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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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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.