Yesterday, County Executive Ike Leggett released his Recommended FY16 Operating Budget of $5.1 billion for the year that begins on July 1, 2015 – a budget that increases County government tax-supported spending by 1.1 percent while cutting the County property tax rate by about one cent. The balanced budget closes an estimated $238 million gap.
“This budget signals that our hard work of fiscal responsibility is not done,” said Leggett. “We see lower-than-expected income tax revenues, a still fragile national economic recovery and the prospect of less State funding. While my FY16 budget is, essentially, a ‘same-services’ budget, I have strategically looked for opportunities in it to improve job growth and expand our tax base.”
Leggett’s budget includes a tax-supported County government budget of $1.4 billion, a 1.1 percent increase over this year. However the total County budget, when funding from Maryland State and federal revenues is included is $5.1 billion – a 1.4 percent or $72.1 million increase over last year’s total budget.
The proposed $5.1 billion Montgomery County operating budget is higher than the fiscal year 2015 operating budgets for the states of Delaware ($4.5 billion), South Dakota ($4.3 billion), and Vermont ($3.6 billion).
“Although carefully constrained in some areas, this budget continues the County’s significant investments in our schools, the creation of good jobs, transportation, affordable housing, public safety, our Positive Youth Development Initiative, our seniors, and in help for the vulnerable in our midst,” said Leggett.
“We are increasing our investment in biotech, expanding our focus on cybersecurity business and making sure that job-creating projects that are ready to go will receive needed permits within 30 days. This new initiative will get our buildings built, more jobs created, and will make the County’s tax base larger far sooner than before,” said Leggett.
The proposed budget reduces the property tax rate by 0.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation -- from 99.6 cents to 98.7 cents. The average County residence, valued at $455,600, would pay $3,805 in FY16 -- an increase of only $15 for the year.
Leggett’s budget also increases staffing at the Department of Permitting Services to guarantee 30-day turnaround for permitting on ready projects, a continuation of the County Executive’s business-friendly streamlining initiative, according to Leggett.
The proposed budget also provides a modest two percent wage increase for County employees. In the past, County employees have sacrificed with layoffs, furloughs, a 10 percent reduction in numbers, and changes in health and retirement benefits. The County estimates those measures have saved County taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of millions of dollars in ongoing savings each year going forward.
The budget includes $2.2 billion in funding for the Montgomery County Public Schools – the Maintenance of Effort level required by State law. In the proposed FY16 budget MCPS will receive a 1.4 percent increase over last year’s budget, which equates to $30.7 million. The $2.2 billion in funding for MCPS is 98 percent of the Board of Education’s requested budget for FY16.
The County Executive’s budget also includes $27.2 million for future health care and retirement benefits for MCPS that makes that same amount available for funding for MCPS programs in FY16.
Patricia B. O’Neill, president, Montgomery County Board of Education said, ““We know that County Executive Leggett is committed to our school system because he knows that an investment in MCPS is an investment in the future of our county. However, this level of funding is short of what’s needed to provide a world-class education to a growing number of students.”
“At the state level, we are already facing a $25 million cut in state aid under Governor L Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.’s recommended budget. We must work with our legislators in Annapolis to restore this critical funding.”
Amid concerns that the requested operating budget for MCPS will not be fully funded, Interim Superintendent Larry A. Bowers announced last week that the school system is reducing positions across the district for next school year.
Bowers is holding back more than 370 school-based positions that are included in the Montgomery County Board of Education’s budget request, including more than 150 teaching positions that will be reduced by raising class sizes. The move means that class sizes in all schools will increase.
This week, in reaction to Leggett’s proposed budget Bowers said, “To balance the budget at the level of funding the County Executive has proposed, we will likely have to move forward with the plan we announced last week to cut more than 400 positions, including 370 school-based positions. These are painful cuts that will impact every school in the district, but given the county’s fiscal situation, we are left with little choice.”
“We will continue to work with county and state officials to secure as much additional funding as possible so that we can restore some of these very important positions to our schools,” said Bowers.
Other highlights of Leggett’s proposed FY16 operating budget include;
Reducing Solid Waste fees by 4 percent across-the-board for families and businesses;
Increasing funding for Developmental Disability programs by $1 million;
Providing $43.9 million for affordable housing creation and preservation;
Providing a $3 million increase in the County contribution for Montgomery College, a 2.6 percent increase that represents 98 percent of the College’s request.
Providing a $1.8 million increase for the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission, a 1.5 percent increase and 96 percent of the agency’s tax-supported request;
Increasing funding for County cybersecurity business efforts;
Keeping the County on target to attain a 10 percent County reserve fund by 2020;
And maintains the mandated level of funding to pay for future County retiree health benefits.