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Elrich Releases His First Capital Budget: Nearly $1.8 Billion for MCPS

County Executive Marc Elrich released his recommended FY20 Capital Budget and Amendments to the FY19-24 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The budget recommends $1.775 billion in Montgomery County Public Schools funding to build 625 new classrooms in 26 new additions, three new schools, and one reopened school – despite funding challenges. The total Amended FY19-24 CIP is $4.3 billion

“As County Executive, my top priority is maintaining and expanding funding to address the capacity and infrastructure needs of the public schools,” said Elrich. “But, during the first few weeks of my tenure as County Executive, I was faced with a reduction of almost $122 million in CIP revenues. In particular, Schools Impact Taxes were projected to decrease by $120.7 million. With little time to prepare the January biennial CIP, I was faced with a budget where any increase would require other reductions – and then I’d need to make even further reductions to balance the CIP. I directed our team to develop a budget that maintained funding for all previously approved MCPS projects that the Board of Education requested. Then we went to work to preserve key capital projects within available funding.”

“I regret that we did not have enough funds to support the Board’s increased funding requests,” Elrich added. “We must generate additional funding to support more classrooms, security enhancements, and investments in infrastructure. I will work with the Council, the Board of Education, our state legislative delegation, the Governor, and advocates to pursue all options for funding our schools.”

With fewer dollars available, it was necessary to find cost savings, to defer some projects, and to look for other funding sources to meet the County’s capital needs. One project with significant savings is the Montrose Parkway East project, which would have constructed a new four-lane divided parkway as recommended in the North Bethesda/Garrett Park and Aspen Hill Master Plans. This will be an extension of Montrose Parkway West from MD-355 to Viers Mill Road near Parkland Drive in Rockville.

Elrich determined that, although the project was approved by the County Council, the new roadway was too large, too costly, and did not present a viable solution; and he eliminated funding for constructing the old project and included planning funding to develop alternative solutions to the local safety and traffic problems.

The County Executive also pushed back the construction of the Dorsey Mill Bridge in Germantown to beyond the Fiscal year 2024. Last year’s CIP included the Dorsey Mill Bridge project, which is planned to provide an east-west connection between Century Boulevard on the west side of I-270 with Observation Drive on the east side of I-270. However, the actual land acquisition was projected for FY23 it is not pushed back to FY24. The construction is projected from FY25 to FY28. Last year, the total cost of the project was $28.4 million, of which $5.3 million was to have been funded within the next five years. However, that project has been deferred.

The latest version of the County’s CIP Budget continues funding for the design for Observation Drive Extended, a north-south road extension of existing Observation Drive, connecting north Germantown to Clarksburg.

“The project provides for the design and construction of a 2.2-mile long roadway within a minimum 150-foot right-of-way,” according to the project description in the CIP Budget. “The scope of work between Waters Discovery Lane and West Old Baltimore Road is a four-lane divided roadway (two lanes in each direction), along with an eight-foot-wide shared-use path on the west side and a five-foot wide sidewalk on the east side, with landscaping panels. The scope of work between West Old Baltimore Road and Stringtown Road is a two-lane roadway, along with an eight-foot-wide shared-use path on the west side, with space for the two additional master-planned lanes and a five-foot wide sidewalk on the east side to be built in the future. A bike path will be provided on the east side from existing Observation Drive near Waters Discovery Lane to Little Seneca Parkway to provide greenway connectivity. Traffic signals will be provided at the Shawnee Lane, Little Seneca Parkway, and West Old Baltimore Road intersections. A bridge approximately 550 feet in length will be constructed near Waters Discovery Lane, ending at West Old Baltimore Road near the future MTA Comsat Station.”

Extending Observation Drive would provide a north-south corridor that links existing Observation Drive to Stringtown Road, providing access to a rapidly developing residential and business area between the I-270 and MD 355 corridors. “The project improves mobility and safety for local travel, improves pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular access to residential, employment, commercial and recreational areas,” according to the CIP Budget document.

The Cricket Field at South Germantown Recreational Park also remains in the CIP. Preliminary work has begun on the field which will be located at the intersection of Schaffer Road and Burdette Lane in Germantown. The cost of the project is slotted at $2.3 million in total funding of which $1.4 million will be funded over six years.

“The project provides a new cricket field and supporting infrastructure on undeveloped parkland within South Germantown Recreational Park. The project includes the following amenities: 400-foot diameter cricket field with pitch, irrigation, vehicle entrance road, 50 parking spaces, vehicle turnaround and overflow parking for 30 cars, central pedestrian plaza, trail connection to existing park, loop trails around field and natural area of park, viewing mound for spectators, bioretention areas, hedgerow screen plantings, meadow plantings and reforestation areas,” according the Montgomery County Capital Budget website.

Elrich, however, eliminated plans for an addition to Lake Seneca Elementary School in Germantown.

“The Board of Education's request included $51.1 million in new funding for planning additions for Highland View (Silver Spring), Thurgood Marshall (Darnestown), and Lake Seneca Elementary Schools; school security enhancements; restroom repairs; planned lifecycle asset replacement of core infrastructure; and other infrastructure investments. Unfortunately, due to the previously mentioned revenue shortfalls, my recommended CIP is not able to accommodate these increases,” he wrote in his memo to the County Council on his recommended budget.

The CIP also includes a study to develop options for making County services more accessible to the Poolesville community. It calls for a Facility Planning project amendment using existing funds to develop options for making County services more accessible to residents of Poolesville. This study will consider community needs as well as co-location options with Montgomery County Public Schools and other community resources, according to Elrich’s memo to the Council

Among the amendment highlights:

• Includes $1.775 billion in MCPS funding. State Aid is assumed to continue at $355.7 million;

• Includes $279.6 million for Montgomery College. This includes increased funding for the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Math & Science Center, a new Collegewide Central Plant and Distribution Systems project, and to renovate the Rockville campus soccer field. Non-County funding sources made it possible for the College budget to increase by $2.3 million, or 0.8 percent. Elrich also approved State-authorized cost escalation increases ($2.4 million) for the Germantown Campus Student Services Center which are reflected beyond the six-year period due to affordability. Total State Aid for the College is $65.0 million;

• Includes $231.1 million for the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Non-County resources made an $11.2 million, or 5.1 percent, M-NCPPC increase possible. A new Bethesda Park Impact Payments project ($10 million) will help acquire needed parkland in the urbanized Bethesda sector plan;

• Maintains $47.5 million in funding for Bus Rapid Transit initiatives;

• Includes $72.0 million for the South County Recreation and Aquatic Center – a partnership with the Housing Opportunities Commission;

• Addresses critical infrastructure needs related to bridge renovations, highway maintenance, LED streetlights, and the Council Office Building Garage.

To see the recommended FY20 Capital Budget and the $4.3 billion amended FY19-24 Capital Improvements Program, click here.

Photos by Germantown Pulse

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