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

Launching Digital #MoCo

We live in an era of great change. But can Montgomery County government keep pace? 

That is a big question facing our county’s leaders. We want Montgomery County to be recognized as an innovation capital, where the government, the private sector, and community leaders work together on our biggest challenges.

In that spirit, the County Council recently passed a bill that I crafted called the Open Data Act. It will require County Government to be more sophisticated in how we collect and manage data and it will establish a new policy of sharing valuable data openly with the public. The new law is a foundation for a new digital strategy for Montgomery County, which I have helped formulate with County Executive Ike Leggett and his superb team.

What does it all mean for you?
  • The county budget is now on the web in remarkable detail. Citizen analysts will be able to manipulate the data and even casual users can create their own visualizations using our online tools.  The smallest budget details are searchable for each department, including the salary for all county employees. In time, every department will have a public data set.

  • Use our new 311 mobile app to request county services. Want to report a road repair or fallen tree limb, request bulk trash pickup, you name it — use 311 mobile wherever you are.

  • 3rd party app developers will improve services. Across the country, app developers are figuring out how to create valuable services for consumers based on government data. From transportation planning apps to real estate and tax apps, you are going to benefit from letting the private sector leverage county data to create apps.

  • Your voice can be heard in new ways. Already I talk with residents daily on my Facebook page.  You may also interact on Facebook with the county police department, fire & rescue, libraries, regional centers, and more. The county also has a new tool for collaborating with residents, called engageMontgomery, where you may submit your own ideas for county priorities and “second” those submitted by others. Its a great tool that government agencies are using all across the country to garner input from residents.

  • More innovation jobs in Montgomery County. MoCo has one of America’s most highly skilled workforces, we have dynamic IT and biotech companies. Striving for leadership in digital government will send a positive message to the private sector and the county council is specifically looking at how we can use these new tools to foster economic development.

  • Next steps and how YOU can get involved. We need a forum where local government officials can join with experts, programmers, journalists and most importantly, citizens like you. I have proposed that the County begin planning a summit where participants can exchange ideas, advocate for issues, leverage open government content, and provide input for better local governing practices. This is a chance to help shape the community around us. The planning is still in initial stages and we will need help from people like you. Please reply to this email if you are interested.


In launching the new digital government agenda, the County Executive released a Digital Roadmap that says, “this strategy aims to be disruptive.”

That’s exactly right. We need to disrupt and create. New ideas will help us drive change in this county for the better.