FY13 County Government Budget Still Below First Leggett Budget of Five Years Ago
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett today announced his recommended $4.56 billion operating budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 that begins July 1. Leggett’s budget strategically restores some of the most critical and important services that were cut back dramatically over the past five years as the County faced unprecedented budget challenges. Leggett’s approach to the FY13 budget attempts to balance the backlog of resident needs with the County’s new economic reality.
The budget focuses on Leggett’s priorities to fully fund education, increase strategic investments in public safety and the safety net for the most vulnerable, and restore some hours for libraries and services for recreation centers, while maintaining his prudent policies that have put the County on the road to a sustainable economic future.
Over the past three years, Leggett has eliminated 1,254 County Government positions, more than ten percent of the total. His FY13 budget would restore 92 of those positions – 58 of them in the Police Department. His tax-supported County government budget for programs increases by 5.5 percent and is actually lower than his first FY08 budget five years ago, even without accounting for inflation.
“I am restoring some of the reductions that have most negatively affected our residents’ quality of life,” said Leggett. “The necessary steps we have taken to address structural budget gaps by resolving an unprecedented $2.6 billion in budget shortfalls over six budgets have resulted in significant cuts in service. Our public safety systems have been strained to the limit; our library and recreation services pared down; our County building maintenance has noticeably deteriorated; and County roads await repairs. Selectively restoring some services within our means will immeasurably enhance the health and welfare of our residents.”
Leggett’s budget keeps property tax revenue at current levels by recommending a level below the Charter limit, increases reserves to the policy level of $300.2 million, allocates funding for PAYGO at 10 percent of planned general obligation bond issue and increases funding for retiree health benefits by $61 million to meet commitments for 2015 made to rating agencies. The budget retains the energy tax at the level approved by the County Council in 2010, preserving a broad-based revenue source that taxes the energy usage of institutions and facilities that otherwise do not pay anything in taxes to the County.
Leggett recommends an increase of $64.7 million, or 5.5 percent, for tax-supported Montgomery County Government programs, and an additional $60.3 million for the required Retiree Health Insurance Trust. Of the additional spending increase for County Government, $37.7 million is for public safety and $26.9 million is for employee compensation and benefits, fixed cost increases and non-public safety programs.
Leggett’s budget does not assume significant changes in state or federal revenues, particularly the possible shift of teacher pension costs from the State to county governments, which he notes would “do great damage to our County’s finances and long-term budget sustainability.”
The overall recommendations include:
• A total County budget (all agencies, all tax-supported and non-tax supported funds and debt service) for FY13 of $4.56 billion, an increase of $199 million from the FY12 approved budget – or 4.6 percent.
• An overall tax-supported budget of $3.97 billion (including debt service) for all County agencies, an increase of $188.6 million from the FY12 budget -- or five percent.
• Increasing funding for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) by $50.7 million – a 2.6 percent increase from FY12. The budget funds 100 percent of the Board of Education tax-supported request at the Maintenance of Effort level.
• Funding increases for Montgomery College of $381,823, a 0.2 percent increase, which is 100 percent of the College tax-supported request at the Maintenance of Effort level.
• Funding increases for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) of $5.4 million, a 5.3 percent increase and 100 percent of its tax-supported request.
Leggett will continue efforts to make County and multiple agency services more efficient by identifying long-term savings and sustainable and stable revenues; restructuring; and adopting productive and cost-effective business practices. The budget realizes reductions of $14 million in current County Government spending, including $6 million in utilities costs through energy conservation savings.
Priorities in the FY13 Recommended Budget
“The strategic increases that I am recommending in FY13 do not restore the reductions that have been made to most of the County departments over the past five years,” said Leggett. “Rather, they address serious deficiencies in our ability to provide basic services.”
Following are the highlights of the recommended strategic increases in priority areas:
The Department of Police budget increases by 6.9 percent, which includes 43 additional officers – part of Leggett’s plan to add 143 new officers and other Police Department employees over the next three years. This investment increases Police resources to address problem areas or issues when they arise and use officers strategically and efficiently. The budget adds a second new recruit class of 30 officers; and moves the County to a unified 911 call center to improve efficiency and response times in emergencies.
The Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service (MCFRS) would see a 9.2 percent increase under this budget to fill critically needed posts, increase the size of each of the two MCFRS recruit classes from 30 to 55 and provide additional funding to ensure minimum staffing requirements are met with reduced overtime.
Over the past five years, the Montgomery County Public Libraries has seen the deepest reductions – nearly 30 percent between FY07 and FY12. Leggett’s budget increases library spending by nearly 10 percent and restores 15 positions. It increases materials acquisitions, expands hours at libraries open on Sundays to five hours, adds two additional Sundays to those branches for a total of 47 Sundays a year, and restores longer hours (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) at the Rockville, Quince Orchard, Wheaton, Bethesda and Germantown libraries.
Youth, Senior, and Health and Human Services
Leggett’s budget restores funding for some of the most critical programs that serve vulnerable populations. The Positive Youth Development Initiative will increase services, including:
• Extending the “Excel Beyond the Bell” after-school program to Forest Oak (Clarksburg) and Neelsville (Germantown) middle schools;
• Providing after-school programs for the Scotland Community Center while it undergoes renovation;
• Expanding weekend and teen programs for middle and high schoolers;
• Expanding the summer youth employment program;
• Replacing expiring federal funding to operate the UpCounty Youth Opportunity Center and its family intervention program;
• Replacing expiring federal grant funding for the Kennedy Cluster/Neighborhood Opportunity Center;
• Enhancing drug prevention and intervention at the Crossroads and UpCounty Opportunity centers;
• Boosting the Street Outreach Network; and
• Replacing a federal grant for the Justice Assistance Program/Drug Court that serves 100 high-risk youth between the ages of 14 and 24.
The FY13 budget also increases resources for the County’s growing senior population, including:
• Enhancing senior programming at the White Oak Community Center;
• Restoring chore services and home-delivered meals;
• Reducing the price of the second Call ‘N Ride coupon book;
• Funding contract staff for senior mental health services;
• Adding an Assistant State’s Attorney position to protect seniors and vulnerable adults from financial harm and fraud; and
• Doubling the Senior Fellows Program in the Office of Human Resources.
Affordable Housing and Health
The budget earmarks $1.5 million to support the development of 140 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors, the first part of a two-year commitment that will total $6 million. The Montgomery Housing Initiative will receive $19 million to create and preserve more affordable housing.
The budget recommends additional funds for health care for the uninsured through Montgomery Cares, establishes a new medical clinic in Aspen Hill, and boosts funding for home energy assistance, outreach to veterans and winter overflow shelters.
Transportation, General Services and Economic Development
The budget includes a 10.4 percent increase for the Department of Transportation to hire more bus drivers, match Bikesharing grants and inaugurate three new Ride On routes in South Germantown, Potomac and Gaithersburg. Also funded is a $1 million increase to address deferred cleaning and maintenance in County facilities.
Under this budget recommendation, the Economic Development Fund will increase. Leggett also will continue forging partnerships with community nonprofits, County businesses and the faith community. These ties have been critical in maintaining a safety net for the needy and supporting activities that government cannot do alone.
Eighty percent of the County budget goes toward compensation – wages and benefits for County employees. Over the past three years, Leggett reduced the County Government workforce by 1,254 positions – over 10 percent. For three years, County employees have not received cost-of-living increases and for the past two, there have been no steps or increments. In FY11, all County Government employees were furloughed for between three and eight days, depending on income. Also, in FY12, the County changed the cost sharing arrangements for County Government employees’ group insurance and retirement plans, saving the County an estimated $14.5 million.
“County employees continue to provide our residents with an exceptional level of service, despite the downturn in the economy and reductions in staff. Many measures indicate that employee productivity is continuing to increase. These productivity improvements have occurred while we have reduced salaries and benefits and placed larger workloads on declining numbers of staff.”
Recognizing the sacrifices made by County employees, Leggett’s FY13 budget recommends, consistent with agreements reached with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #35; International Association of Fire Fighters, Local #1664; and the Municipal and County Government Employee Organization, Local #1994, a lump-sum payment of $2,000 for each employee. This payment would be in lieu of any cost-of-living or service increments.
Leggett strongly recommends other agencies also follow suit on the same compensation guidelines.
“It is important that there be parity among all of the County agencies’ 30,000 plus employees,” he said. “Therefore, I am assuming that within the dollars I am recommending for MCPS, Montgomery College, M-NCPPC and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), their employees also receive one-time adjustments that do not add to our base budget – similar to those I have negotiated with County Government employees. The economic and fiscal picture for the County remains too uncertain to add significant dollars to our wage base.”
This budget strategically restores 92 positions within County Government – among them, 58 in the Police Department through increased staffing and the consolidation of 911 call-takers and 15 in libraries.
Funding the Budget
Leggett’s budget holds the line on property taxes for County homeowners, providing the same level of property tax revenue and resulting in only a $4 average increase annually in property tax bills – essentially a flat amount. The recommendation is below the County charter limit on property taxes. The property tax for each owner-occupied residence will include a credit of $692 to limit the burden on homeowners and maintain a progressive property tax structure.
The Water Quality Protection Fund charge will increase from $70.50 to $92.60 per average household annually. These fees allow for continued expansion of outreach, inspection and remediation efforts to comply with the requirements of the State’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit requirements. The MS4 permit requires the County to upgrade existing stormwater management facilities and improve efforts at controlling stormwater runoff, especially through the use of Low Impact Design approaches.
“Despite the extraordinary challenges we are currently facing, I remain very optimistic about the future of our County,” said Leggett. “The silver lining of the economic downturn is that it has refocused our attention on providing our residents with essential services, while also reestablishing prudent fiscal policies that will guide us into the future.”
To view the budget highlights and the full budget, go to the Office of Management and Budget homepage on the County’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/omb.
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