Leggett Unveils Capital Budget Plan; Reflects on Projects Built During His Tenure
Recommendation is county executive's last before he steps down after this year's election
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett presents his six-year capital budget plan for the county Tuesday
County Executive Ike Leggett on Tuesday took time to reflect on his legacy—something he’s been doing more of lately as his final year in office winds down.
First, however, Leggett presented his final capital construction budget. The six-year $4.5 billion budget plan for fiscal 2019 to 2024 recommends $1.75 billion for Montgomery County Public Schools, as well as $281 million for Montgomery College’s campuses in the county.
The capital funding for the school system is about $2 million more than Leggett recommended in the capital budget plan last year. It’s about $5 million less than the $1.8 billion capital plan approved by the county’s school board in October.
Superintendent Jack Smith, who attended Leggett’s press conference Tuesday, said the school system must balance the need to upgrade HVAC systems, windows and roofs with plans to make significant renovations at aging schools.
The school system’s enrollment has grown in recent years—it added 2,300 students last year—and is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future.
Smith said that given the county’s constrained budget outlook, the school system will be focusing more on smaller projects.
“The projects we do will not be as large, but there will be more of them,” Smith said.
Leggett’s budget plan also includes $421.2 million redevelopment efforts in White Oak, Wheaton and White Flint and Marriott's relocation to downtown Bethesda that are designed to promote private sector growth in those areas.
“In this budget, we are making and continue to make improvements in capital funding for projects related to business development,” Leggett said.
The capital budget is a six-year plan partly because that’s how long it takes the county to plan, fund, design and build infrastructure projects such as new schools, county buildings and large road improvements.
Leggett used a significant amount of time during his budget presentation to highlight the projects completed during his three terms as county executive. He noted that the school system’s capital budget has increased 49 percent during that time. The county has used those resources on six new schools, 44 school additions and 27 school renovation and expansion projects during Leggett’s tenure.
Leggett will leave office in December when his third four year-term is done. Six Democrats and one Republican are running for county executive.
Other projects Leggett highlighted include new transit centers in Silver Spring, White Oak and Takoma; the new Silver Spring and Germantown libraries; five new fire stations; a new public safety training academy; three new police stations; and a new animal services and adoption center. He also mentioned the Silver Spring Civic Center, Progress Place homeless shelter and the Silver Spring Fillmore, which were completed under his watch.
He noted that during the economic recession, which hit about two years after he first took office in 2006, he made the decision to increase investment in projects while the county could receive more favorable labor and construction costs.
“All of these projects and many others we’ve been able to do through the midst of the recession,” Leggett said. “I’d compare that to any administration in the history of the county.”
When asked if he had any regrets about county construction projects during his tenure, he didn’t mention the problem-plagued Silver Spring Transit Center, but instead said he wished the county moved forward with a bus rapid transit system sooner.
The county is continuing to plan bus rapid transit (BRT) lines on U.S. 29 and Md. 355. Leggett’s capital budget plan includes $49.4 million for the first stage of the U.S. 29 BRT system, as well as planning funds for the Md. 355 project.
In late 2014, Leggett proposed that the county create an “independent transit authority” that could sell bonds to pay for long-term transportation projects such as the county’s BRT network. However, significant public backlash rose up against the authority, which would have been funded by a new tax that the County Council would have had to have approved. However, the council never got behind it and Leggett withdrew the proposal in the wake of the backlash.
“I thought that was a mistake that we did not do that,” Leggett said Tuesday. He added that the authority could have avoided the constraints the current capital budget faces to push transit projects forward.
Last year, the County Council revised its long-term spending affordability guidelines to reduce the value of bonds it issues by $40 million over the next four years. The move was done to stem increasing debt-service payments that total about $394 million per year—which is more than the county pays for all but two county government departments.
Leggett said Tuesday that next year, the county is projected to have the highest financial reserves in its history and is on its way to reaching 10 percent of its operating budget in reserves—about $540 million.
“This is a commitment this county, County Council and county executive made in our financial plan to Wall Street,” Leggett said. He urged future leaders to continue to commit to this goal and said reversing it would be a “disastrous mistake.”
Leggett also highlighted his role in helping to push the Purple Line forward to construction and launching an insurance reimbursement program for ambulance services that he said netted the county about $82.2 million since it was implemented. He added that the county invested $1 billion in affordable housing to create or preserve about 63,000 affordable units during his tenure.
At a different press conference Tuesday, County Council President Hans Riemer said Leggett should be credited for increasing capital funding for the school system during his tenure.
“The county executive and County Council have made school construction the overriding priority for capital funds year after year after year,” Riemer said. “The overall theme of the capital budget in recent years has been school needs are an ever-growing share of the budget.”
This is the second time Leggett has publicly reflected on his legacy. He also discussed it on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” in October when he said he hopes people will remember him for helping the county navigate through the recession, as well as for his fiscal management.