"Budget season" is upon us. As you may know, the County Executive, every year on March 15, transmits his recommendations for the following fiscal year's budget to the County Council. The Council then spends the next two months considering his recommendations, and making adjustments and additions that the Council believes are necessary to support our residents' overall priorities.
You will have plenty of opportunity to weigh in on the FY14 budget. The Council will be hosting five public hearings next week (dates and times are listed in the box to the right). You can also email me, get in touch with me on Facebook, or send me a tweet on Twitter. And of course, you can always reach my office at 240-777-7828.
The last few years have been challenging for our country and our county. Our county government is leaner, more efficient, and more focused as a result. While we are seeing modest signs of a slow but steady economic recovery, our County's economic outlook, due to changes in state law and the ongoing threat of sequestration, continues to be uncertain. But I remain optimistic that Montgomery County has bright days in its future, and that the budget we approve will keep us on a sustainable path that preserves our school system's reputation of excellence, continues to build a thriving and adapting economy, and makes Montgomery County an exciting place to live, work, or start a business.
We've got a $4+ billion budget, which hardly allows for a "brief" summary. But you'll find some highlights on the basics below.
Our outstanding school system has been and will continue to be my #1 budget priority. MCPS provides a world-class education for our students and is among the top reasons why our county is so attractive to new residents and businesses, and why we continue to be a strong competitor in an increasingly competitive regional economy.
The school system requested a FY14 budget of $2.2 billion. I commend Dr. Starr and the Board of Education for including in that request restorations to positions that have been cut in recent years -- school counselors and paraeducators, for example -- that I know are very important to parents of MCPS students.
That is why I am pleased that, in his recommended budget, the County Executive fully funded the school system's request. Not only does it meet the County's Maintenance of Effort obligation under state law, but it also funds 100% of what the Superintendent and the Board of Education asked for.
It does so by applying an additional $10 million from MCPS's "fund balance" - cumulative dollars that MCPS had leftover in recent years and has rolled over from year to year - so that the school system's FY14 request is fully covered. Even by applying this additional $10 million to the FY14 budget, MCPS's fund balance is projected to stand at $13 million by the end of this fiscal year.
Public Safety and Safety Net
Public safety is another fundamental responsibility of local government, and as a member of the Public Safety Committee, it is a top priority of mine. I am similarly committed to maintaining our county's strong safety net programs that safeguard our most vulnerable residents. The County Executive's recommended budget provides significant resources for both of these objectives.
I am very pleased that the County Executive has recommended doubling the amount of School Resource Officers in the Montgomery County Police Department's budget. These officers are located at Montgomery County high schools on a full-time basis, and are a proactive approach to enhancing school safety. The County Executive has also recommended implementing the second year of a MCPD staffing plan that adds boots on the ground and assigns a Community Action team to each of the six police districts. Increased staffing, along with retirement, is recommended to be filled through two new recruit classes, this summer and next.
Each year our county's budget includes resources for services that protect our county's most vulnerable population. These services include trauma and crisis center services, eviction prevention, early childhood programs, utility assistance, support of community-based health clinics, and the County's supplement of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. I am pleased the County Executive's budget reflects a continued commitment to providing these safety net services, and they will certainly have my support as the Council works its way through the budget process this spring.
A thriving economy is critical to the ongoing success of our county. In order to support the kind of community we enjoy and expect to have, we must continue to grow our economy. That means embracing innovation, making strategic investments, and supporting new growth in a smart way that preserves the quality of life of our existing neighborhoods and honors our environmental values.
The County Executive's recommended budget for the Department of Economic Development reflects a stronger focus on marketing and business development. The budget would provide 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 very pleased that the County Executive included in his economic development budget 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 championed, 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. Earlier this week, this legislation received the unanimous support of the PHED Committee and if passed by the full Council, the program it creates would be the first of its kind in the country.
And obviously our Planning Department plays a large part in the work of economic development as well. I am pleased that the County Executive funded 100% of M-NCPPC's FY14 request. As the Council discussed yesterday at the Semi-Annual report of the Planning Board, the Planning Department has an ambitious work schedule in the coming months and years. Planning staff is hard at work developing master plans in various parts of the county that allow for brighter economic opportunities and reflect the anticipated growth of our county's population. In order to make our planning process a bit more nimble, I proposed introducing the concept of "minor master plans", that would still allow the same transparency and engagement that the planning process has always had, but reduces the scope of plans so that the Planning Department can move more quickly to capture economic potential in strategic areas.
Montgomery County Public 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 last year the County Executive and the Council could make significant restorations to our system's budget, providing additional resources to expand branch hours, restore staffing levels, and - importantly - buy new materials.
In FY14, the County Executive has recommended some expanded hours, including the reopening of the Gaithersburg and Olney branches, which had been closed for renovations. I am particularly pleased that the County Executive 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.
I am also very pleased that, despite our ongoing fiscal challenges, the library system has adapted so well to rapidly changing uses of technology. The County Executive has recommended additional funds for the library to purchase more e-books, and MCPL was recently named one of the top 100 library systems to follow on Twitter.
Transit Services and the Expansion of Capital Bikeshare
As chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee, I am committed to providing top-notch transit services to our residents. Montgomery County RideOn provides fixed-route bus service throughout the county, and is a critical component of our efforts to reduce traffic congestion.
To that end, I have pushed back hard against recommendations to reduce RideOn service in recent years. Achieving budget savings through reduced transit service, to me, is a short-sighted approach that is inherently contrary to our stated goals of encouraging transit use. I am pleased that the County Executive has recommended preserving all current RideOn routes, including new additions that began this year, in his FY14 recommended budget.
And as a strong proponent of bringing Capital Bikeshare to Montgomery County, I am very pleased that, in anticipation of a summer 2013 launch, the County Executive has included funds to operate the system. As it already has in DC and Arlington, Bikeshare will provide an alternative for commuters who only need to go a few miles to their destinations and will open up access to other forms of transit as well. CaBi has been a huge success in DC and Arlington and I look forward to Montgomery County getting on board.
Few things are as basic to county government as fixing the potholes.
Roadway maintenance 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. Related activities include: mowing; roadside vegetation clearing and grubbing; traffic barrier repair and replacement; street cleaning; regrading and reshaping dirt/gravel roads; and temporary maintenance of curbs, gutters, and sidewalks.
I am pleased that the County Executive has recommended over $17 million toward addressing the backlog of resurfacing projects, with a modest increase to address new transportation projects. In previous years, the Council has added additional funding for road maintenance on top of what the County Executive had recommended. It is my hope that we will be in a position to do so again this year.
District 1 School CIP Update
Although we are in a CIP "off year," I am keeping a close watch on our District 1 schools' additions and modernizations. The Council will approve any changes to the CIP at the same time as we approve our final operating budget at the end of May.
The chart below provides you with the latest recommended timeframes for improvements to our schools. These are the critically important projects that ensure our students have ample space and the right educational environment in which to learn. These projects will continue to be a top priority for me as I consider the County's capital budget.