Statement on the County’s FY19 operating and capital budget agreement

Today we have reached agreement on the County’s FY19 Budget. I want to thank all my colleagues for your hard work and collaboration throughout this process. Working together, and with our remarkable staff, 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). Fully funding MCPS was my highest priority and I know was very important to my colleagues as well.

Thanks to our unusual fiscal circumstances, however, the County Executive’s budget presented some daunting challenges in other areas, particularly with Public Safety.

Recognizing that this is a time for fiscal discipline, we worked to stretch our resources to meet as much of the need as we could. Most of the list that I put together, in consultation with my colleagues, focused on restoring services that we all deem to be critical.

In particular, we were able to restore $6.7 million to Fire and Rescue Services that was cut by the County Executive – this one service area is nearly one half of what we approved on the reconciliation list for FY19.

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.

Beyond public safety, our budget is about kids. In addition to fully funding the school’s request, we made significant progress funding services that are critical for our children.

Reflecting a strong council interest in early childhood, we added almost $1 million to expand half-day preschool to full day, in addition to the $2.5 million expansion that MCPS proposed in its budget. This significant step forward follows on last year’s effort, which converted 200 full day Head Start slots to full day in MCPS and added 40 new slots at Centro Nia. We are now on the precipice of converting all half day pre-k slots to full day, setting the table to begin expanding our pre-k services outright.

We expanded our academic and parent-engagement focused after school program, Excel Beyond the Bell, to two new elementary schools, continuing to build a program that the Council and Executive have worked together to build expand rapidly over the last several years.

We restored funding for a community health nurse who works with vulnerable, abused children, restored funding for Care for Kids, our community health clinic program for low income children, funded a drop-in center for homeless youth, expanded the smart sacks program to provide meals for kids, and added capacity for Montgomery Cares to provide health care for the uninsured.

We added funds for three new school resource officers, at the middle school level – a new focus for that successful program.

Recognizing crucial quality of life issues, we restored some proposed cuts to Parks, including an urban parks initiative, as well as to fund our planning program for future master plans, so that we can continue our important mission to reinvent how we live and grow. We supported our nonprofits and we deepened our strategic economic development programs in biotech.

And for our magnificent college, the Council’s budget funds 99.6% of the College’s tax supported request, and includes an increase of $2.75 million or 2% in local funding over FY18. It is the Council’s intent that College use its FY19 appropriation to fully-fund compensation and benefit agreements for its employees, and take any reductions needed to align its budget with the approved funding level from planned FY19 program enhancements instead. The Council recognizes that final decisions on these issues fall under the authority of the Board of Trustees.

Turning to our capital budget, once again our choices were made within a context of fiscal discipline. We reduced our borrowing amount and scheduled a continually declining borrowing level, an important step that we hope the next council will adhere to.

Despite a smaller overall construction budget, we increased the share going to school construction, including responding to the voices of the parents and students at Lee Middle School, accelerates planning for Dufief Elementary School, and funds $25 million more for School construction than the Executive originally recommended.

We also added an exciting new project, a new facility for STEM learning and innovation for kids, partnered with the KID Museum and the City of Rockville, to be located right in the heart of the county, near the Twinbrook Metro.

We shifted transportation priorities towards bike and pedestrian infrastructure, added planning dollars for Bus Rapid Transit, and shifted our bus fleet purchases towards electric vehicles.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without our remarkable staff. I want to thank our new Council Staff Executive Director, Marlene Michaelson, who has ably led us through her first budget at the helm. Jacob Sesker, Linda McMillan and the rest of our hardworking staff provided excellent professional support, and I am grateful for their contributions as well. But this was truly a team effort, with important contributions not only from all of the professional staff but also the dedicated members of every council member’s office. Great work, team.

I also want to acknowledge that for four of my colleagues, this will be their final budget, as a Councilmember anyway. Their accomplishments speak for themselves, but their legacy will be marked this year in our new budget as it has in every budget during their time at this dais.

Finally, I would like to recognize Steve Farber. Our work this year benefited greatly from the incredible organization he built.

With appreciation, I will now turn to my colleagues, who will highlight many of the significant initiatives included in this budget.

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

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The Council Connection — committees review operating budget

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

Tuesday is Council session. While this is a very busy week, much of the heavy lifting comes at committee. Council staff is working overtime to review the executive’s budget and prepare recommendations for committee deliberation. At committee is where Councilmembers typically propose additions and reductions to the executive’s budget; all of these potential changes are then resolved through “reconciliation” in mid-May.

Tomorrow the Council will vote on a resolution to proclaim 2018 as the “Year of the Anacostia.” See this fascinating story about the history of river; the County has worked hard in recent years to reduce our pollution into the river. We will also vote on a resolution to develop an equity policy framework for County government.

Council will consider several important appointments to County government, including Commander Marcus Jones, nominated as Assistant Chief of the Police Department. The Council will also hold interviews on an appointment to the Board of Investment Trustees, which oversees the County employee retirement plans.

Finally, a number of public hearings on FY19 budget matters and two pieces of legislation dealing with transportation network companies fees and an economic development strategic plan will be held in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Council committees will have reached the halfway point in their review of the FY19 budget by the end of this week. This week they will consider funding requests for transportation, snow removal, schools, police, corrections, economic development, environmental protection, solid waste services, and technology services. See the full committee agenda. The Council remains on track to approve the final budget by the end of May.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

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Gaithersburg passes polystyrene foam ban

I am pleased to share that the City of Gaithersburg has adopted a ban on polystyrene, which effectively implements that County’s ban within the city limits of Gaithersburg. I authored the County ban ( Legislation | Blog Post ), and it passed the Council unanimously in January, 2015.

According to Mayor Jud Ashman, “Creating a sustainable community is a key component of Gaithersburg’s strategic plan. Joining Montgomery County in banning these materials that don’t break down in our landfills furthers our goal of protecting the environment and ensuring a high quality of life for future generations.”

Polystyrene is a petroleum based product that breaks up into small pieces, but does not decompose. It builds up in the waterways and wildlife can mistake it for food. The key points of the County ban are:

  1. Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
  2. Prohibits the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam foodservice products (bulk foam cups and plates) beginning on January 1, 2016.
  3. Requires the use of compostable or recyclable food service products by the County, County Contractors, and food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2017.

Enforcement for the City of Gaithersburg will begin January 1, 2017.

Thoughts on the Westbard Sector Plan

Following are my prepared remarks on the Westbard Sector Plan. You may also watch a video of my remarks as delivered.


I want to start by thanking all the people who put a great deal of time into formulating this plan. Hundreds of Westbard residents – and residents across Montgomery County – who wrote, called, and came to testify to the Planning Board and the Council throughout this process, and while no one person is getting exactly the outcome they might want, I truly believe that the plan before us today is much better because of the extensive public input we’ve received – and the many changes we have made in response. Ultimately, I believe that this plan strikes the right balance between respecting the legitimate expectations of the existing community and providing a sustainable path for future growth.

I think some context might be helpful for anyone who cares to understand my vote today, so I hope my colleagues will excuse me if this is a little long:

I ran for Montgomery County Council as a progressive Democrat because I am deeply committed to the progressive values of social justice, equal opportunity, and shared responsibility. Here at the local level, these values play out very differently than they do on cable news – the county council doesn’t get much say over immigration, or gun control, or foreign policy.

Instead, we reflect our progressive values through our budget – where we ensure a robust safety net, universal health coverage, a strong education for all students. We try to build an economy that works for everyone by combining relentless economic and workforce development with efforts to level the playing field with a reasonable minimum wage, paid sick leave, hopefully one day paid family and parental leave. We do our part in the fight against discrimination and for equal rights.

But for me, the key to our community’s success is that we are welcoming and open. The message I want Montgomery County to send to the rest of the world is: Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever your economic status, if you are willing to work hard and be good to your neighbors, come to Montgomery County and share in the good life. You’ll have access to basic services, to training and education and jobs, your kids can go to a good school and play at great parks, and you will be safe. If you want to start a company you can find investors and a world class network of incubators, if you need employees we have the best educated workforce in the world.

I know that sounds grandiose, but at its core, the progressive values that drive the Democratic positions on economic issues, on social issues, are really about inclusion – about realizing a vision of shared prosperity – that’s it’s not enough for just the elite to prosper. And nothing is more fundamental to this vision than housing. Where you live determines the quality of your schools, what jobs you have access to, and so many other things. So I really believe that the community planning process we are engaged in today is really where the rubber meets the road for putting progressive values into action. That means providing income-restricted housing in every neighborhood to ensure that the very poorest and most vulnerable in our community have a place to live and aren’t clustered in high crime areas with little opportunity. We are breaking new ground by requiring at least 15% of new units to be affordable to low-income families. But it also means building enough housing to ensure that people of all income levels have a place here. If we don’t build enough housing to meet demand, prices rise and working class people are priced out.

And we have a moral imperative to plan this housing in an environmentally sustainable way. We know with scientific certainty what the combustion engine is doing to our planet. This means clustering new housing in existing communities rather than allowing green space to be developed and providing ways for people to get around on foot, by bike, and by public transit. While this plan is not on a metro station, and some of these new residents will certainly drive, the plan does make great strides in improving the walkability of the area and I am hopeful that expanded demand will allow us to improve bus service even further. But there can be no doubt that building townhouses on what is already a giant parking lot, just a mile from two metros, right across from the DC line, is far better for the environment than developing a farm or bulldozing a forest an hour north on 270.

Of course, our first principle must be do no harm. I don’t want to change any of the things that make Westbard wonderful. First, not a single existing home is being touched. We reduced the allowed development proposed by the Planning Board by half because we were convinced that it would have been too much, too fast for the roads, schools, and neighborhoods to handle. The plan before us today will only improve life for everyone in the Westbard sector. Traffic will be still be bad, but not noticeably worse. There will be new shopping and dining options and a great new park. The schools will still be great and Kenwood’s cherry blossoms will still bloom.

This also means making sure that the developers, who there is no doubt will make a profit from this project, pay their fair share to ensure there is adequate school and transportation capacity for all residents. This year we will be revising the Subdivision Staging Policy, which governs what developers must do and what they must pay to build in Montgomery County, and I know all my colleagues will be working to make sure that the rules line up with reality and we have the resources we need.

All in all, I truly believe this plan strikes the right balance between protecting and enhancing the things that make Westbard, and Montgomery County, such a wonderful place to live, while creating new opportunities for families from all socioeconomic backgrounds to enjoy our community’s marvelous resources.