Council Paring Its $34 Million Wish List for County Budget

Council Paring Its $34 Million Wish List for County Budget

Reviews focusing on restoring cuts suggested by county executive

| Published:

Dan Schere

The Montgomery County Council is in the process of reducing its $33.9 million reconciliation list  — a wish list of line items the council hopes to add to County Executive Marc Elrich’s proposed $5.7 billion budget for fiscal  2020.

The council’s six committees have spent the past two months studying details of Elrich’s budget since it was released on March 15 and making recommendations of items to add and ones to cut.

The council is expected to complete a reconciliation list by the end of Thursday and vote on the full budget at its meeting next Tuesday.

The areas with the largest amount of requests for additional funding include:

-Transportation, with an additional $10.9 million in requests

-Health and human services, with a request for $7.5 million in additional funding

-Education, with a requested amount of $4 million.

Among the items with the highest price tag the Transportation and Environment Committee has asked to add back are the restoration of service seven bus lines to the county’s Ride On system.

The funding is divided into four “tranches,” each ranging between $600,000 and $660,000.

The transportation requests also include two line items that would expand Ride On’s Kids Ride Free program, which allows students under the age of 18 to ride the buses for free between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.  A $712,000 request would expand service of the program to morning hours starting at 6 a.m., and a second $300,000 request would expand it to all bus service hours.

The Health and Human Services Committee’s largest request is a $1.9 million ask to restore funding for agencies that provide services to the developmentally disabled so that funding is at fiscal 2019 levels.

The HHS Committee also has made six separate requests of $205,000 each to add two school nurses to different schools to reduce the nurse-to-student ratio. The committee has also made two requests of $100,000 each for contracts with mental health therapists to serve two schools each.

The Education and Culture Committee’s largest request is an additional $3 million in funding for Montgomery College, which would fulfill President DeRionne Pollard’s request of $313 million.

Elrich had budgeted $310 million, which is below the current fiscal year’s $316 million.

But the county executive has said that because enrollment at the college has declined, per-pupil spending has increased and the lower budgeted amount does not violate the state’s maintenance-of-effort law.

The education requests do not include funding for Montgomery County Public Schools, as the council unanimously approved $16 million in additional funding for the system earlier this week due to expectations that the county would receive funding from the state in the next fiscal year.

Additional, the council’s Public Safety Committee has budgeted a total of $1.8 million for 30 new police officers to address “attrition.” The funds come as the council has increased scrutiny of the police department in the wake of last year’s shooting of an unarmed black man, and the recent use of a racial slur by a police officer as captured on video.

The council has $10 million to use at its discretion that Elrich had left in the budget. It also identified $9.5 million in cuts, which include nearly $3 million saved from the renegotiated contract with the county’s main government union, Local 1994 MCGEO. The council has also recommended reducing the budget for snow removal and storm cleanup by $5 million.

The council has decided this year to honor Elrich’s pledge of not increasing the property tax rate, and to maintain the property tax credit at $692.

Council President Nancy Navarro said Wednesday that they council is “in the process of identifying where they can find resources” when it comes to finding additional room in the budget for requested items. She said the council is 80% of the way toward finalizing the budget list.

“Everybody feels very strongly about their priorities and now we have to do the work about figuring that out, but it is about whatever resources are available,” she said.

Navarro said she is glad the council will not need to use the extra $10 million to fully fund the school budget.

“If we had to close that gap via the reconciliation list, we would be in a much more difficult place right now, because it was originally the intent of the executive that we would use $10 million for that purpose. But I and my colleagues knew we had other different priorities,” she said.

Council member Andrew Friedson said the next few days will involve several tough decisions.

“The big focus is on education and transportation, which are the main areas we have focused the reconciliation list on, as well as housing,” he said. “For me, the ability for residents to afford to live here and age in place here is absolutely an existential issue for our economy and our community.”

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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