Council President Gabe Albornoz’s Statement on the FY23 Operating Budget and FY23-28 Capital Improvements Program

by Patrick Herron

Per MCPD:
For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 19, 2022
Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz made the following statement about the Fiscal Year 2023 Operating Budget and the Fiscal Year 2023-2028 Capital Improvements Program. The Council’s final vote on the capital and operating budgets for Montgomery County is scheduled for May 26.

Below is Council President Albornoz’s full statement:

This week, as I reflected on the budget we are about to approve, it occurred to me that this is the eighteenth budget I have had a hand in shaping. My early experience with the County budget was as an executive for a non-profit organization, then later as a cabinet official and now, as Council President. Those experiences provide valuable context that helps me see this budget from multiple angles.

While this $6.3 billion budget before us contains tens of thousands of line items – an overwhelming amount – I know that each of those line items tells an important story. And together, they create the foundation for what is most important to us: a community with excellent schools, housing for all of our residents, strong economic development, green spaces for recreation and relaxation, safe neighborhoods, robust libraries, a community with strong public health and where seniors can age with grace and support, a healthy environment and a safety net that ensures food, housing and heath for our vulnerable residents.

Every budget brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. This budget is among the strongest I can remember. Thanks to the support of federal and state partners, and an economic recovery that was stronger than anticipated, we have more resources to work with than we imagined possible at the beginning of the pandemic. In fact, over the last year, we have been working more closely with our state and local leaders to identify ways to help our community thrive and they have come through for us on so many levels.

I am proud that this Council worked diligently to ensure that we balanced the growing needs in our community with fiscal responsibility. We accomplished this without raising taxes and by fully funding our reserves to ensure that our County will remain strong in the face of challenges that threaten our financial security, like the recent pandemic. This budget puts our County on a firm footing for the future.

We listened to our residents, who to their credit, even during a pandemic, made the effort during the budget process to make their voices heard on the critical issues that matter. They wrote, testified, texted, tweeted, and posted their opinions, which helped shape the budget that we will approve today.

A heavy emphasis of this budget is supporting our most vulnerable populations. We recognized that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been at the center of the County’s COVID-19 response and needed to significantly increase many services to meet the emergency needs of our residents, funding more than $421 million to DHHS. We recognized that as the pandemic federal funds decrease, we will need to continue to assess the needs of our community.

We focused on the most critical yet most basic needs of our residents. Food insecurity continues to be a significant need across our county. We supported over $1 million to create the new Office of Food System Resiliency, and $4 million in one-time funding to continue the County’s response to this need.

We supported the outstanding work of our Minority Health Initiatives and programs and approved more than $12 million for the continuation of their essential delivery of culturally competent services and resources.

We approved $5.6 million to enhance funding for the County’s Consolidated Service Hubs and recognized the vital role of these Service Hubs within the County’s provider network, and their overwhelming achievements in building and executing this community-based model. We also recognized the need to support our nonprofit partners and increased by two percent the base contracts and included all nonprofit partners in this investment.

We recognized the need to support our schools during one of the most challenging times in the history of education and funded our schools with a record $2.9 billion. We fully funded Montgomery College at $312.2 million with resources to maintain tuition rates with no increase and supported its expansion into East County.

We funded multiple mental health initiatives and social services for high school students, including an increase of $3.7 million for mental health and case management services at ten priority high schools without an existing wellness center. We also added $5.5 million to expand mental health, case management and positive youth development services through the Street Outreach Network and community-based providers to all high schools without an existing high school wellness center program.

We funded $250,000 for the expansion of Girls Sports leagues, increasing access for historically underserved populations and $2.2 million for Out-of-School Time programming.

We supported the level funding of $10.9 million for the Early Care and Education non-departmental account (NDA) and funding for outreach to pediatricians and clinics to increase the screening of young children for developmental disabilities and referrals for service.

In addition, we approved $2.5 million in funding for the Guaranteed Income Pilot NDA, a public-private partnership with the Meyer Foundation that will offer direct, recurring cash payments with goal of alleviating poverty, improving their livelihoods, and relying on program data to inform future potential programs.

During the most critical times of the global pandemic, our first responders and many County employees have stood on the frontlines facing increased risks, trauma, and mental health challenges stemming from on-the-job stress.

To meet these challenges, the Council supported increases for our first responders to help us retain our police and firefighters, help with recruitment and bring salaries in line with our neighboring jurisdictions. These employees have served our communities tirelessly and their hard work should be reflected in their wages.

This Council has also been actively engaged to ensure that policing in Montgomery County remains transparent, accountable, and safe for every member of our community. I was proud to lead the Council to adopt this groundbreaking state legislation that fully engaged community stakeholders, law enforcement, and advocates to create a civilian board that will promote trust, impartiality, and accountability in cases of police misconduct. Our budget will provide the necessary funding to make this effort a reality.

The newly established Police Accountability Board (PAB) and the Administrative Charging Committee (ACC) will review each complaint by the public alleging police misconduct. And given its significant responsibilities, the Council provided $436,000 to support the PAB and the ACC, which will help build trust and support our youth, families, and law enforcement alike in the wake of racial and social justice.

Our world is facing a climate emergency. The past several years, and especially the past few months, our residents have felt the brunt of climate change right here in our County. We have experienced record flooding, and in one tragic case, a young man lost his life to a flash flood. In this budget, the Council increased our Department of Environmental Protection by 116 percent to ensure that our County will be a leader in the effort to fight climate change. This includes initiatives to boost our clean energy, energy conservation programs, and climate education and outreach.

The Council also provided funding for the Montgomery County Green Bank, which is the most ambitious climate investment in the County’s history with $20 million leveraged in current dollars that will grow into $100 million in the future.

As we know, aging infrastructure and limited transit options are a recipe for disaster. This year, the Council invested $228.6 million in our Department of Transportation (DOT) to balance affordability and equal access to transportation. Ride On and Call-N-Ride services will be restored to pre-pandemic levels and we will build a zero-emissions bus fleet, the first of its kind in the nation to help our County reach its Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals.

As Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, I am delighted we added nearly $1 million in grants for local nonprofit organizations to provide transportation services for individuals who are disabled, seniors, and individuals with limited incomes. This will help our most vulnerable residents access public transit and lead full lives.

This year is a historic one for affordable housing. This Council has provided a record $190 million in our capital and operating budgets to both preserve and build affordable housing, while also providing continued support for rental assistance while our County recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

Our capital budget provides a total of $83 million in FY23 to acquire and preserve affordable housing, including $40 million for the Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing Preservation  (NOAH) program to protect existing affordable housing in high-growth, transit-oriented corridors.

In addition, the Council approved $50 million of Housing Production Fund (HPF) bonds for the Housing Opportunity Commission (HOC) to fund new construction of affordable housing, as well as allocating more than $57 million in our Housing Initiative Fund (HIF) operating budget, which provides funds to preserve and build affordable housing and provide rental assistance programs for low-income households and for households moving from homelessness to permanent housing. This is a 13.8 percent  increase.

Our parks provide not only a peaceful green getaway for our residents, but they also contribute to the social fabric of our County, bringing together people from all walks of life to play sports, take part in picnics and just play. This budget includes several important park enhancements including a new Black Hill Regional SEED classroom, a second cricket field at the South Germantown Recreational Park, Bethesda Park acquisitions and improvements, Ridge Road Ice Rink improvements, and enhancements at Wheaton Regional Park, Ovid Hazen Wells Park, including bringing the carousel back.

Economic development is the driving force that provides for the high quality of life that we all enjoy here in our County. In addition to dedicating $4 million to our Economic Development Fund, which helps attract and keep employers here in the County, this year, we provided $2.1 million to help our hotel and motel industry, which has been deeply impacted by the pandemic.

Many of our urban areas need assistance in promoting their small businesses and commercial hubs. With the $10 million we provided to establish Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), they will be able to create BIDs to boost their marketing and promotion to continue to grow their downtowns. And our economic development partner, the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, received $6.2 million to continue marketing our County to attract new businesses and grow our biotech cluster.

The Council also supported WorkSource Montgomery, a critical link in the County’s workforce development efforts, with $2.17 million. This boost to our employment and training organization will help local businesses connect with residents to fill jobs during this economic recovery.

There are numerous critical players in the budget process.  I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Joy Nurmi, Lillian Cruz, Beth Shuman, and Mayra Bayonet for their leadership and dedication.  The Council President’s Office carries an important responsibility and puts in long hours to complete its tasks. The work we do is extremely rewarding and it requires a high level of commitment and dedication. For each of you this is more than a job, it’s a call to public service. I can’t express enough the respect and admiration I have for all four of you.

We are fortunate as Councilmembers, but more importantly as County residents to have a remarkably talented and committed Central Staff. I want to thank Executive Director Marlene Michaelson, Deputy Director Craig Howard and all their team as well as the Director of the Office of Legislative Oversight Chris Cihlar. Thank you also to Sonya Healy and the Public Information team for your critical leadership in building communication bridges with our entire community. I would also like to thank our Clerk of the Council Judy Rupp and outgoing Clerk Selena Singleton for keeping the trains moving on time. Finally, I would also like to thank our information technology staff, who have allowed us to work virtually and without disruption.

While at times the last several years have felt exhausting, overwhelming, and depressing, I have never felt more confident about the future of our County. This budget sets a strong foundation that keeps Montgomery County moving forward and affirms the principle that we all succeed, when we all succeed.

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