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

Council Update — budget for school construction, infrastructure

Dear Resident,

The Council is in regular session this Tuesday, and you can view our agenda here.

Among our topics is a discussion about revenue projections for the capital budget, where we handle school construction and other important infrastructure priorities.

The County Executive’s recommended capital budget projects a dramatic slowdown of development (mostly from a projected decline in new housing), causing a loss of nearly $100 million to our budget over six years from taxes paid by developers.

In turn, the Executive’s budget recommends delaying projects that are important priorities such as a modernization at Seneca Valley High School, pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Wheaton and Silver Spring, and new entrances to the Metro stations at White Flint and Forest Glen.

For me, this highlights the complicated issue of how tax revenue from new development funds infrastructure. We often hear claims that we should “pause development until infrastructure catches up.” The Executive’s recommended budget shows how it is not that simple.

The projected slowdown of housing growth results in a massive reduction of tax revenues, even with our developer impact tax rates that are among the highest anywhere. With a much lower baseline of anticipated housing growth, not only will the housing crunch worsen (a huge issue in and of itself) but immediate infrastructure needs cannot be met.

The Council will take up the revenue question on Tuesday morning.

Following are some other highlights of the Council’s week:

Planning and economic development committee
Last Fall the Council passed a zoning change that I authored that enables farmers in the Agricultural Reserve to establish breweries or wineries under certain conditions; my new proposal extends that framework to other rural zones. Two entrepreneurs have sought the change as they intend to open a brewery on their family’s farm in Olney.

On a related note, the Committee will discuss the issue of “small scale manufacturing.” The goal is to identify the status and potential of this sector in Montgomery County. Examples in the County include African clothing and textiles, laser-cut branding products, food, jewelry, 3D printing, and more. You can read more about it in the report that I commissioned last year by a consultancy based in the County, Recast City.

Neighborhood street safety – 15 mph
For several years now I have been working with my colleagues in the state legislature (special shout out to Delegate David Moon) to advance an important change in the law that would allow the County to set a neighborhood speed limit of 15 mph. State law generally prohibits speeds lower than 25 mph on the County’s small neighborhood streets. Here is more about that issue from the Bethesda Beat.

Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission follow up
Last Tuesday the Council unanimously voted on a resolution to establish a commission to secure our County’s memorial from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to honor the three known lynchings that took place in the County. The Office of Human Rights will soon be identifying residents to join the commission. If you’re interested in getting involved, please reach out to my office, and we will help you get involved.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about one of the three known lynchings to have taken place in the County, join me this Sunday, February 10 at 4:00 pm at the Old Town Hall in Poolesville when local historian Anthony Cohen, will be speaking about the long-overlooked story of the January 1880 lynching in Poolesville of George Peck, a local laborer accused of assaulting a young white girl, will be examined along with details of his arrest, abduction and murder at the hands of a mob.

How do I…?
…sign up for a public hearing.

In-person public hearings are one way to express your views to the Council. Simply navigate to the County Council Public Hearing website, find the public hearing you are looking for, and click “Sign Up.” A new window will pop up (make sure your browser allows pop ups), and you will be asked to fill in some basic details.

Upon completing the form, your request will be registered. Council Staff will then reach out to everyone who is invited to testify. The Council does its best to make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their views with the Council and that the Council hears from all perspectives. There are hearings when we have more requests than time will allow, but for the most part we are able to accommodate everyone who signs up by the deadline.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Montgomery County Council’s Top Ten 2018 Accomplishments

Here is my list of the Council’s top ten accomplishments during my year-long term as Council president, a position for which I am grateful to my colleagues for electing me.

10. Convened the Council’s first emergency session to respond to the GOP Congress’ Tax Act, passing legislation to allow County residents to prepay 2018 property taxes in 2017 and maximize their State and Local Tax deductions.

9. Approved funds to support organizations that provide legal assistance to county residents who are in deportation proceedings. Grants have been provided to Kids In Need of Defense, which helps children that have been separated from their families, as well as HIAS and other groups.

8. Funded a revised stormwater infrastructure program that will ensure efficiency and affordability while maximizing environmental benefits. Negotiated a solution to overcome an executive veto. Also approved a ten year update to the County’s Water and Sewer Plan.

7. Supported the County’s bid for Amazon HQ2, including a zoning plan to streamline the process for corporate headquarters to locate in the County.

6. Approved a zoning change for the Agricultural Reserve in the County enabling business owners there to operate wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries.

5. Adopted a visionary Bicycle Master Plan to guide the future of biking infrastructure in the county; and added funding for a Bethesda protected bike lane loop, in addition to the Silver Spring protected bike loop under construction.

4. Approved a zoning change to support additional wireless infrastructure (4g leading to 5g) in downtown and commercial areas (consideration continues on residential areas).

3. Supported major capital investment in WMATA. Locally funded new pedestrian access entrances for White Flint and Forest Glen Metros. Successfully advocated to expand rush hour service from Grosvenor to Shady Grove; similar expansion on Glenmont side is under study by WMATA.

2. Enacted legislation to increase affordable housing in the County by increasing the minimum percentage of Moderately Priced Housing Units (MPDUs) that are required to be built in new residential developments from 12.5 to 15 percent in high income areas of the county. Modernized the MPDU ordinance generally and established a clear MPDU incentive structure for bonus density.

1. Approved a $5.6 billion Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget without raising taxes. The Budget fully funded the Board of Education’s request for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), including an additional $3.3 million for expanded pre-k programs — raising the two year total of early education expansions to over $7 million and creating more than 650 new full day pre-k slots, for a total of about 3,200 children attending publicly funded pre-k programs. The Council also added Excel Beyond the Bell after school programs at two additional Elementary School.

Bonus: Did it all in an election year!

Councilmember Riemer’s Remarks at Inauguration of the 19th Council

Councilmember Hans Riemer giving remarks at the 2018 Inauguration

Welcome to the beginning of a new era in County government and politics. I am Hans Riemer, president of the Montgomery County Council. It is my honor to bring greetings to you at the inauguration of the 19th Council and share my thoughts on the road ahead.

I will begin by saluting a remarkable man who inspired confidence in our County’s leadership: Isiah Leggett. Thank you for everything, Ike. Together with Catherine, you have guided this County on its journey as we have transformed from farmland suburbia to inclusive, metropolitan Montgomery.

For my colleagues from the 18th Council who are moving on, Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, thank you for your dedication to public service.

To our new County Executive, Marc Elrich, thank you for your work on the Council, congratulations on your victory and best wishes for success.

Today we welcome new voices to Council leadership, Gabriel Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Evan Glass and Will Jawando. We are looking forward to your contributions. You’ll join an outstanding Council including Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, and Craig Rice. In the four years ahead, we will engage in spirited discussions, while upholding our Council’s traditions of professionalism and respect.

We probably don’t all agree on everything at the Council, but friends, you don’t either. That is what makes democracy so vital and exciting. We work through our differences to find a way forward.

If there is one thing you can count on, it is that — even if the federal government is no longer responsive to the views of the majority — Montgomery County is going to continue to set an example of effective governance.

We will strive for an inclusive community that respects and values the contributions that every single person can make to our world, and we will reject politics that rely on telling some Americans that they are less than.

In Montgomery County, every resident counts, no matter who you are, what you look like or where you are from.

This is not just a matter of values, it is the key to our success. Montgomery County is changing. We are not the same community that we were 30 or even 15 years ago. Some might see it differently, but I believe that we are changing for the better, as more and more families are able to find success in the corner of the world that we have made.

Today our County is a complex, dynamic, inclusive, cosmopolitan community. From farms to high rise apartments, there are Montgomery County residents living out just about every kind of lifestyle you can imagine.

Our past decisions to support new housing, public transportation and education continue to pay dividends, but as our community has grown larger and more complex, so have our needs.

If we want to continue to be an inclusive and welcoming community — then there are some basics we have to get right. There needs to be a place for everyone to live. We need reliable transportation. Young people need a great education. Immigrants and others starting out need an on-ramp to the economy.

It all begins with economic development. Government can do a lot to improve our lives, but good jobs are the foundation of every successful family, neighborhood and community.

My wife Angela and I have two amazing young boys. I hope they will stay close when they grow up, but I’m worried that, even if they want to – they won’t be able to.

First they’ll need to find a job here that supports their dreams. The federal government, a key building block of our local economy, isn’t expanding that fast anymore.

To provide job opportunities for the next generation, we’ll need our private sector job base to grow.

If our boys can find their chosen career path here, then they will want to find a place to live. But we have a housing crunch as there is not enough supply. That causes prices to go up. The affordability crisis in turn causes resentment as our younger workers wonder why, after taking on debt to get the same education and career potential their parents had, they can’t afford to live where they grew up.

To make room for the next generation, we need more housing. And absolutely, that means we need to build schools, public transportation and other infrastructure to support that growth. But just as we reject an immigration policy that says, “Sorry, we were here first,” we must reject a housing policy that doesn’t recognize that we all share a responsibility for building and maintaining the infrastructure that we use, not just the new generation that is trying to make our County home.

Our region enjoys a growing technology economy. Our ability to attract technology companies and their employees here also depends on our ability to connect to other job centers in DC and increasingly in Northern Virginia.

We must restore Metro to world class status, but that is not enough, either. As a region we should re-envision MARC and Virginia’s VRE to create a DMV commuter rail network. Imagine: a one-seat ride from the 11 stops in Montgomery County all the way to National Landing.

While we thank Governor Hogan for putting the focus on I-270, now is the time for us to work with our State Delegation to support our clean energy future by ensuring this project makes transit a real priority.

Welcome to our state elected officials here in the audience today. We have made great strides on county issues these past few years and we know we can count on you. With the Kirwan Commission’s education recommendations coming soon, we will be working together to ensure that what happens in Annapolis is good for Montgomery County school children.

Because if we are going to create prosperity for everyone, nothing is more important than preparing our young people to step up and fill the tech and science jobs across our region.

It starts with early childhood. In the past two years, the Council has made great strides on early education. Providing a high-quality pre-k slot for every low-income 4-year-old is now within our grasp. We could do it this Council term or even sooner, within our budget, and ensure that every single child starts kindergarten ready to learn.

This generation of digital natives knows how to use technology. We just have to show them how they can turn a passion for technology into a career, no matter what zip code they call home.

As our education leaders know, we must reinvent STEM learning so that it is cutting edge, relevant and exciting. Luckily, Montgomery County is home to the KID Museum, a wonderful partner that is working with MCPS to do just that. And with the leadership of our Board of Education and the vision of our Superintendent Jack Smith, we are on the verge of a breakthrough.

But to achieve it, we need a new approach to high school that is outside the box. We need opportunities for students to learn in new environments that are closely related to our local employers and career pathways, aligned with course credit at Montgomery College and the University of Maryland.

Let’s look to our downtowns — downtowns that we are reinventing with contemporary bike and pedestrian infrastructure, breweries and nightlife, restaurants, transit, fast internet and affordable housing — and find buildings we can repurpose for 21st Century high school academies.

And finally, we must meet these challenges as we continue to be disciplined with our budget. Rainy days will surely come again. We must continue to save while the sun is shining. Ike Leggett put us on the right path, and we should not stray.

So welcome to my new colleagues on the County Council – I know how eager you are to meet the challenges before us. Working together with the County Executive, our State Delegation, our U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, and most of all our entire community, we will help the County achieve new heights.

Thank you everyone!