By

New Council Budget Highlights

The council’s budget this year was a great step forward.  Within a framework of fiscal prudence — county spending did not increase faster than county resident’s average personal income — we increased our funding for education, environmental protection, libraries, parks, public safety, human services and other key areas, and we also provided an additional modest reduction in the energy tax.


Every Councilmember gets the chance to make his or her own mark on the budget. I certainly made mine this year. Here are some of the ways in which I worked with my colleagues to make a difference:


  1. Caring for our county trees: The council provided an increase of nearly $1 million for planting county trees, caring for them and grinding stumps.
  2. Reducing traffic: We also secured $250,000 for optimizing traffic signals so that we can fight congestion with smarter solutions.
  3. Boosting our EITC: After the County Executive recommended an additional $1.8 million to raise the county’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the council boosted that program by another $1 million.  This raised our EITC overall by 10%.
  4. Child care: The council added funding for a new effort by the county to support child care providers with business consulting services.  We also provided an extra $338,670 in assistance to working poor parents to pay for child care.
  5. Bike lanes: The council added $250,000 to our Department of Transportation’s budget to work with our bike advocacy groups to stripe new bike lanes in order to ensure that our new bike sharing program, which is coming very soon, will succeed.

I hope you are enjoying your summer. As always, please remember that if you need a county service or have a request for information about county services, just call 311 from any phone in the county or search the www.mc311.com website from your desktop or mobile phone. And of course email me for assistance.

By

Our county budget – what are your priorities?

Every year, the County Executive sends the County Council a recommended budget on March 15. The council spends two months hearing from residents, reviewing the budget and deciding on changes before finalizing it with a vote. We are now underway.
Resident input is invaluable to me and I am seeking comments on your priorities. The council has scheduled five hearings on April 9 through 11.  If you wish to testify, please call 240-777-7803. Additionally, I am excited to announce that for the first time citizens can now use our newest civic outreach platform, engageMontgomery, to voice their concerns on the proposed budget.  And as always, you can contact me directly at councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov or by writing to me on my Facebook page.
The Executive’s recommended operating budget continues our recent work to regain what we lost during the Great Recession. Between 2010 and 2012, the county responded to a collapse in revenues by cutting spending significantly. Many departments took double-digit hits. In the new budget, as a result of very small annual increases in spending, many of those government functions are now about where they were before the recession hit.
We are balancing our restoration work with caution.  In the three years that preceded the recession, tax-supported spending grew by nearly 30%.  Over the last four years, the growth in our tax-supported budget has averaged 3.0% per year – not much higher than the average rate of inflation (2.4%).  Much of that growth has gone to savings programs such as our reserves and our retiree health benefits pre-funding.   We are also holding the line on our county’s total workforce, which is about the same size as it was four years ago, and doing everything we can to protect our AAA bond rating.  
As I begin my review of the Executive’s budget, my first focus is on those programs that impact the most vulnerable members of our community.  Here are two of them.
Working Families Income Supplement
Montgomery County is one of a tiny number of local jurisdictions in the country that provide Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs).  Our county’s EITC is called the Working Families Income Supplement and complements the state’s EITC.  By putting money directly into the pockets of low-income workers, the EITC is one of the most successful U.S. anti-poverty programs.
During the Great Recession, the county cut its EITC by more than 30%.  The Executive has restored some of this money in his budget and deserves recognition for that, but there is more work to do.  I will be working hard to restore our EITC to pre-recession levels to help working families in our county cope with our exceptionally high cost of living.
Funding non-profit service partners
Our county partners with a large network of nonprofits to provide services to residents, including education, senior services, assistance to the homeless, housing, health care, children and youth services and much more.  These nonprofits are critical and cost-effective options for the county to multiply its efforts.  They are also a large part of the county’s economy as nonprofits employ over 40,000 people and have a combined payroll of $2.2 billion.
The Great Recession has generated enormous demand for the services of our non-profits.  At the same time, they have endured funding challenges.  In 2011, the county was forced to cut disbursements to non-profits by 5% because of revenue shortfalls.  We were able to restore 2% last year.  I, along with my colleagues, will be looking for ways to restore non-profit services further this year so that we can keep up with the needs of county residents who depend on them.


Your priorities


There are many big decisions ahead of us: education funding for MCPS and Montgomery College, tax rates, environmental measures such as stormwater fees, health care services, library services, parks, economic development incentives.  

 

What are your priorities?  Please let me know by at councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov or writing to me on my Facebook page.

By

Stop the Cost Shift Cuts

Below is a statement put out by the Montgomery County Council announcing the launch of a statewide coalition’s website opposing the State’s plan to shift teacher pensions onto the counties. The site is www.stoptheshiftmd.com. Read on to see the statement and join us in fighting to protect key priorities here in Montgomery County. Thank you.



Maryland’s counties and school systems face a serious problem in Annapolis right now. Governor O’Malley has proposed shifting half the cost of teacher and other pensions from the state to the counties. The County Council, County Executive Ike Leggett, and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), as well as our employee organizations and our counterparts throughout the state, strongly oppose this shift. As Board of Education President Shirley Brandman said on Feb. 14, the shift “will have an immediate negative impact on the important services that our local governments provide.”

For Montgomery County, the proposed pension shift would cost $47 million in Fiscal Year 2013 and $315 million over the next five years. The measures proposed to help counties pay the cost are inadequate and may not be enacted in any event.

How much is $47 million? It pays for the jobs of nearly 500 teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other vital County personnel. It is more than the County’s general fund budgets for housing, transportation, and environmental protection combined. Our entire budget for libraries is less than $30 million.

The recessionary County budgets of the past three years required painful cuts that have seriously affected our residents and employees alike. For the coming year we face a further budget gap of $135 million and more hard decisions. If we now have to absorb another large burden from the state, there will be real damage to all our vital services—our schools, college, police, fire and rescue, safety net, libraries, parks, housing, transportation, recreation, and many others.

We understand that the state too must balance its budget and faces hard choices. But it is the state that sets the basic structure of pension benefits. In 2006 the state raised pension benefits by 29 percent, retroactive to 1998, but failed to provide sufficient funding. In fact, the state’s financial support for the pension fund has fallen short for many years. Counties should not be asked to assume financial responsibility for costs not of their making. We have cut services to the bone, and we have reached our limit on taxes.

Elected officials and concerned organizations throughout the state, including the Maryland Association of Counties, the school community, and employee organizations, have joined together to convey this message to the Governor and the General Assembly. The coalition’s web address is www.stoptheshiftmd.com. There you can learn how you can make a difference. The General Assembly will make its decision on the pension shift soon, probably by mid-March. The stakes for all our County residents are very high.


By

Hearing on the Capital Budget

Today was jam packed with council session and a committee meeting on small business issues. Wheaton is very much on our mind as we sort through redevelopment ideas and county investments.

Tonight featured a hearing on the county capital budget. It was interesting and residents spoke compellingly about a diverse array of topics.

I expect that we are going to make significant changes to the capital budget. I am looking to protect the Purple Line and biking facilities, and I am waiting to hear about MCPS needs.

Meanwhile I am working hard on an effort to stop the Annapolis cost shift to county governments for pensions.

I’m continuing my focus on the Purple Line, working with my colleague George Leventhal to keep that priority on track.

I’m excited to tackle these big picture challenges while delving far into the weeds of capital projects. It’s a nice mix.