real time, in the hopes of clearing up any inconsistencies you may have heard. I do hope that if you've got questions regarding the MCPS budget, you will find answers to them in this message.

 

HighlightsI have received countless emails and phone calls in support of the MCPS budget - and rightfully so. I believe the quality of our public schools directly contributes to the quality of life we so value. Indeed, I've heard from an overwhelming amount of residents that they chose to live in Montgomery County in large part due to the outstanding reputation of our public schools - a reputation that is entirely deserved and that is a credit to MCPS's dedicated and talented staff. As the parent of two MCPS graduates, I know first-hand the excellent education our students receive.

 

I believe that each and every stakeholder involved shares a common goal: a world-class education for MCPS students and the continued success of our school system as a whole. Indeed, there is much we can and do agree on when it comes to our superb school system, and whatever differences we may have - almost exclusively with respect to funding - lie on the margins of our common commitment to our County's students. Regrettably, due to the weakened economy and issues of affordability, those differences have become more pronounced. Quite frankly, there's less money to go around but I continue to hold MCPS as my number one budget priority - and I believe my colleagues on the Council would agree.

 

Given that the MCPS budget is by no means a simple one - it is comprised of several distinct funding sources and impacted by complex state and county laws - it's no surprise that throughout the budget process, confusing data can reach the public and is easily spread through mailers, robo-calls, and emails. You have probably been the recipient of one or maybe all three. I believe that as your Councilmember, it is incumbent on me to present the facts in a way that considers the big picture - the same way my colleagues and I have to consider each decision we make.

Each year, the MCPS budget is largely comprised of funding from three sources: County, state, and federal dollars. (Other sources of revenue, like student activity fees and programs funded through private grants for example, comprise a small portion.) If you'll take a look at the chart below, which illustrates County, state and federal funding over the last nine years, you'll see that County funding of MCPS continued to increase through 2009, was essentially flat in 2010, and for the first time fell in absolute terms in FY2011.

MCPS Funding in Dollars
Source: FY03-FY07 figures from the Office of Legislative Oversight's Report "Key Fiscal Indicators for Montgomery County Public Schools" (2007), found here; FY08-FY11 figures from the MCPS website here.

In examining this data, you may wonder how it is that the County's funding of MCPS has been characterized differently. If you forgive the use of a pastry analogy, beginning in FY04 - when times were good and the County's coffers were flush with revenue - the "pie" that represented total County revenue started getting bigger and bigger. And while the "slice of the pie" that represented County funding allocated to MCPS increased, the size of the pie itself continued to increase as well - and at a higher rate. What does this mean? Well, if you were to use percentages to draw comparisons in year-to-year funding - instead of dollar figures - it would mean that the data could be characterized in such a way that makes it appear the Council's commitment to MCPS began to wane in 2004. I for one do not believe that to be the case, and that the total funding figures simply do not support that view. Moreover, it's useful to note that since FY03 until FY11, the BOE has received at least 97% of their funding request. In FY03, FY05, FY07, and FY10, they actually received more than they asked for. See the chart below.

MCPS Funding as Percentage of Board of Education's Request

There's also concern that the Coucil intends to "divert" or "misuse" State Aid for education. MCPS has been very fortunate in recent years to receive full formula funding of State Aid, and I assure you that the Council has always and will continue to appropriate all State Aid for education to MCPS. We are grateful for the hard work of our Montgomery County Delegation in Annapolis in securing these dollars. In speaking with members of our Delegation, I have found them to be sympathetic to the circumstances, understanding of the County's economic situation, and supportive of the decisions this Council has made in terms of funding MCPS. In fact, the influx of State Aid has protected MCPS from the worst of the budget reductions in the past three years that other County departments and agencies have faced. The first year that total MCPS funding decreased was FY11, in the midst of the Great Recession, by approximately 1%. The same year, the Montgomery County library system experienced a decrease of 23%; the Parks Department 16%; the Department of Recreation 15%. MCPS has benefited from State Aid like no other County agency or department has - and the same will be true this year as well.

Exceeding MOE

As most of you may know, in order to be eligible for an increase in state aid, the county is required to fund schools at a Maintenance of Effort (MOE) level. This requirement, one which our County has exceeded regularly, requires funding to increase significantly even in the midst of a great recession. We have fought unsuccessfully in Annapolis to amend the law to recognize that there should be some flexibility when revenues are plummeting and when cost saving measures are both appropriate and necessary. Having failed to obtain any flexibility, the County decided not to seek a waiver from the law and instead face a potential penalty in FY13. I say potential because we may still obtain relief from the rigidity of the law. Even assuming there is a penalty in FY13, it will be up to the Council then to determine how the penalty should be allocated. It is an open question as to whether, and to what extent if any, this penalty would be borne by the school system. Our decision not to seek a waiver will allow us to put our school budget on a much more sustainable path, and should permit us to meet MOE in the future.



That brings us to the present day. All Councilmembers agree that reductions that impact the classroom should be miniimized - and I am pleased that outcome is achieved by the Education Committee's recommendations made yesterday morning. The EducationCommittee, chaired by Council President Ervin, who is herself a former member of the Board of Education, proposes making several reductions to the MCPS Maintenance of Effort budget that would not have a programmatic impact.

 

� Reducing employee "step increases", which are salary icreases employees receive every year for longevity. Elimination of steps, in addition to cost of living adjustments (COLA), was a measure that all County agencies employed in FY11 and are likely to employ again in FY12 as a means of reducing expenditures. (All other County agencies actually went one step further and imposed employee furloughs in addition to eliminating COLAs and steps in FY11 - the Board of Education did not see fit to make the same imposition on the school system's employees however.) Eliminating MCPS employee steps represents a reduction of $28 million.  

 

� The Committee also recommends reducing the OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) allocation by $27 million, which is identical to the County Executive's recommendation. This step does not impact actual teacher salaries or pensions.

 

One of the other Education Committee recommendations deals with MCPS employee benefits. The effects of the Great Recession have forced both the County Executive and this Council to consider employee benefits for not just MCPS, but for all County agencies, in a way that we have never had to before - and I consider these decisions to be among the most difficult of the difficult decisions. The County Executive included in his budget recommendations that would have significantly increased the share of health care costs expected to be shouldered by non-school employees. These changes would equate to roughly $5,000 less in take home pay for our employees next year - a burden that I continue to believe was more than we should or could expect our employees to bear on top of all the other sacrifices we have asked of them.

However, that impact on take home pay can be greatly ameliorated if the sacrifice is shared, at least in part, by all County employees - not just our policemen, librarians, Ride-On drivers, and so forth. To that end, the Education Committee recommends reducing funding in "Category 12, Fixed Charges", the MCPS funding category that deals with employee benefits, by $18.7 million. That amount is equivalent to the savings achieved if the Board of Education asks its employees to contribute another 5% towards the cost of their health insurance and if pension reforms equivalent to those made by the state are adopted. With respect to the health care costs, currently, most school employees only pay 5% of their health insurance premiums. By contrast, other Montgomery County Government employees - police, librarians, Ride-On drivers, firefighters, social workers, etc - contribute 20% or more to their health care premium. This disparity has long been a bone of contention for our non-school employees and this proposal moves towards greater equity. This is another structural change that has my support. Finally, the Education Committee recommends an overall reduction of approximately 1%, reductions that could, depending on the choices made by the Board of Education, directly impact the classroom. This amount, as shown below, is almost idntical to the reductions proposed by the County Executive, reductions that the Board of Education characterized as "balanced" as recently as May 17th.


Comparison of CE & County Classroom Impact

While I wish that we were in a position to fully fund the MCPS budget, I would highlight that only $27.9 million - or approximately 1% of the Board's request - might impact the classroom, depending on the BOE's allocation. As I said earlier, my colleagues and I continue to believe there may be alternative approaches to achieving these savings that should not affect the classroom, and we are still considering how to allocate this reduction by categories to minimize the impact on the classroom.
 

Finally, it should be noted that even though the Council has had to make tremendously difficult decisions regarding the school system's budget, MCPS's total tax-supported budget as it stands now is an increase of $31 million over its FY11 tax-supported budget. I believe the following chart, that represents the percentage change of agency budgets FY09-11 and the County Executive's recommendation for FY12, is a compelling illustration of the commitment this Council has demonstrated to our school system during a time of unparalleled economic downturn.

MCPS Tax-Supported Budget FY09-12 Compared to Other Departments


I want you to know that it is with the most careful consideration that my colleagues and I work through these sets of issues. We take none of these decisions lightly, especially when it comes to MCPS. I do believe that a total budget that represents an increase over the prior year's funding and that minimizes impacts to the classroom is a budget that fulfills our obligation to our students and one that preserves our world-class school system.
 

County Executive's Recommended Fiscal Year 2012 Operating Budget
Budget FY12

On March 15th, the County Executive presented the Council with his recommended operating budget for Fiscal Year 2012.  Since then, my colleagues and I have been busy digesting it and preparing for our ongoing budget deliberations in the weeks ahead.

 

The Council held three days and nights of public hearings where we heard from over 180 residents who took the time to come out to Rockville to share their priorities with us.  In addition to the public hearings, we have heard from scores of residents via email and/or snail mail on a wide array of budget priorities including libraries, schools, various heath initiatives, economic development, our planning department, recreation services, parks, and employee compensation and benefits.  The public hearings went very smoothly and the public testimony seemed to demonstrate an understanding in the community that resources are indeed scarce and that budgetary decisions will be harder than ever this spring.

 

That said, I believe this Council is up to the challenge.  We entered into this budget season facing a three hundred million dollar budget deficit, and this came on the heels of three difficult budget years resulting in pay freezes for our employees, furloughs for county government, significant cuts to our libraries, parks, recreation centers, and more.  This year will not be any different.

 

While the decisions ahead will be difficult to say the least, you have my pledge that I will do my best to be thoughtful and diligent in all my budget deliberations and approve a FY12 budget that is balanced and fair to our residents, our tax payers, and our public employees.

 

As I noted above, I will be sending out another newsletter in the coming weeks dedicated to the Council's budget deliberations.  At that point, I will be in a better position to share a more detailed picture with you and give you a sense of all the moving parts.  In the meantime, please feel free to contact my office with your budget priorities if you haven't done so already.

 




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