In a unanimous straw vote, the Montgomery County Council on Thursday gave preliminary approval to an operating budget of roughly $6.3 billion for the next fiscal year.

The budget represents about a 5% increase over spending for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and totals about the same amount as what was proposed by County Executive Marc Elrich in March. 

In his budget proposal, Elrich had recommended that $20 million should be withdrawn from the Other-Post Employment Benefits retiree trust fund to pay current-year retiree health costs. The council voted against the idea, agreeing with council staff that withdrawing the funds would not align with the county’s current fiscal policy. 

Council members found other revenue sources during their deliberations and Marlene Michaelson, executive director of the council, said Thursday that savings in expenditures for the current fiscal years will help cover the cost. 

Spending highlights of the fiscal 2023 budget include a focus on increasing salaries for first responders and making investments in renovating buildings to make them more environmentally friendly, along with increased spending for health and social services — especially for lower-income families. 

The council members are expected to formally approve the proposal next week, but Thursday’s action is one of the final steps in the budget process. 

Next week will be the last time that council members Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer vote to approve an operating budget. All three are term-limited. Navarro is running as lieutenant governor along with gubernatorial candidate Rushern Baker. Riemer is running for county executive, and Rice has not publicly announced his future plans.  

As part of the operating budget, the council finalized a $16.4 million reconciliation list, which includes various line items that were added to the budget proposal during deliberations.

Some of the largest items, according to a County Council staff report, include: 

  • Roughly $5.5 million for more mental health and youth development services in high schools 
  • Roughly $2 million for non-profit providers, due to inflation and increased costs
  • Roughly $860,000 for increased wages for county firefighters and EMS workers
  • Roughly $737,000 for the African-American Health Program, which provides free health services to that sector of the county population
  • Roughly $575,000 for operations of the Manna Food Center, a food distribution center in Gaithersburg serving underprivileged families

Council President Gabe Albornoz highlighted those initiatives and several others in remarks after the council’s straw vote. He said that while the budget doesn’t fulfill every request, the proposed spending will help the county make significant strides in providing social services to residents in need. Much of the new funding has been allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), he said. 

“A heavy emphasis of this budget is on supporting our most vulnerable populations,” Albornoz said. “We recognized that the Department of Health and Human Services has been at the center of the county’s COVID-19 response and needed to significantly increase many services to meet the emergency needs of our residents, funding more than $421 million to DHHS.”

Council Vice President Evan Glass added that the budget expands the county police department’s cadet program, which looks to recruit and train local high school students who are interested in becoming police officers.

“I believe the expansion of this program will help meet our public safety goals – and will help prepare the next generation to serve the community they grew up in,” Glass said. “As we work to make all residents feel safe, this program is the true definition of community policing.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com