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The Council Connection — Council prioritizes fire and rescue services

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Council President’s Message

This Thursday, May 24, the Council will formally approve the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The Council has worked hard and collaboratively throughout this process. With our remarkable staff and engaged community, we have produced a budget that is restrained and responsible, does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

I credit the County Executive with making many great decisions in his budget, including fully funding Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The County Executive’s budget also presented some daunting challenges in public safety.

Faced with cuts that would have negatively impacted fire and rescue service in Germantown, Hyattstown, and Silver Spring, the Council found a way to change priorities to fund over $7 million for critical public safety services. This amount was about half of all of our adjustments, demonstrating the importance we place on the issue. People take for granted that when their house is on fire, or when their spouse has a heart attack, that someone will respond quickly. We prioritized that quick response time in this budget.

Last week we reviewed some highlights from the MCPS budget; this week we take a closer look at public safety.

Fire and Rescue:
The County Executive’s recommended MCFRS operating budget totaled $211 million, down 1.7% from last year. This would have cut a total of $3.5 million and 29 career firefighter positions from the Fire and Rescue Service. The most significant proposed cuts would have taken three response units out of service, including a paramedic engine in Hyattstown, a paramedic engine in Germantown, and an aerial tower in Hillandale. Together, these cuts totaled $5.8 million.

All three cuts would increase response times in the response units’ first due areas. Hyattstown and Germantown each would have increased from 6-8 minutes to 10-12 minutes. Hillandale response times for an aerial unit would have increased from eight minutes to 12 minutes. While the County Executive had a plan to transfer firefighter positions to mitigate the increased response times, the Council ultimately chose to restore funding for all three response units and provide funding for additional staffing in Burtsonsville and for volunteer firefighters. All in all, the Council provided an additional $6.5 million to Fire and Rescue.

Police:
The County Executive’s recommended Police budget totaled $279 million, up 1.5% from last year. The Police Department budget was one of the few public safety budgets that had a budget increase for FY19. However, the County Executive’s proposed budget did not include any new police officer positions, and in fact, it lapsed six police officer positions for the year.

The Council discussed School Resource Officers at length, given the “Maryland Safe to Learn” act that the General Assembly just passed this year in response to the recent school shooting in St. Mary’s County. Currently, the SRO program, which includes not only MCPD officers, but also officers from the City of Rockville Police Department, City of Gaithersburg Police Department, and the Office of the Sheriff, provides 27 officers and deputies assigned to each County public high school. These officers are also responsible for assisting with any issues within their respective middle schools. The new state law, however, requires that each Maryland jurisdiction has either an SRO or “adequate local law enforcement coverage” at every school for the 2019-2020 school year. Given the complexity and reach of the new state law, Council committees will examine the law and its mandates in more depth on July 19.

This year, however, the Council added three new SRO positions that will be assigned to middle schools. The Council also added one new vice unit detective position that will address human trafficking concerns in the County.

Sheriff:
The County Executive’s recommended Sheriff budget totaled $23 million, down 1.1% from last year. An important issue for the Sheriff’s Office this year was body worn cameras. In October 2017, the Sheriff’s Office took advantage of a free body worn camera pilot program offered through Axon, the vendor who supplies body cameras for the County Police Department. The Sheriff’s Office has 162 deputies who are outfitted with body worn cameras. These cameras are important both for accountability as well as safety purposes. Deputies are often in potentially volatile situations while serving domestic violence protective orders and mental health-related emergency evaluation petitions. This risk is especially true after the General Assembly passed additional domestic violence and gun control laws, such as the “red flag” law (HB1302) that permits the Sheriff to confiscate guns from individuals who have been deemed by the court to be an extreme risk to self or others.

The Council approved an additional $229,903 to permit the Sheriff’s Office to maintain the program through FY19.

The next few weeks we will continue our exploration of the County budget. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

How do I…

… find out what items and grants the Council added to the budget?

Although the County Executive sent the Council a very good budget, the Council has the final say. The Council reconciles competing community priorities and available resources through its “reconciliation” process. This year, the Council was able to identify almost $15 million in resources to invest into critical services identified by the community. The Council also programmed over $2.8 million for grants to non-profits in the County. Check out the details here.

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