Funding Boosted for Community College, Bus Program and Services for Disabled
County Council rejiggers county’s proposed budget, adding $16 million
Montgomery County’s community college system, a program that offers free rides for students on county buses and services for the developmentally disabled will all received additional funding as the County Council put finishing touches on its review of the county’s 2020 budget Thursday.
The so-called reconciliation list that was approved includes an additional $16 million in line items that were added at the last minute to the $5.8 billion budget blueprint drafted by County Executive Marc Elrich earlier this year.
Thursday’s decisions follow weeks of public hearings and work sessions where council members combed through cuts and adjustments recommended in Elrich’s first budget, which leaves the county’s property tax rate stable.
The council’s reconciliation list – wish list items that members wanted to restore or add – stood at $34 million earlier this week and was reduced to about $16 million.
“I and my colleagues talked about what my priorities were, and we talked about those priorities that did the most good for the most amount of people, and that’s what got funded,” said Evan Glass, who was elected last fall.
The budget process, Glass said, was one of “collaboration and fiscal discipline.”
The council decided to add $3 million for Montgomery College, more than $1 million to expand Ride On’s Kids Ride Free program for students under 18 to all bus service hours and $1.8 million for programs for the developmentally disabled.
“The council coalesced around fully funding Montgomery College, the developmentally disabled supplement, and it was not hard to get to this point,” Council President Nancy Navarro said.
Of the $16 million in additions, $10 million will come from an amount that Elrich had set aside that can be used at the council’s discretion. The remaining $6 million, Navarro said, will come from a series of cuts the council made in the budget, which includes cutting $5 million for snow and storm cleanup.
Other items in the reconciliation list include:
-More than $600,000 to restore service cuts proposed by Elrich to Ride On bus routes 49, 55, 57 and 64
-$400,000 for climate change initiatives
-$200,000 for two mental health therapists to provide services to two schools each
Excluded from the final list was $1.2 million for 30 new police officers over three years to account for attrition; $1.2 million to restore service to Ride On routes 59, 26 and 38; and $1.2 million for an additional dozen nurses to serve six schools.
The list also did not include $1.8 million for the county’s public election finance system that allows candidates for council and executive to qualify for public dollars for their campaigns.
“Well you know, a lot of things on the list, were not all at the same level of support. We all know we have to get this done under a certain timeline. That’s what we were elected to do. The broad diversity of projects shows it was a team effort,” said Will Jawando, a first-term council member.
Budget Director Rich Madaleno said he understood the philosophy behind the council’s budget amendments. He said cutting the snow removal budget makes sense in the abstract, but could pose a problem in the event of future snowstorms.
“Philosophically I have a hard time disagreeing with any of those expenditures, but come next winter, if the cost of snow removal exceeds 50% of our average over the last several years, we’re going to have to dip into reserves,” he said.
The county’s fiscal year starts July 1 and the council is expected to take its final vote on the budget next week.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com