Montgomery County’s fiscal 21 budget focuses on the continuity of services. Property tax stays within County Charter Limit with $692 property tax credit for homeowners.
The Montgomery County Council yesterday voted unanimously to approve the County’s $5.8 billion fiscal 2021 Operating Budget and a $4.4 billion fiscal 2021-2026 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) to fund school construction, infrastructure improvements and community projects. The Council’s focus throughout its budget work was on providing continuity of services for County government and residents.
The County’s property tax rates remain within the limitations of the charter tax cap and homeowners will receive a $692 property tax credit. The Council also rejected a proposal to increase property tax rates by 0.24 cents per $100.
“The Council’s approach to this budget was unlike any other,” said Council President Sidney Katz. “We had a singular goal—continuity of service. Like households across our community, we had to limit our spending and control budget growth.
“The $5.8 billion operating budget and the $4.4 billion capital budget provides stability for our residents and our workforce, while we await a clearer picture of expenses and revenues that will emerge during the summer and fall,” Katz said. “We all recognize that there will be more work to do to meet the ongoing public health and financial needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The budget also meets the fiscal 21 target for the County’s reserve — which is 10 percent of adjusted governmental revenues — and provides $92.2 million in additional resources for future employee benefit obligations. Funding for these fiscal obligations helps the County retain its triple-A bond rating.
According to a County press release:
Montgomery County Public Schools
More than half of the County’s budget, $2.76 billion, funds Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Since the Council’s focus was on continuity of services, this amount funds MCPS at the Maintenance of Effort level which is mandated by the State of Maryland. This represents an increase of $74.9 million or a 2.8 percent increase from the FY20 approved budget and includes a local contribution of more than $1.75 billion.
The County continues to rank near the top of all Maryland jurisdictions for total per pupil funding. With ever increasing student enrollment, the Montgomery County Board of Education estimates that 167,041 students will attend MCPS in FY21 which is an increase of 1,774 students from FY20. MCPS Board of Education President Shebra Evans and Superintendent Jack Smith acknowledged the tremendous fiscal uncertainty resulting from the Covid-19 global health pandemic and committed to using the funding to maintain the operational and instructional infrastructure of the school system and to continue the focus on excellence and equity throughout these unprecedented times.
The Council funded a budget of $281.95 million for the Montgomery County Police Department. This is a 4.5 percent decrease from last year’s budget. The budget reflects the separation of the Animal Services Division from the Police Department. The shift in costs from the budget to the new Office of Animal Services is approximately $7.9 million. The Police budget includes $495,072 for mobile video systems upgrades in the last 100 patrol vehicles that do not yet have mobile video installed. Also a social worker position was added to the Emergency Communications Center to provide stress management resources. In addition, the department will receive seven new crossing guards for new schools.
In the Sheriff’s Office, the total budget is $25.6 million which is an increase of $223,930 from last year’s budget. The funding allows for the replacement of mobile video units and ballistic vests and adds additional body-worn cameras. Further funding may be needed for emergency activities related to the Covid-19 response.
The budget for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is $71.1 million. This is an increase of $506,667. The budget includes funding for cell vent, bunk and door enhancements that were identified in the National Institute of Corrections’ findings on how to reduce the risk of inmate self-harm or suicide.
Fire and Rescue Service’s operating budget is $225.4 million. This is an increase of $2.1 million or one percent from last year’s budget. The budget includes a Communications Contingency Plan that reflects the cost of adding cell phones to fire apparatus to provide an additional mode of communication in the event of public safety radio system disruptions. The new Radio System Infrastructure Project is on schedule to be completed by late December 2020.
The Council also approved $700,000 in the Emergency Management and Homeland Security budget for security grants for faith-based and ethnic organizations.
The Council funded more than $5 million in FY21 to support the work of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC). This organization implements the County’s economic development strategic plan that includes marketing, business attraction and retention, entrepreneurship and promoting the County’s economic base.
The Council also agreed to allocate $1.3 million in funding for WorkSource Montgomery which implements the County’s workforce development policies to promote job growth and attract talent.
The Council allocated approximately $3 million for the County’s incubator programs. This includes funding for the Wheaton Small Business Technical Assistance Program.
In addition, the budget includes $1.6 million to fund Visit Montgomery which promotes and markets the County as a destination and provides information to County visitors.
The Council funded the Department of Transportation’s budget at more than $235.6 million. This includes funding for items like road maintenance, leaf collection, Ride On and the parking lot districts. The continuity of services budget includes funding for the Kids Ride Free program and a new limited stop FLASH service that is scheduled to launch this summer between the Burtonsville Park-and-Ride Lot and the Silver Spring Transit Center. The line will include 18 new station platforms with a fleet of sixteen, 60-foot articulated buses.
Children, Youth and Families
Continuing the Council’s commitment to helping children, families and individuals thrive, the budget includes level funding of $5.99 million to support the Montgomery County Early Care and Education Initiative, which was spearheaded by Councilmember Nancy Navarro and is supported by the County Executive and Council, to expand quality early care and education opportunities for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Councilmembers noted how important the availability of child care is to the County’s economic recovery and expressed their intent to review the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on the child care industry and provide additional funding that ensures that families can access quality early care and education services when they go back to work.
Health and Human Services
The Council funded $339 million for the Department of Health and Human Services. In the middle of the Covid-19 global pandemic, a continuity of services budget for the Department of Health and Human Services ensures that the service needs of the community continues to be met. The Council added $887,761 in funding to hire 10 additional school health nurses in FY21. The Council also funded a school health technician for the new Emory Grove Early Childhood Center. When schools are not in session, school health nurses and health technicians work on other programs and in other departments to address public health needs including those from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Also included in the budget is a $100,000 County match for the Summer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This funding is the required match for a state grant. The Summer SNAP for Children program provides an additional $30 per child for each summer month and an additional $10 per children during the winter break.
In June, the Council intends to revisit funding for payments to eligible providers of services to the developmentally disabled and providers of adult medical day care.
Community Grants and Working Families Income Supplement
The Council funded the Community Grants NDA and Capital Grants as part of the capital budget within the Cost Sharing: MCG Project and deferred the review of new community grants organizations and programs to reassess service needs in light of Covid-19. The Council approved the recommendation to move 67 community grants funded as part of the FY20 budget (totaling $3.8 million) into the base budgets of departments. The Council also increased the County Executive’s recommendation of $9,795,238 for community grants to organizations that improve the quality of life for County residents by $614,736 to total $10,409,974. The Council approved $1,583,362 to fund nonprofit organizations for capital projects and deferred the review of the arts and humanities capital grants to the Education and Culture Committee.
The full list of FY21 grants to nonprofit organizations that provide health and human services can be viewed on pages 23-42 of the Council staff report here. A summary of the community grants contracts that were shifted to County department base budgets can be found here.
The County’s budget provides $20.1 million for the Working Families Income Supplement NDA that supplements Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and is intended to benefit low-income working families in the County. The federal government authorizes the federal EITC for working people with low- to moderate-incomes. The County supplements the state’s refund by 100 percent for County residents, in effect doubling the amount received.
The Council allocated more than $61.8 million in capital and operating funds to support the production and preservation of affordable housing through the Housing Initiative Fund and reserved $6.8 million to determine how the County can leverage additional funding sources and investments to accelerate the production and preservation of affordable housing. The Housing Initiative Fund includes the Building Neighborhoods to Call Home program which is a rental subsidy and assistance programs for low-income households that moves households from homelessness to permanent housing and provides assistance with home ownership.
The Council approved a cap of $19.07 million for Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreements for affordable housing. In addition, Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreements for the Housing Opportunities Commission are valued at $9.8 million.
The Council funded total expenditures of $46.3 million for the Recreation Department. This is an increase of more than $1.4 million from last year’s approved budget. The budget restored funding for transportation to senior centers on Fridays and added service for the North Potomac senior program. The budget also includes relocation expenses for the move to Wheaton and more than $280,000 for Wheaton senior programming.
The Council funded $131.4 million for the Recycling and Resource Management portion of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) budget. This is a $15.7 million or 13.6 percent increase from last year’s approved budget. This includes funding for DEP’s implementation of the Commercial Food Waste Program, at-home food composting bins and a pilot Single-Family Food Waste Program. Solid Waste Service charges were approved at levels slightly below those recommended by the County Executive. The Council also agreed to fund $3.4 million for DEP’s general fund. This includes funding for increased tree planting paid for with Tree Canopy Fund revenue.
The continuity of services budget approved by the Council totals expenditures of $29.4 million for the Water Quality Protection Fund (WQPF). The WQPF covers County costs associated with water quality and the inspection, maintenance and rehabilitation of stormwater management facilities. The Council approved an FY21 Water Quality Protection Charge Equivalent Residential Unit rate of $107.60 which is $0.50 below the County Executive’s recommendation.
The Council also added $400,000 in funding for the Climate Change Planning Non-Departmental Account (NDA). This NDA was started in FY20 and provides funding for the prioritization of greenhouse gas reduction strategies and the development of an implementation plan to meet the County’s goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2027 and a 100 percent reduction by 2035.
Park and Planning
The Council funded $164.5 million for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). This is more than a 3.9 percent increase from last year’s approved budget. Included in this amount is more than $105 million to enhance and maintain the County’s park system that includes 422 parks and almost 37,000 acres of land. The Council also approved funding of $300,000 for athletic field renovations at school sites.
The Council funded $42.1 million for the Department of Public Libraries. The Council indicated its willingness to revisit the expansion of public service hours in early FY21 at the Long Branch, Twinbrook and White Oak Libraries as well as adding an early literacy outreach librarian for the Early Care and Education NDA. Montgomery County Public Libraries has a special emphasis on developing and supporting workforce and business development in the County. The County Executive realigned $305,283 for the Workforce and Business Development Program, and the Council fully supported the measure to continue this initiative.
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission
The Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils held their bi-county meeting and reached a budget agreement for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). The Council approved an FY21 operating budget of $849.7 million. The new budget includes the reduction of the proposed seven percent rate increase to six percent for WSSC water and sewer customers. All new bi-county spending plans are effective starting July 1, 2020.
Given the unprecedented economic impact of the pandemic, the Council did not fund salary and benefit increases for employees represented by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Municipal and County Government Employees’ Organization (MCGEO) or non-represented County government employees. The Council also did not fund any increases over the FY20 amount in the Agreement with the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. Moreover, each Councilmember agreed to forgo their own legally mandated salary increases which will result in a budget savings of approximately $12,000 as determined by the Consumer Price Index in December.
Continuity of service was the Council’s goal for the fiscal year 2021 operating budget. The Council made it clear that this decision was not about what County government employees deserve, but instead was about what the County can afford. The goals moving forward are to preserve the jobs of existing employees, prevent layoffs and continue to provide the services that are essential for residents. The Council also indicated its willingness to consider possible increases later in FY21, if the County’s revenue picture improves significantly.
Read the full press release for more information.