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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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The Council Connection — funding for MCPS

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

After several months and many worksessions, the Council will make final decisions on the County budget this week and next. The County’s budget totals over $5 billion, supporting critical services from police, fire and rescue, transportation, housing to libraries, parks, and recreation.

This week I would like to take you inside the priority that constitutes almost half of the entire County budget, Montgomery County Public Schools.

The Board of Education requested, the County Executive recommended, and the County Council is poised to approve an FY19 Operating Budget for Montgomery County Public Schools of $2.6 billion, an increase of $73 million or 3% over FY18. Much of the increase is due to continued enrollment growth. MCPS projects an increase of over 1,700 students in FY19. This is 100% of the funding requested by the Board of Education.

The FY19 MCPS budget request maintains or enhances several important programs, including:

  • maintaining the class-size reductions approved by the Council in FY17;
  • expanding two-way immersion dual language programs to three additional elementary schools;
  • increasing counselor and psychologist positions to address the physical, psychological, and social well-being of students;
  • adding new career pathway programs for high-school students;
  • expanding needed pre-kindergarten programs and services.
  • and maintaining funding approved by the Council last year to expand Head Start programs from half-day to full-day, shown by the research as a key component in maximizing the impact of early childhood education.

With respect to funding allocation, the local contribution of tax dollars would fund 66% of MCPS’ request, with the state providing most of the remainder. Montgomery County continues to rank near the top of all Maryland jurisdictions in total per pupil funding and the proportion of local funding provided.

The next few weeks we will take a deeper look into the rest of the budget. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

How do I…

…dig even deeper into the MCPS budget?

If we have only whetted your appetite for more information on the MCPS budget, below you will find even more resources.

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The Council Connection — full Council budget worksessions

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council is entering the homestretch for this year’s budget.

This week and next, the Council will be meeting nearly every day to make preliminary budget decisions on every aspect of County government, from police, housing, transportation, and schools to fire and rescue, recreation, and parks. A straw vote on the final budget will take place on Thursday, May 17 with formal approval one week later. You can check out the Council’s budget agendas and follow the Council’s progress by watching live and on demand. Despite the generally positive economic environment, tax revenues have been very volatile and below expectations.

The Council’s budget will reflect difficult trade-offs as we try to resolve competing community priorities. As of now, the Council has recommended more than $20 million for additions. The amount that the Council can actually fund, however, will be substantially less.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the Council will also hold applicant interviews for positions on the Montgomery County Planning Board and the Board of Investment Trustees. The five-member Planning Board advises the Council on land use, transportation, zoning, and development approval issues. The Board of Investment Trustees oversees the County employee retirement plans.

Also on Thursday, the Council will travel to WSSC headquarters in Laurel, MD to meet with the Prince George’s County Council to discuss bi-county budgets. Both Counties work collaboratively to determine the budgets for bi-county agencies, which include WSSC and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC).

After a busy few weeks reviewing and making recommendations on the budget, committees have a light week as the full Council turns its attention to the budget.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

  • The Council held a public hearing on a special appropriation to provide legal assistance for low-income County residents without violent criminal convictions who have been detained and face deportation proceedings.
  • The Council reviewed a number of key budget items, including schools, emergency management and homeland security, the Office of Human Rights, the Sheriff’s Office, and the State’s Attorney’s Office.
  • The Council presented proclamations recognizing the week of April 29-May 5 as National Small Business Week, May 5 as Tree House Tour de Cookie Day, and the month of May as Building Safety Month.

How do I…

…learn more about the County’s Vision Zero initiative?

The County has committed itself to reducing traffic related fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030, joining many other jurisdictions across the Country. Vision Zero is a policy framework that places higher priority on human safety than mobility and recognizes that transportation-related deaths are not inevitable, but preventable. As such, the transportation system (the infrastructure itself, enforcement, law, and education efforts) must be wholistically designed to maximize safety on the roadways.

The County recently published its 2 year action plan for Vision Zero, which sets forth the vision and makes numerous recommendations. You can read it here. The County Executive’s recommended budget reflects the importance of this initiative by programming more than $118 million in the upcoming fiscal year. See where those funds are programmed here.

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The Council Connection — compensation, fossil fuel divestment, and due process for immigrants

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

On Tuesday, Council will be in session. We will review and act upon the County employee compensation agreements that have been negotiated by the executive branch and our employee unions.

Then, a joint committee will hold a meeting with representatives from our Board of Investment Trustees, who are responsible for managing our employee pension plan, to discuss fossil fuel divestment. Montgomery County’s pension plan has achieved a 92% funded ratio, putting it in a best in class category.

On Tuesday night the Council will hold a public hearing on a special appropriation to provide legal assistance for low-income County residents without violent criminal convictions who have been detained and face deportation proceedings. While previous administrations have focused immigration enforcement efforts on those that present a public safety threat, law-abiding residents who have not previously been in danger of deportation are now being placed in detention while their cases proceed. The Department of Justice is also ending a program that helps detainees understand their rights.

These are our neighbors, family members, business owners, and employees. Legal representation provides residents with much better odds of avoiding deportation when the law allows them to stay and a judge agrees.

The real solution is comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship. Nevertheless, the Council is determined to act. It is important to note that the funds will not be available for individuals who have committed any one of a long list of crimes.

Finally, committees continue the heavy lifting on the budget covering important items such as the Department of Recreation, the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Department of Liquor Control, Arts and Humanities Council, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

How do I…

What would you like to see in this section? Send us a short note at Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov, and we’ll do our best to include your idea in future newsletters.