2021 | Government

UPDATED: Elrich’s proposed $6.7B budget includes no tax-rate increases, a police reorganization

Spending plan focuses on recovery, response to COVID-19

Elrich is pictured at a press conference on March 25, 2020.

File photo

This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. on March 15, 2021, to include additional details of the budget proposal.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich on Monday released a $6.7 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year, recommending no tax-rate increases, a reorganization of the county’s police department, and targeted funding to support recovery from the pandemic.

Of the $6.7 billion, roughly $6 billion would go to the operating budget and the remainder would to the Capital Improvements Program, debt service and reserves. The recommended $6 billion budget is an increase from the $5.8 billion budget the County Council approved in late May.

Most of the proposed money for fiscal year 2022, which begins on July 1, would be funneled to county government and Montgomery County Public Schools operations at $2.2 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively.

The rest of the budget would be split among Montgomery College, Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, retiree health insurance, and debt service.

“The toll that this [COVID-19] disease has taken on us has been in the forefront of our minds as we have worked to minimize the impact the virus takes in our community,” Elrich wrote in his proposal. “We have put public health first and it has been hard on all of us. Our businesses, nonprofits, educators, children and their parents have had to adjust to a new normal that [has been] extremely challenging.”

The current weighted average property tax rate is 97.85 cents per $100 assessed value. The income tax offset credit — provided against the county’s real property tax rate to offset increases of more than 2.6% of the county income tax revenues — is at $692. Elrich proposed the same rate and credit for FY22.

Even though the rate would stay the same, property taxes could rise as assessments go up.

The recommendation of no tax-rate increase is the opposite of what Elrich proposed last year for the current fiscal budget: a roughly 5-cent tax increase — most of which would go to the public school system through a special 3.18-cent supplemental property tax. The County Council rejected the tax increase.

In his new budget proposal, Elrich included a reorganization plan for the Montgomery County Police Department to “address community concerns, create service efficiencies and realize financial savings.”

This reorganization includes eliminating 29 positions across the police department — 25 of which are for sworn officers.

Many of those positions are currently vacant. Officers and staff members in other positions that are being cut will be reassigned within the department.

The cuts would include five vacant middle school school resource officer positions, as well as other positions in patrol, collision reconstruction, traffic complaints, SWAT, K9, and emergency services.

“For far too long, the county, like most jurisdictions across this country, has allowed major social problems to become problems that have been left to the police to address, such as incidents involving residents presenting mental health issues,” Elrich wrote. A reliance on police for those cases will be reduced, and social services and emotional supports will be enhanced.

Even with some positions being cut, the police department’s budget is proposed to increase by $1.6 million, about 0.6% from the FY21 budget.

The budget includes adding six additional support positions to the Mobile Crisis and Outreach Team to create three new crisis outreach teams. The teams respond to residents with a mental and/or substance abuse disorder.

Elrich also proposed $14 billion for total 2022 cumulative project funding in the FY22 capital budget and FY21-26 Capital Improvements Program (CIP).

About 24% — or $3.5 billion — would be for 88 MCPS projects including school additions and facility renovations.

Another 24% — or $3.5 billion — would go to 123 transportation projects.

One is a Great Seneca Science Corridor improvements project for new premium transit services, with upgraded transit stations and dedicated bus and bicycle lanes. Another is a managed lane project on the U.S. 29 corridor from Musgrove Road to Southwood Drive, and from Dale Drive to Spring Street.

Another 20% — or $2.9 billion — would be used for 41 projects under the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

The council will review the proposed operating and capital budgets, then vote on final versions by June 1.

Elrich noted the financial and economic struggles that the county, businesses and residents have had to face in the last year. He wrote that he has a plan in the FY22 budget proposal to restore the county’s reserves to 10% of adjusted governmental revenues within three fiscal years.

If the County Council approves the budget as proposed, Elrich estimated that fiscal year 2022 reserves would be brought up to 9.6%.

The county has to use its reserves for costs responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those costs are expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The recently enacted federal American Rescue Plan Act will provide $204M in federal aid to the county for economic assistance to residents and businesses, Elrich wrote in his proposal.

The county would fund $1.8 billion for the school system, which has an overall proposed budget of $2.8 billion. The funding level would exceed the state’s maintenance of effort requirement by more than $40.2 million — a result of declining enrollment numbers and would qualify the public schools for $29.7 million in additional state incentive funding.

Maintenance of effort refers to a state law that says a county must fund its school system at a per-pupil rate that at least matches the previous year’s level.

“We are actively working with our partners in the General Assembly to ensure that any future Maintenance of Effort requirements will not be based on the artificially high per pupil allocation for FY22,” Elrich wrote.

The three outlined goals in Elrich’s budget for FY22 are response, recovery and resilience.

Here are some other highlights:

● $15 million for the Working Families Income Supplement program, which provides financial assistance to low-income working families, and $5 million to expand the program for residents who have a taxpayer identification number
● $3.6 million to strengthen community hubs that provide residents with groceries, meals, telemedicine and other services
● $89.1 million for affordable housing, the highest level in the county’s history
● $312.5 million in funding for Montgomery College
● $1.7 million to create a Multilingual and Multicultural Communications Unit in the Community Engagement Cluster, which will connect limited English-proficient residents to needed services
● Nearly $900,000 for a Mobile Health Clinic to increase health care access and alleviate disparities in the county.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.