Budget Part 1: Education and Workforce

Dear Resident,

The Council has completed next year’s budget. In this and a few emails to come, I’m going to share details about some key initiatives. I’m excited to report on our progress.

Fiscal policy

Storm clouds of economic recession are gathering again. Inflation and market turmoil are already impacting our residents’ finances and could soon do the same for the County.

That’s why the Council took some corrective action on fiscal policy — rejecting the County Executive’s proposal to tap into the retiree benefits fund for $20 million in current spending, in violation of county policy. We put that money back so it will be there when we need it in the future.

Unlike the Executive’s budget at the start of the pandemic, this one had no property tax increase for us to un-do. Tax rates remain the same.

Now for education and workforce.

Our children are experiencing significant impacts from COVID, whether learning loss or mental health, and it is going to take concerted effort to recover. The Council approved $2.9 billion for MCPS next year, a 5% increase in our county contribution.

Keep Reading >>

Statement on in-person learning at MCPS

Dear Resident,

As a parent and community leader I’m incredibly concerned about the negative impact that school closures and virtual learning have had on student mental health. I believe that schools should remain open for in-person instruction whenever and wherever possible, although I recognize that the learning process will be disrupted this month under any scenario.

All of our students have experienced losses of one kind or another over the last two years – social, emotional and academic. Unfortunately, data shows that some of our most vulnerable children – children from communities that were already facing enormous challenges before the pandemic – are the most heavily impacted by learning loss. That is heartbreaking to me.

But the good news is that we also know the vaccinations are exceptionally good at preventing serious illness from Covid. Although it still feels very bleak, I do think we’ve come a long way from where we were a year ago, and we’ve gotten better at certain aspects of controlling the virus.

We are going to get through this wave. It would be unrealistic to say there won’t be significant impacts to learning while we ride it out – no doubt we still have a ways to go.

But I think that now is the time as a community to come together on behalf of the long-term well being of our kids by trying to keep them in school as long as staffing is adequate.

Keep Reading >>

Reopening schools is my priority

Dear resident,

I want you to know that, while I strongly support the decision not to open MCPS this Fall, getting our children back into their classrooms is an urgent priority for me.

Research is showing very troubling signs about learning loss during COVID. We may spend years recovering. Opportunity gaps are intensifying and the most vulnerable children are paying the biggest price.

That’s why I voted against the Executive Branch’s recent decision to allow restaurants to serve alcohol to patrons indoors after 10pm, hours that are generally more for socializing than eating.

While the proposal did have some safeguards, I remain concerned that allowing indoor late night socializing can only result in more COVID cases and make it harder to reopen schools.

Keep Reading >>

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