Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

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

Transit, safety, and street trees

Dear Resident:

If you care about transportation, energy and environmental issues, this update is for you.

Zooming out, I am sure you are following the Governor’s proposal for I-495 and I-270. In a letter to Secretary Pete Rahn that I organized with Transportation Committee Chairman Hucker and the County Executive, the County has insisted that the State stick within existing rights-of-way and add transit to the project, which would protect our neighborhoods and parks. We have our work cut out for us as this discussion continues.

We also call for expanded MARC service on the Brunswick Line, including the possibility of MARC-VRE through-running so County residents could have a fast, one-seat trip to job opportunities in Virginia and visa-versa.

Zooming in, last week the Council’s Transportation Committee, where I serve along with Chairman Tom Hucker and Councilmember Evan Glass, worked on the Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) budget for the upcoming year.

Following are our recommendations to the full Council. You can read the Council staff report here. Any new proposals will need to be funded by the full Council by reordering priorities within the overall budget. We will see where things end up and now is a great time to share your views at the Council.

Transit

Bus Service: Students Ride Free
The committee recommended that kids under 18 (or 18 year old students) should be able to board for free on RideOn and WMATA buses in the County during all hours of service. The initiative, championed by Councilmember Evan Glass and which I strongly support, will hopefully build a new generation of transit riders. I will never forget the freedom that the bus provided me when I was young and I want all kids to have that opportunity.

Currently, elementary and secondary school students can ride free from 2:00-8:00pm weekdays, a measure that I championed with Councilmember Navarro in my first term.

Rejecting cuts to RideOn
The County Executive recommended cutting service on RideOn Routes 26, 38, 49, 55, 57, 59, and 64. Cutting bus service is not the way to go. The Committee rejected those proposed cuts.

Bus Rapid Transit on Veirs Mill and 355
Earlier this year, I advocated for the acceleration of planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd, as I have for years. The Committee, however, has agreed to defer a decision on Veirs Mill BRT until MCDOT announces their recommended alternative for BRT on MD 355, which is expected early this summer. Should fiscal capacity not allow both, the fuller picture on MD 355 will allow the Committee to better weigh the relative priority of each corridor and decide which BRT route should go first.

Electric buses
To help us reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, the County has begun transitioning the RideOn bus fleet to fully electric buses. While the price difference between electric and diesel buses is narrowing, it is still quite substantial at about $350,000 per bus. Thanks to federal grants, 14 electric buses are on order and will be in service within the next year. I am committed to doing more, which is why I recommended an additional 5 electric buses. Note that plug-in buses would draw power from a 100% renewable County energy portfolio due to our County law.

Vision Zero – bicycle and pedestrian safety

Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAS)
The County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our safety goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I championed that allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County. To make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, I advocated to not only restore funding but to add new funding to those BiPPA programs. We also created specific BiPPAs for Wheaton, Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, and the East County stops of the Purple Line. Now we need to keep it all together in the final budget.

Pedestrian Safety Audits
At Councilmember Rice’s initiative, the Committee recommended adding $100,000 to MCDOT’s budget for pedestrian safety audits. These audits target specific “high-incident” areas and recommend improvements to make them safer. We need more audits.

Street Trees

The County Executive recommended cuts to various programs that plant and maintain trees as well as remove stumps; the Committee did not agree and instead increased funding in future years. Due to funding, the backlog for removing a stump is currently 17 years. That is unacceptable.

Mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities

A few years ago, the County imposed a small charge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to fund programs that provide transportation for those with disabilities and seniors of limited income. The charge has generated over $5 million for critical programs such as Call-n-Ride and Seniors Ride Free. One of our more challenging problems is ensuring that there are enough taxis and/or ride hailing vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. The Committee discussed ways to use funds from the charge to incentivize more wheelchair accessible vehicles in taxi fleets. We expect the County Executive to transmit an executive regulation in the coming weeks that addresses this issue.

We have a ways to go before we will know what we can afford to add into the final budget. But the Committee’s actions are the right calls.

Best regards

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Gaithersburg Book Festival
May 18, 2018

If you are a lover of great books and great writing, I highly encourage you to check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Meet authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Lulu Delacre, attend writing workshops for adults, teens, and kids, visit the Brew & Vine Cafe, and much much more. Best of all — entrance is free, parking is free, and it’s awesome all day long.