Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett today unveiled the first operating budget of his administration, a budget that holds the line on taxes, increases funding for his priority issues, and sets the County’s spending on a path of sustainability for the future.
Despite an initial projected $175 million budget gap and a $23 million shortfall in State funding for education, Leggett submitted a balanced budget that provides for 6.7 percent growth and an increase of $259 million over the fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget – all without raising taxes. The $4.14 billion FY 2008 operating budget increases the County’s commitment to education, affordable housing, seniors, community health, public safety and libraries.
Budgets for Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College increase 6.3 and 6.8 percent, respectively, while the Montgomery County Government and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning (M-NCPPC) budgets increase 6.9 and 5.9 percent, respectively, over last year’s levels.
“The first operating budget of my administration sets the County on the right path for the next four years – one that will help us meet the promises we have made to taxpayers to improve services, and hold the line on taxes,” said Leggett. “Despite challenges, we have crafted a budget that is responsible, sustainable, and funds our critical needs. There’s a record amount of money for schools, a $10 million increase for affordable housing programs, more Police and Fire and Rescue staff, more help for seniors, and a tripling of our commitment to youth violence prevention.
“As I promised Montgomery County residents, our FY08 services will be provided in a fiscally prudent way, consistent with the Charter limits on property tax revenue,” said Leggett.
“My first budget provides significant property tax relief through a tax credit of $613 per owner-occupied residential household, a total savings of about $150 million compared with current rates. Taxpayers with homes assessed at $475,000 or less may actually see an absolute decrease in their property tax bill.
“I have been very concerned that increases in the last several years’ budgets were, quite simply, at levels that are unsustainable. Last year’s overall increase was nine percent.
“In this budget, nobody – I repeat, nobody -- got 100 percent of what they asked for. Choices must be made. I believe this budget makes the right ones.”
Highlights of the FY08 budget presented by the County Executive are presented below.
Preparing Children to Live and Learn
To prepare children to live and learn and become healthy individuals, responsible citizens, and productive workers, Leggett recommends a record $1.97 billion dollar investment in public education, increasing funding for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) by $117.3 million or 6.3 percent. Per pupil spending increases by nearly seven percent to a record $14,370, supporting an anticipated student body of 137,000. The Executive’s budget funds more than 99 percent of the amount requested by the Board of Education.
This budget continues support for the County’s robust program of early childhood services provided in partnership with MCPS. Funding significantly increases the availability of County nurses and health technicians in schools. The budget also provides over $600,000 in County funds to replace grants that are ending that keep Linkages to Learning sites open at Washington and Rosemont elementary schools and Forest Oak middle school.
Under Leggett’s proposal, Montgomery College’s budget will increase by nearly $15 million, or 6.8 percent, to $233.2 million. The County will provide $400,000 in tax supported grants for programs that support adult education and English for Speakers of Other Languages.
Leggett is recommending a package of initiatives that nearly triples funding for youth violence prevention to almost $6 million. These measures will identify youth vulnerable to joining gangs, provide early intervention to keep them out of gangs, and prevent gang violence. Gang intervention programs include an expanded summer jobs program; increases in services to at-risk or gang-involved youth; outreach services for girls at risk or already involved in gang activity; a new sports academy at an upcounty high school and continuation of sports academies at Wheaton, Springbrook, Einstein, Blair and Paint Branch high schools; expanded programming for youth services in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and Germantown; funds to repair, maintain and properly equip five neighborhood centers with youth and community programs; two additional Assistant State’s Attorneys to focus on prosecution of gang-related crimes; and six new officers for the Police Department’s Centralized Gang Task Force.
Affordable Housing in an Inclusive Community
One of Leggett’s highest priorities is ensuring decent, safe and affordable housing for all those who live and work in Montgomery County.
“I am recommending an investment of nearly $30 million in the Montgomery Housing Initiative Fund (MHI) for acquisition and rehabilitation of the County’s affordable housing stock – more than a 50 percent increase over last year’s fundingbudget and $10 million more than previously-used funding formulas,” said Leggett.
Providing Safe Streets and Secure Neighborhoods
Ensuring the safety and security of County residents and their property is a high priority in the budget. To enhance community policing efforts, 43 new positions will be added to the Police Department, of which 38 positions will be sworn officers, with 30 of those in new patrol positions. Six officers will be added for a centralized Gang Task Force.
An increase in funding for the Fire and Rescue Service will add 58 new firefighters, allowing for expansion of the Fire Code Enforcement program and implementing the second phase of increased staffing on fire apparatus to four firefighters. These improvements will reduce response times by dramatically expanding the number of fire fighters and emergency medical technicians available to respond to emergency calls.
The budget provides increases to the Department of Corrections for an additional 11 officers and two specialists to respond to rising inmate populations.
To reduce pedestrian fatalities, funding expands education efforts to limited English speakers, who are disproportionately involved in pedestrian collisions, about safe pedestrian behavior.
Greater Responsiveness and Accountability
In order to build a more open, inviting, responsive and accountable government, this budget includes funding for development of a 311 Call Center and Constituent Relationship Management system to enhance community services. With this enhanced system, residents will have one number to call to access County government services, increasing response timeliness. County business systems will also be modernized to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Healthy and Sustainable Communities
The lack of available, affordable health care is a nationwide crisis. Leggett’s budget recommends increasing support to Montgomery Cares to provide access to health care for more than 20,000 low-income uninsured residents. Montgomery Cares will receive a 50 percent increase in resources dedicated to providing health care for the homeless and funding will be provided to open a new behavioral health site.
Funding for other health care services include a significant boost in support for the Maternity Partnership program that supports prenatal, labor and delivery services for an additional 2,550 uninsured women and maternity dental services to an additional 1,170 women; continued support for basic dental care for the uninsured at the County’s Adult Dental Clinic; and a 10 percent increase to the Minority Health Initiatives to eliminate health disparities for Asian, Latino, and African American communities.
Leggett is recommending a one hour increase in library hours at all eight libraries that are open on Sundays to provide greater community access to these important facilities. The budget also significantly increases the Library collection budget by $380,000.
Funding is included to make improvements to neighborhood recreation centers in the Scotland, Ross Boddy, Clara Barton, Good Hope, and Plum Gar communities and enhance programs at the Tobytown Community Center. Independence Day fireworks celebrations at upcounty and downcounty locations are funded.
The recommended budget includes a 60 percent increase in the County’s Arts and Humanities Council budget that provides project grants, fellowships and operating support to local arts and humanities organizations. The increased funding includes $500,000 for discretionary grants for smaller and emerging arts organizations. Money is also included in the budget to partner with the State of Maryland and private developers to bring the Birchmere Music Hall to Silver Spring.
To preserve and sustain Montgomery County’s environment, this budget includes funding for the County to assume maintenance of MCPS’ stormwater management structures. The County will conduct additional water quality monitoring with increased funding for stream gauges. The budget also funds construction of two gas-to-energy facilities at the County’s closed landfills to produce clean energy, and full implementation of a new plan to reduce cross lot water drainage in neighborhoods.
Keep Montgomery Moving
A comprehensive and balanced transportation system is vital to the County’s economic health and quality of life. Transit plays a critical role in reducing congestion. Ride On served 27.3 million passengers in FY06, and expects to serve an additional one million passengers in FY08. Funding is included in this budget to expand an existing program by providing free Ride On and Metrobus service to County seniors and persons with disabilities at all times. The budget also expands the eligibility and monthly maximum value for the Call ‘N Ride taxicab program. To improve the quality, reliability and safety of transit, the FY08 budget includes funding for Ride On to provide all bus service with County personnel.
Current and capital budgets support construction of the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring, and transit centers at Montgomery Mall, Takoma/Langley Park and White Oak.
A Snow Operations Tracking System will be established to enable residents to monitor, on the Internet, the progress of road and neighborhood plowing operations.
Ensuring Vital living For All of Our Residents
Montgomery County celebrates its diversity and is committed to identifying and closing service gaps to help residents age in place. In addition to seniors riding free on all Ride On and Metrobuses all the time, this budget includes several initiatives for the growing number of seniors in the County, including reducing the personal care waiting list; expanding the number of residents served by contractual chore services; piloting a Montgomery County Adult Day Care program; and expanding Adult Protective Services to protect seniors from neglect or financial exploitation.
To support the health of the County’s business community, this budget increases economic development efforts by 12 percent. Leggett invests in small and minority owned businesses with the opening of the Germantown Innovation Center and increases support to the Silver Spring, Wheaton and Rockville Innovation Centers. Funding is provided to hire a Germantown Business District manager to facilitate economic development in this growing area of the County.
Leggett is recommending $6.3 million in community grants for non-profit organizations that assist County agencies in addressing the human service needs of people in the community.
The budget includes $115.3 million for the M-NCPPC, a 5.8 percent increase over last year and a 9.2 percent increase over its tax supported budget.
Investing in Our Workforce
This budget fully funds the County’s agreements with employee representative organizations and includes additional funds for workforce training. An innovative gain sharing program with the Municipal County Government Employees Organization will allow for the sharing of productivity improvement benefits between employees and the County.
Funding the Budget
Over the next two months, the County Council will hold public hearings and work sessions on Leggett’s recommended FY08 Operating Budget. The final budget must be approved by June 1.
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