May 23, 2019
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s Statement on Adoption of FY 2020 Operating and Capital Budgets
The past six months have been an important period for Montgomery County and its future path. My promise to the residents and business owners of this County was that we would work toward a better way to operate the County Government; and we would do it in a sustainable and progressive way.
That is what my recommended Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Operating Budget and my amendments to the FY2019-24 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Budget reflected when I presented them to the County Council earlier this year. Today, I applaud and appreciate the Council’s unanimous support for the County’s $5.8 billion operating budget that endorses 99.7 percent of my initial proposal. It is symbolic of the new and collaborative relationship – that I and Council President Nancy Navarro as well as the entire Council have worked to develop.
When I introduced the budget, I left $10 million unallocated for the Council to apportion as a sign of my new approach. It was a tough decision to leave many worthy requests unfulfilled, but I was heartened to hear many Councilmembers partially credit this action for creating a more cooperative decision-making process. As a councilmember, I was frequently troubled by one-time raids on various County accounts to fund ongoing commitments. I was also bothered that the only way to change something was to cut something else that the Executive had appropriated. I am glad that this new approach has been helpful.
Throughout my campaign for County Executive, I pledged the County would not raise tax rates this year. The Council supported my plan to keep that promise. In addition, the budget includes a property tax credit of $692 for homeowners whose properties are their primary residences.
This budget addresses our most pressing needs in a fiscally responsible manner despite lower-than-predicted revenues. The budget starts to correct chronic understaffing in a number of departments that has driven excessive overtime and that contributes to the need for perpetual mid-year savings plans. For example, I added funding to cover the actual salary cost for overtime in the Department of Fire & Rescue Services and for the actual cost of contracts in the Department of Health & Human Services.
Keeping a central promise from the campaign, this budget includes new funding for a down payment on my plan to expand early childhood education, which should be a gamechanger for our entire educational system. The budget also fully funds the requests of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) as well as Montgomery College. We have the flexibility to meet these goals, in part, due to the great work by our state delegation – my initial budget increased funding for MCPS by 2 percent and thanks to state aid, MCPS will have a 3 percent increase. I was happy to be able to go to Annapolis regularly throughout the legislative session to support their efforts.
During the next year, we will expand our public safety priorities and protect safety net services that are critical to our most vulnerable neighbors. We will also battle congestion as the FLASH transit line along Route 29 continues toward completion and we get set to launch on-demand Ride On service as a pilot program near three Metrorail stations.
The FY19-24 capital budget will fund school construction, infrastructure improvements, and community projects.
The approved budget achieves my commitment to meet the FY20 target for the County’s reserve at 10 percent of adjusted governmental revenues. This is one of the critical elements considered by rating agencies and important for the County’s AAA bond rating. Our best-in-the-country bond rating enables the County government to sell long-term bonds at the most favorable rates, saving taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of the bond. Meeting our County’s 10 percent reserve target in FY20 will mean lower contributions in future budgets.
By reducing borrowing costs each year, our County will reduce its debt service burden – something that has been overwhelming the budget process year-after-year, and something I have promised to fix.
This budget also provides affordable salary increases for our dedicated County employees. I was disappointed when the council initially rejected one of our hard-bargained employee contracts. I wanted to honor the commitment that the prior administration made to some of our longest serving employees by fully restoring a service increment increase that had been cut in 2011. As only one in ten County employees still qualify for this increase, I believed then and I still believe that it was completely affordable. I am pleased that this budget restores a deferred increment for another County union – the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), completing restoration of two deferred increments each for the FOP and the International Association of Fire Fighters. I am also pleased that teachers and other school staff also had increments restored in prior budgets, including one increment in January. Those restorations left only the workers in the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) with no restored increments, which was not equitable. Fortunately, I was able to craft a compromise with our labor partners and the Council to restore one deferred increment to MCGEO over three years. I am proud to lead and serve with these employees, who work tirelessly to ensure the highest level of service and quality of life for our residents.
I have promised our residents honesty when it comes to our budgets. Too many people are growing weary and cynical about government at all levels because of budget gimmicks, tax giveaways, and hyperbolic political rhetoric. Approval of this budget is part of my effort to be straightforward in the budget process.
This budget also represents a part of my work for a County government that seeks and values the participation of our residents, our employees, our nonprofit partners, our business community, and my fellow elected officials in a deliberate and transparent manner based on facts and accurate figures. We may not always be in complete agreement, but we will work together to build a better Montgomery County for all.