County Looking at Shifting To Two-Year Budget Cycle

County Looking at Shifting To Two-Year Budget Cycle

Change could provide better understanding of departments' performance, budget director says

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Rich Madaleno gives a budget presentation in Rockville Tuesday night

Dan Schere

Montgomery County could move to a two-year budget cycle starting in the spring of 2020 to give the county executive a better understanding of which programs and services are providing the most value, county Budget Director Rich Madaleno said Tuesday night.

Madaleno said County Executive Marc Elrich “is serious” about studying a change.

“The goal would be next year. So this time next year would be the first year of the two-year cycle,” Madaleno said.

The county executive traditionally drafts the budget every spring, receiving comments from the public and agency heads before submitting a proposal to the County Council for approval. For the upcoming fiscal  2020 budget, which takes effect July 1, Elrich plans to submit his budget to the council by March 15. The council is expected to then pass the final budget, with changes, in late May.

Madaleno said Elrich is studying various issues that would accompany such a transition, such as dealing with revenue changes during a two-year period. He said there is also the issue of how to ensure compliance with the state’s maintenance-of-effort law, which requires that the county allocate the same dollar amount, or more, per pupil to the public school system each year.

“We’re trying to work through the legal and bureaucratic issues and what would it look like,” Madaleno said.

As of 2011,  19 states were operating on a two-year budget schedule, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The report found that the number of states using biennial budgeting had dropped from 44  in 1940 as more states moved to annual lawmaking sessions.

The NCSL also found that despite reported budget cost savings from states on a two-year cycle, some executive departments spent “endless hours” trying to determine budget figures that will hold for two years.

“The legislature spends many more hours trying to make the document work, and instead ends up crafting multiple supplemental budgets to fix the first one,” the report found.

Madaleno said the county is  studying Virginia’s biennial budget cycle. There, the governor proposes a budget bill, which the legislature approves in even-numbered years. In odd-numbered years, the legislature may amend the budget.

“We’re trying to see which other local jurisdictions have done this, and see how Virginia does this,” he said.

Madaleno said the County Council would need to approve the transition to a biennial budget, and there would likely be changes in the county’s fiscal policies. But it wouldn’t require an amendment to the county charter.

“There would be a public process to figure this out,” he said.

Madaleno’s comments came during a budget forum attended by more than 60 people in Rockville Tuesday night.

The residents spent 30 minutes playing with the county’s budget simulation, which asks users to make up a $105 million deficit by cutting programs or raising taxes. During a debriefing session, a resident asked Madaleno how county commissions, such as the Interagency Commission on Homelessness, could be more thoroughly evaluated to ensure that the money they receive is being well spent.

“When do we get to get them to justify [their request for] refunding?” he asked.

Madaleno replied by saying the county “needs to have a more robust dialogue” about outcomes.

“Right now the conversation is just about inputs. We need to have a conversation about what are we getting with that money and are we getting value for what we’re paying?” he said.

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

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