Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

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

The Council Connection — State legislation and childcare

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

We cannot let our places of worship become places of fear.

On Saturday morning, our nation endured another horrific and senseless tragedy driven by hate when 11 people lost their lives and six more were wounded by a gunman during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We send our condolences to the victims, their family members, and the entire Jewish community. In Kentucky, a different shooter tried to gain access to an African-American church; he ended up shooting 2 persons at a grocery store nearby. In the midst of our grief, we must also all recommit ourselves to stamp out anti-Semitism and racism and to continue the fight for gun control. Read the Council’s full statement.

Turning to the Council’s legislative business on Tuesday, we have a full agenda.

Getting ready for upcoming State legislative session
The Council begins its day by discussing the County’s legislative priorities for upcoming State General Assembly Session. Of top concern are pushing the State to increase investments in K-12 and higher education; and transportation, particularly the proposed traffic relief plan for I-270/I-495. We also have identified partnering with the State to increase affordable housing as well as implementing next-generation 911. Read the staff report on the wide range of important issues we will work towards in Annapolis.

Update on childcare and early education
The Council will receive an update on the state of childcare and early education in the county as councilmembers work to expand Pre-K and other early childhood services. According to a 2016 report, less than half of the county’s children arrive to kindergarten demonstrating a “full readiness to learn,” highlighting the need to devote more resources to our early childhood and Pre-K education programs.

During the scheduled update, MCPS officials will provide the Council an update on the following:

  • Implementation status of current Pre-K programming
  • Recommendations of Kirwan Commission on Pre-K resource requirements
  • Changes to the State Child Care Subsidy & County Working Parents Assistance programs
  • Recent findings of the Cost of Quality Child Care Report

The full report can be found here.

Smoking in outdoor serving areas
On November 1st, the health committee will review a bill that would prohibit smoking on outdoor serving areas–patios, decks, and porches–of restaurants and bars. The Council will consider the recommendations of the committee and all feedback from stakeholders before taking action. A full council staff report will be available on Oct. 30.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

The Council Connection — zoning changes to incentivize large employers + budget hearings

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

Introduced to the Council this week, at the request of the County Executive, will be a zoning change that addresses the potential for Montgomery County to host a major corporate headquarters (for example, Amazon HQ2). The proposal does not add density to existing master plans, but does provide for streamlining to reflect the unique needs of a project at that scale. Read more about it here.

This week the Council will hear in-person testimony from residents about priorities for the County’s FY19 operating budget at 5 public hearings. There are waiting lists for the hearings; nevertheless, if you haven’t yet signed up to and want to, use the Council’s website to choose a time slot. The Council will accommodate as many voices as possible.

At Tuesday’s Council session, Councilmembers will have an important discussion about access to pre-k and early education in the County, reviewing studies and hearing from experts. Research demonstrates that quality care in the early years pays of with better educational and social outcomes and more efficient use of school resources. Last year the Council funded a significant expansion of Head Start as well as more child care subsidies; this year the Council will consider new and different approaches.

Also at Tuesday’s Council Session, a zoning text amendment will be introduced that supports breweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries locating in agricultural areas by creating a new “Farm Alcohol Production” use.

The Council will conduct a number of public hearings on environmental, pre-k and broadband legislation.

Council Committees start their work on the FY19 Operating with the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) reviewing Park and Planning’s budget request.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

How do I…

…watch a Council committee session online.

Often, big issues are “worked out” at committee before coming to the full Council. If you want to see how that happens, you can watch committee sessions live or on demand. Simply navigate to the Council Meeting Portal. You can view live committee sessions, browse the archives, and search by keyword.

Remarks on the FY18 Budget

It’s no secret that I think that the cost and availability of quality PreK and child care is one of the most pressing issues Montgomery County families face. This Council’s attention to this issue has yielded an Early Care and Education Strategic Plan and an OLO report that light the way forward. It seems clear to me from these reports that the first concrete step we can take is to make full day PreK available to all four year olds from families living below 300% of the federal poverty line. These students are overwhelmingly not receiving PreK now, and are starting kindergarten already behind their peers. We then spend many millions more to try to help them catch up.

OLO estimates that this PreK expansion might cost $35 million. I had suggested that we try to find $5 million in this budget to begin this investment. While we learned that it was not possible to get that full amount up and running for this next school year due to space, staffing, and procurement constraints we were able to invest $2.5 million – which will provide 240 new full day pre-k slots this school year for our most vulnerable children. We also expanded our child care subsidy program by $2 million.

For next year’s budget I suggest we try to provide $10 million to continue this PreK expansion. I’d like to work with my colleagues, MCPS, HHS, the County Executive, and other stakeholders to make this happen. Combined with the $2.5 million expansion in this year’s budget, that would get us much closer to the $35 million goal.

I am hoping that Councilmember Rice will be able to bring us a major new investment from the state. I also recognize that, for a broader expansion to be sustainable we need a dedicated revenue source as Councilmember Navarro has been advocating and we should seek private investment as well. I know Councilmember Hucker has been working on this as well. But in the meantime, I am no longer willing to wait – this is a step we can take within our existing system while we pursue these other options.