Thursday, September 12, 2013

County Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Now in Effect

The County’s $4.8 billion total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2014 went into effect on July 1. The budget, which was unanimously approved by the County Council and reflects a 4.1 percent increase over the approved budget for FY 2013, “continues to invest in our economic and social infrastructure,” said Council President Nancy Navarro.

The total County budget, including debt service, grants and enterprise funds, will be $4.8 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent from the FY13 approved budget. The overall tax-supported portion of the budget will be $4.2 billion, including debt service, an increase of 4.2 percent from the FY13 budget.

The budget also maintains property tax revenue at the Charter limit. It includes a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. Because property assessments still reflect the impact of the recession, the weighted property tax rate will increase by 1.8 cents.

Since March 15, when County Executive Isiah Leggett presented his recommended budget, the Council worked to balance the County’s budget as the deep recession that affected jurisdictions nationwide slowly receded. The budget provided some limited opportunities to address areas that suffered significantly during the recession.

The Council’s budget protects core services and “safety net” programs. The Council continued its strong support of the Montgomery Cares program by adding $256,875 to increase reimbursement for Montgomery Cares services from $62 to $65; $400,000 to increase the number of mammograms and colorectal screenings performed by Montgomery Cares; and $75,000 to allow Montgomery Cares to expand its behavioral health services.

The Council added $997,000 to increase the County matches to 85 percent for the Working Families Income Supplement. It also added $200,000 to implement the County Food Recovery program and $75,000 to enhance homeless outreach in support of the 100,000 Homes Campaign and for outreach to panhandlers.

“We have been able to craft a balanced, sustainable budget that fully funds the school system's request,” said Council President Navarro. “It begins to reverse the most painful of the cuts made at the height of the recession, prioritizes services for the most vulnerable in our County, enhances out-of-school opportunities for at-risk youth, reduces the energy tax and provides compensation increases for our dedicated County employees for the first time in four years.”

The Council approved a total budget of $2.225 billion, including $2.1 billion in tax-supported funds, for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), an increase of $57.7 million (2.65 percent increase from FY13) in the total budget. The budget provides a County contribution to MCPS that meets, but does not exceed, the State’s Maintenance of Effort Law requirement.

The Council approved a total budget of $280 million, including $228 million in tax-supported funds, for Montgomery College. This is an increase of 4.2 percent from the FY13 approved budget and funds 99 percent of the College’s tax-supported request.

In the years between FY09 and FY12, the County Government workforce was reduced by 1,254 positions (10 percent). The FY13 budget restored 92 positions and the FY14 budget restores an additional 128 positions—including 104 overall in either public safety departments or the Department of Public Libraries.

Funding for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will increase by $6.2 million to $105.1 million, a 6.3 percent increase and more than 100 percent of the agency’s request.
 
Tax-supported funding for Montgomery County Government programs will be $1.3 billion, an increase of 3.9 percent, not including payments to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust.

The Council approved the Executive’s collective bargaining agreements with organizations that represent County employees. County employees have not received general wage adjustments (COLAs) for four years or service increments (step increases) for three years; were required to take furloughs of three to eight days in FY11; and have experienced increased cost-sharing for health and retirement benefits starting in FY12.
 
Given the County’s improved fiscal condition heading into FY14, the Council approved the Executive’s FY14 compensation plan. Under the Executive’s plan, most County government employees would receive a 3.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment or general wage increase in September. Police officers would receive a 2.1 percent increase and career firefighters would receive a 2.75 percent increase, both in July. Eligible employees would also receive service increments (step increases) of 3.5 percent on their anniversary date.
 
The Executive’s plan also provides for retroactive service increments for some police officers and career firefighters. Eligible police officers would receive a 1.75 percent increment in February 2014 while eligible career firefighters would receive a 3.5 percent increment in April 2014. Eligible employees would also receive longevity increases. The combined increases for all County employees would cost about $32 million in FY14.
 
To aid both residents and businesses, the Council took another significant step in rolling back the energy tax increase approved as an emergency measure three years ago. Last year, the Council reduced the increase by 10 percent. This year, the Council reduced the increase by another 10 percent.
 
The Council approved $2,250,857 for 72 Council community grants to nonprofit organizations to support a variety of programs and services, including food, eviction prevention, utility assistance and other safety net services to help low income families facing severe economic hardships. This amount is in addition to the $4.6 million in community grants recommended by the County Executive.
 
The Council continued its commitment to restore recent reductions to the County Libraries budget. The approved budget of $34.8 million is an increase of $3.4 million (10.8 percent from the approved FY13 level) and supports the reopening of Gaithersburg and Olney libraries and expanded services hours at Poolesville and Long Branch libraries. The Council added $100,000 to the Executive’s recommendation to increase the purchase of e-Books.
 
The budget maintains the County’s commitment to prudent fiscal policies that the Council and Executive mutually agreed are critical to maintaining sound fiscal management. The budget increases County reserve levels to cushion the County against any additional unanticipated economic setbacks. It also again increases the pre-funding of retiree health benefits.

The approved budget strongly supports the County’s public safety commitment. The budget for the Department of Police is $260.5 million, an increase of $9.99 million (4.0 percent) from the FY13 approved budget. The budget implements the second year of the Police Department’s three-year staffing plan, adding 40 positions. The number of School Resource Officers assigned to Montgomery County Public Schools was doubled from the current six to 12.

The budget for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service is $218 million, an increase of $13.5 million (6.6 percent) from the FY13 approved budget.
 
The Council re-emphasized its support of school-based after-school programs by approving the RecExtra and Sports Academies programs, addition of one middle school site for the Excel Beyond the Bell program and addition of three summer Extended Learning Opportunity programs.
 
The County’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) that is the focus of major review every two years and adjustments in the other years saw approval of several adjustments for Fiscal Years 2013-18. The Council added $3.82 million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacement projects in school facilities and accelerated $8 million for HVAC and roof and other building components. The Council accelerated more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and added $4 million for bridge renovations (including the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda). The Council kept on track funding for the Capital Crescent Trail and Bethesda South Entrance. The Executive had recommended delaying funding for the projects.