I’ve always believed that what you spend your money on – your budget – is a pretty good indication of what is important to you.
That’s as true for government as it is for a household’s budget.
That’s why I’m pleased today to announce my recommended Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2008.
Overall, my total FY08 budget is $4.14 billion -- up $259 million over the FY07 Budget. That’s a 6.7 percent increase.
Budgets for Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College increase 6.3 and 6.8 percent, respectively, while the Montgomery County Government and Park & Planning budgets increase 6.9 and 5.9 percent, respectively, over last year’s levels.
I want to thank the thousands of County residents who have attended my five Town Hall meetings, five budget forums, and countless other meetings for their ideas and feedback.
We had a number of significant challenges in putting together this budget:
• When I took office on December 4, we were facing a $175 million gap between expected resources and projected spending.
• That number ballooned to nearly $200 million when it became clear that the Governor did not intend to fund this year the Geographic Cost of Education Index.
• Negotiations with unions representing our police and general Montgomery County employees were in progress.
• With ever-rising property tax assessments, I wanted to bring the budget in at the Charter limit on property taxes.
• We needed to set aside $34 million as a first payment toward our employees’ future retirement and pension benefits.
• Rising response times for Fire & Rescue and increases in gang activity and robberies in the County demanded more Public Safety staffing and more emphasis on youth violence prevention.
Despite these challenges, we have crafted a budget that is responsible, sustainable, and funds our critical needs.
A record amount of money for schools.
An additional investment of $10 million for affordable housing.
Increased staffing for our Police and Fire & Rescue Services.
A tripling of our spending on gang prevention and youth violence.
More money for health care for people in need.
More help for County seniors.
An increase in library hours and materials.
And we made all this happen with no new taxes.
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.
As I promised Montgomery County residents, our FY08 budget respects the Charter limit on property tax revenue. We will provide significant and progressive 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.
And before we increased spending one dime, we went through our base budget and cut $38 million from Montgomery County Government, Park & Planning, and Montgomery College – exclusive of the school system.
I have been very concerned that increases in the last several years’ budgets were, quite simply, at levels that are not sustainable.
Last year’s overal increase was 9 percent. This year's is 6.7 percent. We've brought the rate of increase down, overall, by 26 percent. And Montgomery County government's rate of increase is down 41 percent from last year.
We need to invest more in affordable housing. Folks who work to make this county a better place to live should have more opportunity to live in the County. We must create more affordable housing and do more to preserve what we already have.
That’s why I am recommending nearly $30 million in the Montgomery Housing Initiative Fund for acquisition and rehabilitation of affordable housing – more than a 50 percent increase over last year’s funding and $10 million more than previously-used funding formulas.
As a member of the Council’s Education Committee for 16 years, as a teacher, and as a father and as a grandfather with a grandchild in our public schools, I know how important education is.
That’s why I am proposing a record level of resources for the Montgomery County Public Schools.
The total of $1.97 billion – nearly $2 billion -- represents an increase of $117.3 million or 6.3 percent over the FY07 Budget.
That’s more than 99 percent of the School Board’s request.
Per pupil spending increases by nearly seven percent to $14,370. Schools spending has increased 31 percent over the past four years.
And I am nearly tripling to almost $6 million the County commitment to combat gangs and address youth violence.
This challenge requires a three-pronged approach: prevention, intervention, and enforcement.
Our initiatives include more summer jobs; a Sports Academy at an Upcounty high school; continuation of the five existing sports academies throughout the county; more youth services in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and Germantown; two more Assistant States Attorneys to prosecute gang-related crimes; and six more Officers for a Gang Task Force in the Police Department.
We are also making much needed improvements to five neighborhood recreation centers.
We depend on our public safety workers to protect our families and our property.
Fire & Rescue response times that ought to be 6 to 8 minutes have crept up above 10 minutes in some areas. That can literally mean the difference between life and death.
That’s why we are adding 58 new firefighters.
We are, by and large, a safe County. But crime is inching up, robberies and burglaries are on the rise, and youth violence is increasing.
To address these needs, and due to rising calls for service, I recommend adding 43 new positions in our Police Department.
I am recommending an investment of $233.2 million in Montgomery College, an increase of nearly $15 million over the FY07 Budget.
Our libraries play a critical role in our web of lifetime learning. I want to increase library hours on Sundays and am proposing a $380,000 increase to the materials budget.
I recommend a 20 percent increase in our Montgomery Cares program to provide access to health care for 20,000 more low-income uninsured residents. As part of the Montgomery Cares program, we will also open a new behavioral health site and increase by 50 percent the resources devoted to providing health care for the homeless.
Seniors and those with disabilities will be able to ride free all-day on County Ride-On buses and Metrobus. We are reducing the personal care waiting list, expanding contractual chore services, implementing the Adult Day Care subsidy program, and expanding Adult Protective Services to respond to complaints of neglect or financial exploitation.
And this budget fully funds prudent agreements with our Police and general County employees.
I believe this budget delivers on my promise to present a reasonable, sustainable budget -- holding the line on taxes while targeting needed resources to our schools, affordable housing, public safety, seniors, and youth violence prevention.
I look forward to working constructively with the Council over the next several months and -- again -- I want to thank everyone who helped me to make this happen.