Mis prioridades presupuestarias

Estimado residente del condado de Montgomery,

Hoy estoy lanzando una traducción de mis comunicaciones de correo electrónico para residentes que prefieran leerlas en Español. Espero que comparta este enlace de suscripción con su familia y compañeros.

El proceso presupuestario para el próximo año ha culminado. Hay buenas noticias para compartir, como también hay asuntos pendientes.

Nuestro proceso presupuestario tiene dos etapas. El Ejecutivo prepara un borrador del presupuesto y lo presenta antes del 15 de marzo de cada año. Luego, el Consejo hace cambios y finaliza el presupuesto a fines de mayo.

Estos son algunos de los puntos más destacados de este año, los cuales reflejan mis prioridades;

Comenzando con la educación, hemos podido financiar completamente la solicitud de presupuesto de MCPS, gracias a un aumento en la financiación estatal; ahora MCPS podrá reducir aún más el tamaño de clases. También hemos podido financiar completamente a Montgomery College. Es importante destacar que ni MCPS ni Montgomery College fueron totalmente financiados en el borrador del presupuesto del Ejecutivo.

En el área de cuidado infantil y preescolar; este es el tercer año consecutivo en el que expandimos la asistencia preescolar para niños de bajos ingresos. La expansión de cuidado infantil y preescolar ha sido mi prioridad en la política de educación temprana y me alegra comunicarles que gracias a la reciente expansión, la cantidad de niños de bajos recursos que se beneficiarán del programa preescolar de día completo alcanzará los 1500, de los 750 de hace tres años.

Quiero también felicitar al Presidente del Comité de Educación del Consejo, Craig Rice, a la Presidenta del Consejo, Nancy Navarro, por su trabajo en educación temprana, y al Ejecutivo del Condado por incluir los fondos en su presupuesto. Estamos progresando, aunque
aún hay mucho más por hacer.

Estoy aún más entusiasmado por la expansión de programas extracurriculares, siempre me ha interesado este tema y trabajo arduamente todos los años para que los programas extracurriculares sean agregados a nuestro presupuesto. Los miembros del Consejo Albornoz y Jawando se unieron a la causa este año y hemos podido agregar cuatro nuevas escuelas primarias de alto índice de pobreza a nuestro exhaustivo programa Excel Beyond the Bell, alcanzando un total de 8 escuelas que hemos agregado en 3 años.

Cada uno de estos programas sirve a 120 niños, cinco días a la semana. ¡Con 8 escuelas, ahora llegaremos a casi 1,000 niños de edad primaria atendidos todos los días del calendario escolar!

También hemos agregado 3 programas extracurriculares en middle schools o escuelas intermedias y hemos creado una iniciativa llamada “ Skills for the Future” o “Habilidades para el Futuro” en español, para apoyar a los programas de STEM para jóvenes.

En el área de tránsito, pudimos restaurar cuatro de las siete rutas de autobús propuestas para ser reducidas en el presupuesto del Ejecutivo. Estoy decepcionado de no haber podido restaurar las siete rutas completas, lamentablemente el corte del servicio de autobús aumentará el tráfico y va en contra de la equidad social y de nuestros objetivos medioambientales.

Sin embargo, estoy contento de que ahora el servicio de autobuses RideOn y WMATA sea gratuito para los estudiantes. Esto creará toda una nueva generación de pasajeros de tránsito. Agradezco al Concejal Evan Glass por su apoyo.

Al mismo tiempo, agradezco a mis colegas por llegar al acuerdo de rechazar el recorte de $5 millones propuesto por el Ejecutivo al programa de “Áreas Prioritarias” para bicicletas y peatones (BiPPA). BiPPA es un programa que construye nueva infraestructura de seguridad en áreas del Condado con infraestructura antigua. BiPPA tiene proyectos planeados en Wheaton, Silver Spring y en el corredor de la Línea morada.

También pudimos restaurar los fondos para construir nuevas entradas en las estaciones de Metro de White Flint y Forest Glen las cuales el ejecutivo había propuesto recortarlas del presupuesto, ambas obras son necesarias ya que hace que el transporte sea más accesible al público.

En cuanto a la emergencia climática, quiero agradecer a mis colegas por apoyar mi propuesta de $ 400,000 para comenzar una iniciativa integral de planificación del cambio climático.

También, pudimos restablecer fondos cruciales para nuestro sistema de Parques, el cual fue programado para recortes significativos en el presupuesto del ejecutivo. Quiero agradecer al Concejal Friedson, nuestro Líder del Consejo para Parques, que no descanso hasta conseguir restablecer los fondos.

Quizás se pregunte cómo el Consejo pudo financiar estos programas. La respuesta está en cambiar ciertas prioridades dentro del presupuesto. No subimos impuestos. Sin embargo, hicimos cambios de otras maneras, como por ejemplo, reduciendo compensaciones irrazonables.

El aumento de 9% propuesto por el Ejecutivo del Condado no era asequible. La reducción de su capacidad permitió que el Consejo agregara fondos a muchas de estas prioridades clave mencionadas anteriormente. (Aunque en mi opinión el aumento de 7% acordado por el consejo continúa siendo más de lo que podemos costear, y no concuerdo con esa propuesta).

En cuanto a los asuntos pendientes: mientras elaboramos un mejor presupuesto, el Condado continúa teniendo un problema subyacente: tenemos un déficit estructural. Un déficit estructural es cuando nuestros ingresos continuamente están por debajo de nuestros gastos; aquello sucedió nuevamente este año. El presupuesto que acabamos de aprobar se financia sustancialmente del uso de reservas destinadas a los gastos de salud de los jubilados. Esta práctica debe terminar.

Necesitamos arreglar nuestro déficit estructural alineando nuestros gastos con nuestros ingresos. El Ejecutivo del Condado ha hablado acerca de “dimensionar correctamente” al gobierno del Condado, y los miembros del Consejo han indicado su apoyo. Eso ayudaría a asegurar que la compensación no crezca más rápido que los ingresos, dejando espacio para financiar prioridades críticas.

En el futuro, debemos trabajar juntos para hacer cambios que nos pongan en un camino más sostenible.

¡Gracias por su atencion!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Concejal del Condado de Montgomery

My budget priorities

Dear Resident:

The County’s budget for the next year is done. There is good news to share, as well as unfinished business.

Our budget process has two stages. The Executive prepares a draft and submits it by March 15. The Council then makes changes and finalizes the budget by the end of May.

Here are some of my highlights from this year, reflecting my own priorities.

Starting with education, we fully funded the MCPS budget request, thanks particularly to an increase in state funding. We also fully funded Montgomery College. Neither were fully funded in the Executive’s budget. MCPS will now reduce class size guidelines further.

On child care and pre-k, this is the third year in a row that we will expand pre-k for low income kids. Including this year’s expansion, the number of poor children benefiting from full-day pre-k will reach 1500, from 750 three years ago. This has been my highest priority in early education policy.

I want to salute Council President Nancy Navarro and Council Education Committee Chair Craig Rice and for their work on early education, and the County Executive for including the funds in his budget. We are making progress, though we have more to do.

I’m particularly thrilled by our expansion of after school programs. I have worked hard to add programs every year to our budget. This year I was joined by Councilmembers Albornoz and Jawando as we added four new high poverty elementary schools to our comprehensive Excel Beyond the Bell program, bringing the total to 8 that we have added in 3 years.

Each of these programs serves 120 children, five days a week. With 8 schools, we will now reach nearly 1,000 elementary age children served every school day!

We also added 3 middle school programs and we created a new initiative called Skills for the Future to support youth STEM programs.

On transit, we were able to restore four of the seven routes proposed for reduced service in the Executive’s budget. I am disappointed that we could not restore all seven. Cutting bus service is sure to increase driving and works against our social equity and environmental goals.

I am however happy that RideOn and WMATA bus service will now be free to students, all the time. This should create a whole new generation of transit riders. Thanks Councilmember Evan Glass for your advocacy!

I am particularly grateful that my colleagues agreed to reject the Executive’s proposed cuts of $5 million to the bicycle and pedestrian “Priority Areas” program (BiPPA). This is a construction program that builds new safety infrastructure in areas of the County with older infrastructure. It has projects planned in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and along the Purple Line corridor. Thank you Transportation Chair Tom Hucker!

We also restored funding for new Metro station entrances in White Flint and Forest Glen, both badly needed to make these station areas more accessible. The Executive had proposed cutting them from the budget.

On the climate emergency, I want to thank my colleagues for supporting my proposal for $400,000 to begin a comprehensive climate change planning initiative.

And finally, we were able to restore crucial funding to our Parks system, which was slated for significant cuts in the executive’s budget. I want to thank Councilmember Friedson, our Council’s Lead for Parks, who pushed until we got it done.

You may wonder how the Council was able to fund these programs. The answer lies in changing certain priorities within the budget. We did not raise taxes. We did, however, make changes in other ways, including scaling back some compensation that was excessive.

The County Executive’s proposed 9% raises were not affordable. Scaling them back enabled the Council to add funding to many of these key priorities mentioned above. (Though my view is that the 7% raise the Council agreed to for many employees was still more than we can afford, and I opposed that proposal too).

So as for unfinished business: while we crafted a better budget, the County still has an underlying problem — we have a structural deficit. A structural deficit is when our revenues continually come in below our expenditures. It happened again this year. The budget that we passed is substantially funded by using reserves intended for retiree health expenses. That practice needs to end.

We need to fix our structural deficit by bringing our expenses in line with our revenues. The County Executive has talked about “right-sizing” County government, and Councilmembers have indicated support. That would help ensure that compensation does not grow faster than revenues, leaving room to fund critical priorities.

Going forward, we need to work together to make changes that will put us on a more sustainable path.

Thank you for reading!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Transit, safety, and street trees

Dear Resident:

If you care about transportation, energy and environmental issues, this update is for you.

Zooming out, I am sure you are following the Governor’s proposal for I-495 and I-270. In a letter to Secretary Pete Rahn that I organized with Transportation Committee Chairman Hucker and the County Executive, the County has insisted that the State stick within existing rights-of-way and add transit to the project, which would protect our neighborhoods and parks. We have our work cut out for us as this discussion continues.

We also call for expanded MARC service on the Brunswick Line, including the possibility of MARC-VRE through-running so County residents could have a fast, one-seat trip to job opportunities in Virginia and visa-versa.

Zooming in, last week the Council’s Transportation Committee, where I serve along with Chairman Tom Hucker and Councilmember Evan Glass, worked on the Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) budget for the upcoming year.

Following are our recommendations to the full Council. You can read the Council staff report here. Any new proposals will need to be funded by the full Council by reordering priorities within the overall budget. We will see where things end up and now is a great time to share your views at the Council.

Transit

Bus Service: Students Ride Free
The committee recommended that kids under 18 (or 18 year old students) should be able to board for free on RideOn and WMATA buses in the County during all hours of service. The initiative, championed by Councilmember Evan Glass and which I strongly support, will hopefully build a new generation of transit riders. I will never forget the freedom that the bus provided me when I was young and I want all kids to have that opportunity.

Currently, elementary and secondary school students can ride free from 2:00-8:00pm weekdays, a measure that I championed with Councilmember Navarro in my first term.

Rejecting cuts to RideOn
The County Executive recommended cutting service on RideOn Routes 26, 38, 49, 55, 57, 59, and 64. Cutting bus service is not the way to go. The Committee rejected those proposed cuts.

Bus Rapid Transit on Veirs Mill and 355
Earlier this year, I advocated for the acceleration of planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd, as I have for years. The Committee, however, has agreed to defer a decision on Veirs Mill BRT until MCDOT announces their recommended alternative for BRT on MD 355, which is expected early this summer. Should fiscal capacity not allow both, the fuller picture on MD 355 will allow the Committee to better weigh the relative priority of each corridor and decide which BRT route should go first.

Electric buses
To help us reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, the County has begun transitioning the RideOn bus fleet to fully electric buses. While the price difference between electric and diesel buses is narrowing, it is still quite substantial at about $350,000 per bus. Thanks to federal grants, 14 electric buses are on order and will be in service within the next year. I am committed to doing more, which is why I recommended an additional 5 electric buses. Note that plug-in buses would draw power from a 100% renewable County energy portfolio due to our County law.

Vision Zero – bicycle and pedestrian safety

Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAS)
The County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our safety goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I championed that allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County. To make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, I advocated to not only restore funding but to add new funding to those BiPPA programs. We also created specific BiPPAs for Wheaton, Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, and the East County stops of the Purple Line. Now we need to keep it all together in the final budget.

Pedestrian Safety Audits
At Councilmember Rice’s initiative, the Committee recommended adding $100,000 to MCDOT’s budget for pedestrian safety audits. These audits target specific “high-incident” areas and recommend improvements to make them safer. We need more audits.

Street Trees

The County Executive recommended cuts to various programs that plant and maintain trees as well as remove stumps; the Committee did not agree and instead increased funding in future years. Due to funding, the backlog for removing a stump is currently 17 years. That is unacceptable.

Mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities

A few years ago, the County imposed a small charge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to fund programs that provide transportation for those with disabilities and seniors of limited income. The charge has generated over $5 million for critical programs such as Call-n-Ride and Seniors Ride Free. One of our more challenging problems is ensuring that there are enough taxis and/or ride hailing vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. The Committee discussed ways to use funds from the charge to incentivize more wheelchair accessible vehicles in taxi fleets. We expect the County Executive to transmit an executive regulation in the coming weeks that addresses this issue.

We have a ways to go before we will know what we can afford to add into the final budget. But the Committee’s actions are the right calls.

Best regards

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Gaithersburg Book Festival
May 18, 2018

If you are a lover of great books and great writing, I highly encourage you to check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Meet authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Lulu Delacre, attend writing workshops for adults, teens, and kids, visit the Brew & Vine Cafe, and much much more. Best of all — entrance is free, parking is free, and it’s awesome all day long.

Pay raises we can afford

Dear Resident:

Today the Council took an initial vote on next year’s compensation for County employees, as proposed in the County Executive’s budget.

As part of our annual budget process, the County Executive is responsible for negotiating labor contracts with the unions. The Council then has the final responsibility of making sure that compensation is affordable.

While I support a raise for our employees, the County Executive’s proposal includes a 9.4% increase for many County employees in the MCGEO bargaining unit. (Increases for Fire and Rescue and Police officers are about 5.9%; teachers and school support personnel are scheduled to get 4.5% increases, on average.)

MCGEO members are the workers you will see driving a bus for long hours, inspecting rental housing, or providing health services. Like other public employees, they keep this county humming, and they deserve a raise.

But after careful consideration, I voted no on the 9.4% raise, as did my colleagues.

I cast that vote because I take my obligation seriously to look to the future as a steward of our tax dollars.

Under the County Executive’s agreements, total compensation would grow at nearly double the rate of county revenue. When compensation grows faster than revenue, it consumes more of the budget over time, leaving less for new initiatives.

I think you will agree that we must be careful to preserve funds for goals such as reducing MCPS class sizes, expanding pre-k and afterschool programs, improving transportation and fighting climate change, to name a few.

By comparison, Federal employees, who make up a large share of our taxpayers, are receiving increases this year that are less than half of that amount.

While there is no doubt that the Recession was tough on our employees, with pay freezes for several years, since then, they have received steady raises.

The County Executive’s proposed 9.4% raise is all the more difficult because it is plain now that our budget has a structural deficit. The only way the budget achieves balance is through an extraordinary measure — using revenues from last year identified for the retiree health benefit fund.

Like a large ship, the County’s budget changes direction slowly. I think this is an important moment to begin to “turn the ship” and express the Council’s strong desire to start taking steps to resolve our structural deficit.

The County Executive talked about our fiscal challenges on the campaign trail, as did Council candidates. The County Executive’s mantra was that as a leader trusted by the County unions, he could work with them to right-size County government — recognizing that it is more affordable to provide raises to a smaller workforce.

He’s right about that, and I hope he follows through. I am prepared to work with him.

The budget we received, however, adds 90 new positions, exacerbating the impact of compensation increases.

I share the County Executive’s stated desire to make County government more efficient, and I also strongly believe that we can do more to promote economic growth in the County. If we achieve major savings and our revenue growth accelerates from a hotter economy, then I absolutely believe that County employees should share in those gains.

But let’s not count the chickens before they hatch: we have to make the necessary changes before claiming savings.

I look forward to supporting a raise that we can fund over time — one that is more in line with the wage increases that other bargaining units and our taxpayers are experiencing.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

COMMISSION UPDATE
This past February, Councilmembers Jawando, Rice and I sponsored a resolution to establish the Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission to secure our County’s memorial from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to commemorate the three known lynchings in the County. The Commission will include 10 voting members of the public. If you’re interested in being involved as a member of the commission, you can apply online up until May 13, 2019.

The Council Connection — the County’s overall fiscal picture

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council has passed the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year (July 2018 to July 2019). In recent newsletters we have reviewed the MCPS and public safety budgets. This week, however, we step back to review the overall fiscal picture.

Revenue
This was a restrained budget year as the Council grappled with revenues that were lower than anticipated and only allowed for an increase in expenditures in a few highest priority areas.

Although the local economy continues to perform well with low unemployment, strong job growth, and rising incomes, tax revenues have remained below expectations. Tax revenues for this fiscal year are down $106.1 million from the budget we approved last summer. The revenue shortfall stems in large part from a significant decline in revenue from capital gains, but other revenues were softer than expected, too. Recognizing the need to get ahead of the problem, the Council approved over $125 million in reductions to the FY18 budget mid-year.

While revenues are below expectations, they did allow for a modest increase in FY19, which through the budget process was almost entirely devoted to MCPS.

The Council did not raise taxes in this year’s budget. In fact, the weighted average real property tax rate fell by 1.98 cents this year, and by a combined 4.50 cents over the past two years.

The property tax will generate approximately $1.8 billion in revenue, about a third of total revenue. The next largest revenue source is the income tax at an estimated at $1.6 billion. The income tax rate remains unchanged. Read more about the Council’s decisions on the property tax here (pdf). More information on the other revenue sources can be found here (pdf).

What does this all mean for the average household? Adjusted for inflation, the County share of taxes relative to personal income has remained virtually unchanged for the last five years.

Expenditures
The operating budget for the upcoming year totals $5.6 billion, a 2% increase from the previous year. There are real differences though by agency. MCPS expenditures will rise by about 3%, Montgomery College will rise about 1%, and Montgomery County government (provider of public safety, libraries, HHS and other services) will rise at 0.2%.

I always find that the rate of increase overall is the most useful number to focus on when trying to understand the overall budget picture. This year’s increase, 2% overall, is very modest. Consider that in 2004, 2005, and 2006, the County budget increased by over 10% annually each year.

You can find a rough breakdown of how expenditures are programmed in the chart below.

County Expenditures Pie Chart

The chart above demonstrates our priorities: MCPS funding is about half of all County spending with the next largest program being public safety. Debt service, though, is not far behind, which is why we are reducing our borrowing levels in our capital budget.

Reserves
This Council strengthened its commitment to fiscal discipline in this budget, by setting aside additional funds for our reserve. By adding enough new funding in this budget to have a fund equal to 9.4% of our revenues, the County stays on track to meet its 10% goal by 2020. After making adjustments to our retiree health fund (OPEB) for the FY18 revenue shortfall, we also fully funded our FY19 commitment to OPEB.

Sufficient monies in reserves are critical for us to weather downturns in our revenues, which we have experienced regularly over the years — including this past year.

Healthy reserve funding helps the County maintain our coveted AAA Bond Rating, the highest possible. The AAA Bond Rating means we get the lowest interest rates, allowing us to build more schools and facilities with our capital funds.

Don’t just take my word for it, here is what the ratings agencies say:

“The County’s budget management demonstrates a strong commitment to bolstering its reserve cushion in preparation for the next downturn,” said Fitch. “Given the County’s conservative management practices and emphasis on increasing reserves, operations are expected to remain strong.” Moody’s noted that “the county’s financial flexibility remains sound,” while S & P indicated that the County’s “financial practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.”

Big picture
The Council produced a budget that is restrained and responsible and meets critical goals for fiscal discipline. It does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

Next week we will turn to budgets for transportation and parks. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President