Montgomery in Focus Masthead
June 2011

 

My Thoughts on the Budget - back to top

We unanimously approved a $4.4 billion total County operating budget for FY12. It will take effect July 1.

There is no question that many of the cost-saving measures in this budget are difficult, but they are absolutely necessary to ensure our long-term fiscal health. I want to emphasize that this is an act of responsible government.

It is unfortunate that some have characterized this budget as being anti-education. In fact, MCPS will receive an increase in its total budget this year while other departments and agencies are being cut. That's a clear statement of this Council’s commitment to our world-class education system. Our commitment has not changed and never will. What has changed is the economy.

Like everyone in Montgomery County, we have had to make tough decisions in the face of dramatically reduced resources. And our decision, as always, was to make education our top priority. I have every confidence in the Board of Education's ability to implement this budget in a way that does not affect classrooms. I know our children will continue to get the top-notch education our residents have come to expect.

What is really worth noting about this budget is that this Council took bold and responsible steps toward addressing our structural deficit and adhering to our six-year fiscal plan, which we implemented at my urging last year. It means that we will be leaner for the foreseeable future, and I am entirely optimistic about Montgomery County's future thanks in part to the wisdom reflected in this very disciplined budget.

As chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, I applaud the Council for its forethought in restoring funds to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. When so many important programs are on the chopping block, planning doesn't look very sexy. That is, until you look at what it means for us in the long term.

After years of dramatic cuts to planning, now we can ensure that important master plans, including White Flint II and the East County Science Center, can move forward. We must lay the groundwork now with proper planning for the intense economic development that is targeted for these areas. Only with economic development can we increase our tax base and pay for the programs we value in the future.

Like last year, this budget isn't cause for celebration since it will have real and personal impacts on residents and employees, but I believe it is responsible because it considers our future as well as our present.


 

The Budget: What's In and What's Out - back to top

Long Branch LibraryThe $4.4 billion total County operating budget for FY12 reflects a 2.2 percent increase over the approved budget for FY11 and includes changes in regard to employee benefits.  The budget agreement includes several actions as part of a fiscal protection package to make the budget sustainable in future years and protect the County's AAA bond rating.

Even with this year's increase of 2.2 percent, the budget is less than the approved budget for FY10. The FY11 adopted budget was 4.5 percent less than the approved budget for FY10--marking the first decrease in a total budget since the adoption of the current County Charter in 1968. The FY12 budget is 2.5 percent less than the FY10 budget.

We appropriated $1.951 billion in current tax-supported funds for Montgomery County Public Schools. That is $31 million, or 1.6 percent, more than was appropriated in tax-supported funds for FY11. The funding level is based on an assumption that MCPS will adjust its benefit package for employees as the Council changed benefits for FY12 for County Government employees. Even with those adjustments, MCPS employees will still receive more generous health and retirement benefits than most Federal, County and private sector employees.

Our funding level for MCPS is $45 million below the level recommended by the County Executive, but the only significant differences are reductions in areas that do not affect the classroom. Specifically, the reductions are for employee benefit adjustments and to shift funding for retiree health benefits to a centralized account.

The budget includes reserves of 6.1 percent, consistent with the new reserves policy approved by the Council last year at my urging.

In a budget year complicated by the national and regional economic downturn, the Council’s budget protects core services and safety net programs but does not exceed the County's Charter Limit on property tax revenue. For the second consecutive year, it freezes pay for employees of County government, Montgomery College, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and MCPS. The budget does not include furloughs.

We believed that the Executive's proposed reductions for several County functions were too large and restored limited funds to core departments, including Police, Fire and Rescue and Health and Human Services. The Executive's recommended budgets for the departments of Public Libraries and Recreation were 33.6 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, below the FY08 approved levels, and the proposed position reductions were 35.7 percent and 42.3 percent, respectively, below the FY08 approved levels. The Council restored $1 million for library materials and added back numerous library positions that had been recommended for elimination. The Council also restored funding for recreation programs and staff support at recreation facilities. It also restored significant cuts to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Montgomery College.

The budget includes the Executive’s recommendation to increase the property tax rate by 4.2 cents to 94.6 cents and to provide a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. I preferred a different approach and voted against this measure.  Total property taxes increased 0.8 percent.

We took several actions as part of a fiscal protection package to make the budget sustainable in future years and protect the County's AAA bond rating. Among those actions were:

~Included $49.8 million to pre-fund retiree health benefits for all agencies (compared to 0 in FY11)
~Included $31.0 million in PAYGO (cash to replace bonds) in the capital construction program (compared to 0 in FY11)
~Included $5.9 million in a new reserve for storm and snow removal costs (compared to 0 in FY11)
~Made structural changes to employee group insurance and retirement benefits to save $33 million in FY12 and $273 million in FY12-17
~Lowered the annual bond issuance ceiling from the level set last year, $325 million in FY11-16, to $310 million in FY12 and $320 million in FY13-16
~Agreed to create a consolidated retiree health benefits trust for retiree health benefits across County agencies
~Included reserves of 6.1 percent pursuant to the policies adopted last year to strengthen the County's reserves


 

Named One of Maryland's Top 100 Women - back to top

Thanks,The Daily Record, for naming me one of this year's Top 100
Women. As a three-time awardee, I was honored to join the Circle of Excellence this year.  The award recognizes outstanding achievement by women as demonstrated through professional accomplishment, community leadership and mentoring.

It is important that women share their experiences and talent with one another as a way of mentoring new leadership and highlighting all that women are doing.

I am delighted that The Daily Record has included me in such an accomplished group of women who are making a difference in their communities.


 

Fast Fact - back to top

This new program gives a whole new meaning to phoning it in.  You can now use your cell phone to pay for parking at 4,500 County parking meters in Silver Spring. By summer, the program will be expanded to include meters in Wheaton, Montgomery Hills and North Bethesda. Bethesda's 5,000 parking meters were converted in March. Register for the program once by going online to www.mc.goparknow.com or calling 301-830-7074.

The new parking system provides many conveniences. If you pay by cell, you will get a text message reminder that your parking time is about to expire. You can extend parking time remotely and view transactions online. You can stop your parking session upon returning to your vehicle, so you only pay for the parking time you have used.


 

Green Tip of the Month - back to top

Remember, Montgomery County residents and businesses can get a free composting bin.  Composting transforms your yard and garden trimmings--grass clippings, leaves, and pruning materials--into a dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling material that naturally enriches the earth.  When you compost, you create an environment for microscopic organisms to break down dry, carbon-rich "brown" material, such as fallen leaves and wood chips; and wet, nitrogen-rich "green" material, including grass clippings and flowers.  Along with air and water, the carbon and nitrogen materials decompose and create a high-nutrient compost to use for your lawn and garden. Visit the Division of Solid Waste Services Web site to find out where you can get your bin.


 

Let's Talk - back to top

Is your community organization hosting a public meeting?  Please let me know how I can help.  I am happy to assist residents in understanding pending bills or in finding ways to get involved in the political process.  Even more important, I want to hear about what matters to you.  Send your meeting notices to councilmember.floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov or call 240-777-7959 if you would like me to address a particular topic with your group.