MCPS Spending Increases $136 million, BOE Says: Thanks But It’s Not Enough
County Executive Ike Leggett has proposed the largest property tax increase in eight years while unveiling his Fiscal Year 2017 Recommended Operating Budget yesterday.
The $5.3 billion proposed budget for the year beginning July 1, 2016, contains a 3.9 cent increase per $100 assessed valuation in the property tax rate over the current year. The budget closes an estimated $178 million gap. Leggett’s proposed budget increases County spending for Montgomery County Schools by almost $136 million and addresses the loss of County funds impacted by the Wynne case.
“Over the last ten years, I have closed over $3.3 billion in budget gaps while putting the County’s fiscal house back in order and making the investments necessary to build a better future,” said Leggett.
Under the FY17 Recommended Operating Budget, the proposed property tax rate increase is 3.9 cents above the current rate (1.0264 - .987 = .0394). The average tax bill (for a house assessed at $464,000) increases by about $27 a month or $325 annually (from $3,750 to $4,075). This includes a $692 tax credit for owner-occupied residences.
This recommended operating budget is a tax-supported County government budget of $1.55 billion, a 1.9 percent increase over this year. A total Montgomery County budget of $5.3 billion, a 3.8 percent increase over this year.
According to the County press release, “Over the past four years, average County property taxes have gone up a total of only $9 – or less than $3 per year. Over that same period, typical property taxes in Fairfax, County, Virginia, for example, have gone up $1,195, or about $300 per year.”
“This budget addresses the fact that our public schools have been funded at, or below, the level defined as ‘Maintenance of Effort’ since FY09,” said Leggett. “This means that, on a per-pupil basis, funding has not increased. As the population grows and the needs of the student population change, this approach to funding one of our most valuable assets – our education system — cannot continue.”
Montgomery County Board of Education President Michael Durso and Interim Superintendent of Schools Larry Bowers released a statement saying, basically, thanks for the increase but it still isn’t enough.
“While we appreciate the additional investment of $135.9 million this year, it is still significantly short of the $180.2 million increase requested by the Board of Education. We know that we cannot wait any longer to reinvest in our schools. Our children are counting on us to provide the resources they need so that we can give them the high-quality education they need to be successful in school and in life,” said the statement from the BOE president and head of MCPS.
“The county executive’s budget is a great start and a true recognition of the needs our students have. Now we need the County Council to support the county executive’s recommendation and to provide the additional funding we need to ensure that we can serve all students well and accelerate our efforts to close the achievement gap,” the statement continued.
The Board of Education’s statement continued, “We understand Mr. Leggett’s budget recommendation is based on an increase in the property tax rate and we urge all of the County Council members to support this recommendation. Investing in education is an investment in the future of this county. Without this investment, we will not be able to make the progress that Mr. Leggett has advocated for, and our parents and staff have demanded. Our community has always placed a high priority on education, and we believe they will support this new investment.”
“Class sizes have grown,” said Leggett. “There has not been sufficient progress in closing the achievement gap that exists between many of our minority students and non-minority students. We must provide the Superintendent and the Board of Education with additional funding to address these challenges.”
Leggett continued, “Our K-12 student population is projected to continue to grow at a rate of 2,000+ students per year while our general population continues to rise and become more diverse and older. I believe that my recommended budget and recommended property tax rate positions us to be able to tackle these realities next year and in the future.”
Beyond the increase in school funding the proposed FY17 Operating Budget includes a $3.3 million, 2.4 percent, increase in funding for the Maryland–National Capital Park & Planning Commission; a $1 million increase in funding for programs for the developmentally disabled; it also allows for $47 million in affordable housing funds; and sets aside 8.4 percent of the budget as a reserve, keeping the County on target to attain a 10 percent County reserve fund by 2020.
“Although carefully constrained in some areas, this budget continues the County’s significant investments in public safety,” said Leggett, “our Positive Youth Development Initiative, seniors’ programs and in growing the County’s tax base and job base through economic development,” said Leggett.
Of importance to the Germantown/ Clarksburg-area is the proposed increase in funds to the Montgomery County Police budget specifically to allow for six more police officers to be stationed in the 5th District-Germantown working in the “Mary Sector” which includes the northern portion of Germantown and the burgeoning population in Clarksburg. As well as fully funds the body camera program for the entire MCPD.
Leggett’s FY17 Operating budget also restores Montgomery County Public Libraries to above their pre-recession funding levels and extends summer weekend hours at the Germantown, Bethesda, Gaithersburg, and Silver Spring libraries.
The proposed budget also boosts economic development and job growth, according to the County press release, with a $4.2 million appropriation for the new Montgomery Economic Development Corporation; $500,000 expanded funding for the County MOVE program to attract businesses to fill vacant County office space; $11.5 million in the capital budget to expand transportation options and facilitate job growth with Bus Rapid Transit; and $1 million for WorkSource Montgomery, Inc., the new entity charged with developing and matching workforce development with critical employer needs.
Leggett noted that there is legislation currently being considered in Annapolis that would allow the County to “stretch out” its back payments to comply with the Wynne case decision. Should that legislation pass, Leggett urged the County Council to apply those savings to reduce his recommended property tax increase.
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article stated a property tax increase of 3.9 percent in the headline of the article. It should have read 3.9 cent increase. It has been corrected. It was correct in the article but wrong in the headline. While Germantown Pulse tries to make every effort that all our reporting is accurate, apologizes for the mistake.