This week, I unveiled my recommended FY24 operating budget. In lieu of our weekly video, I hope you watch our budget presentation as well as the questions from the media that followed. Developing a budget for our County with more than one million residents is complicated, and I believe this budget prioritizes quality education and maintains investments in our workforce, our residents, and our infrastructure, while also incorporating difficult choices. As I deliberated the decisions that I had to make, I was committed to not abandoning our most vulnerable, not abandoning our children, and continuing the investments that are needed to provide opportunities, jobs, public safety, affordable housing, equity, and combat climate change. There are a lot of important details in the budget that I encourage you to explore by following this link.
10-Cent Property Tax Increase Recommended for Education: In this year’s operating budget recommendations, I am requesting approval from the County Council for a ten-cent increase in property taxes to solely fund the Board of Education’s request of $3.2 billion – a record $296 million above the funding provided in FY23 and $264 million over the per-student maintenance of effort. This was a difficult decision for me, but I strongly believe that we have to invest in our children, which means investing in our schools. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B9SjjElry0
We are clearly at an inflection point, and preservation of our schools, ensuring our ability to retain and recruit the best educators, and ensuring their progress in producing the kind of students that we expect our school system to produce are challenges that we cannot ignore. A failure to address these issues would lead to unwinding all our other efforts to make this County more economically competitive, attract jobs, and maintain a quality of life for current and future residents. This increase in funding is also needed to improve student performance. COVID-19 has taken a tremendous toll on our students and their teachers; the needs to address the learning and the social and emotional loss are staggering. According to 2022 Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program test results, only 31 percent of MCPS students scored proficient in math, and 53 percent scored proficient in English: our students need more teaching assistance.
Our spending on students (adjusted for inflation) has been declining for more than a decade. Adjusting the amounts for inflation, the per-student spending peaked around FY10 and has never fully recovered. As you can see in the graph below, although nominal per-student spending (the blue solid line) has been going up over the past few years, real spending -adjusted for inflation (the blue dotted line) – has been declining.
Montgomery County currently has the lowest commercial property tax and second lowest residential property tax in the National Capital region. https://ora-cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/Tax%20Comparisons_June%202022.pdf
In terms of per-pupil spending, Montgomery County is currently fifth amongst the largest school systems in the state. If the proposed ten-cent tax increase is approved by Council, Montgomery County will become third highest in the state for per-pupil spending. (The blue dots are current spending, and the yellow dot is the proposed spending for the coming year.)
No one wants to pay more in taxes, let alone to be the one recommending them. But the choice here was clear for me. I did not want to sell our students or our future short by denying them the help they need now. This money is to keep our teacher salaries competitive, retain and recruit the best educators, and provide essential services for our schools.
Continuing Support for Community Needs: Our recommended budget recognizes the significant impact that the pandemic has had on County residents and the need for the County to continue to fund those vital services that our residents need to grow and thrive without Federal support.
I am pleased that we are able to provide $27.4 million in County funds to reshape the County’s Working Families Income Supplement to match a total of 70% of Federal EITC (when combined with State EITC). This is the largest amount provided by any local jurisdiction in the country and is an excellent program to help lower-income working Montgomery County families. As federal funding for the response to the pandemic phases out, I did not want us to close down all the programs that are still needed throughout the County to deal with COVID-19 itself as well as resources for those still economically and emotionally struggling with the impacts from it.
We are providing an initial $6.2 million for funding of our Food Staples Program in FY24 to continue to directly provide food to individuals and families most at need and another $1.1 million to fund our new Office of Food Systems Resilience. I am recommending $5.8 million budgeted for future potential COVID-19 outbreak response (testing, vaccination administration, outbreak management, & COVID sheltering.) And we are providing significant funding increases for the African American Health Program ($800,000) Latino Health Initiative ($950,000), and Asian American Health Initiative ($775,000).
Record Funding for Affordable Housing & to Fight Climate Change: As I mentioned in my second inaugural address in December, two of our County’s biggest challenges are providing more affordable housing and getting serious about the existential threat that is climate change. We are losing affordable units faster than we can replace them. Replacing them is not enough—we need more than we have now. We are building affordable units, and we are working with affordable housing providers to preserve others, but it simply is not enough. My FY24 recommends $124 million to expand the preservation and production of affordable housing. This budget continues to provide record funding for services that address affordable housing and homelessness in our community.
Whether it is investments in sustainability, resilience, mass transit, building energy, solar, or EV’s; every dollar counts toward our Climate Action Plan goal of 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035. I am proposing record funding of $271.6 million total in both the operating and capital budgets to combat climate change. This includes $19.3 Million for the Montgomery County Green Bank – an increase of almost $700,000.
Public Safety Investments: Investing in the safety and security of our residents and communities is a top priority. Our approach to public safety investments is holistic and targeted to support our officers, fire fighters, and EMTs as well as the communities who count on their protection. Last year, we increased the pay for police officers to be more competitive with our neighbors. This year, we are offering signing bonuses of $20,000 dollars to recruit new officers. We are also investing in recruitment efforts for our Department of Correction and Rehabilitation as well as providing improved mental health supports for both our first responders as well as for residents who experience traumatic events.
I am also recommending in this budget funding for development of a police survey platform to collect community feedback and advancement of the recommendations from the Effective Law Enforcement For All (ELE4A) report. And to help catch offenders and prosecute them for their crimes, I recommending $500,000 allocated to fund rebates for the purchasing of security cameras. We are able to maintain and enhance these various services thanks to a combination of factors including the strength of our local economy, aid from the State and Federal governments, and our fiscally prudent revenue projections over the last two budget cycles.
Additionally, strong capital gains attributed to tax returns from calendar year 2021 have resulted in income taxes producing greater than forecasted year-end surplus, which has resulted in a reserve of 14 percent of revenues. This is well beyond our commitment to hold ten percent of revenues in reserve. With this recommended budget, the County would still end FY24 with $715 million in reserves, which is $86 million over the 10% reserve target. I urge you to look over my proposed budget, which is now before the Council and for their review. You can review my FY24 budget here. Share it with your friends and let’s talk about why these changes are so important for Montgomery County’s future.
Business Tour to Highlight Women’s History Month
For Women’s History Month, the County has been recognizing outstanding leaders in our county government. We have used the County’s social media pages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagramto honor women who are helping Montgomery County stand out as the biggest and best municipality in the state. Tuesday was also Equal Pay Day.
I want to acknowledge the work being done this month by the Commission for Women. They have also put a spotlight on significant women making state history and have been hosting educational forums throughout the month. The Commission also celebrated its inaugural Women’s History Month celebration this past week. The group’s advocacy on behalf of women and all County residents in Annapolis and in our community helps improve our quality of life.
Last weekend I was in Gaithersburg for a St. Patrick’s Day parade at the Rio and got to talk to Stacey Hammer (seen above) who is the co-owner of Locally Crafted, a business that allows local artists to showcase and sell their crafts and artwork. This weekend I will be visiting 3 businesses in Silver Spring owned by women to learn more about their entrepreneurial journeys, the challenges they face and how we could make it easier for them to do business in Montgomery County. We value your feedback too. Follow this link to send an email to me.
Bus Driver Appreciation
Saturday, March 18th marks Transit Driver Appreciation Day. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation is looking to reward some riders who help them celebrate their favorite bus drivers by giving them a video shout out. To qualify just make a social media post that includes your bus driver’s name and the #transitdriverappreciation and tag @rideonmct and @MCDOTNow. The posts will be entered into a weekly raffle for a prize pack. Entries that mention a driver’s name will also qualify the driver for entry in one of three raffles for a gift card.
Riders that do not use social media can email a thank you message to firstname.lastname@example.org to be entered in the drawing. Entries may be publicly shared. Our transit drivers are essential to the mobility, safety and economic vitality of thousands of Montgomery County families. These employees do an amazing job serving our communities and ensuring that Ride On services are available, dependable and equitable. I want to thank our operators for their professionalism and dedication to their craft and our County. We are grateful for their talents and appreciative of their commitment to exemplary service to Ride On customers.
Police Bonuses Prompts Applicant Boost for Montgomery County Police
Earlier this week Montgomery County Police Department Chief Marcus Jones relayed that the $20,000 bonuses being offered for new officers has sparked lots of interest in the next Cadet Program. Before the announcement of the bonuses 1 to 4 applications the chief said MCPD was getting just 1 to 4 applications per day. Now those applications have grown ten-fold daily. Around our region and nation, law enforcement agencies are facing workforce shortages. MCPD is having the same challenges with 129 vacant positions as of last month. The most recent class graduated 29 officers, 21 for MCPD. The class before that just 15 people became sworn officers, 11 for MCPD.
I am pleased that we continue raising pay for police officers, making us more competitive in the region. The $20,000 bonus puts us on par with other areas offering bonuses to police officers like Anne Arundel County. We will continue our work to attract and recruit more officers to MCPD, preferably from Montgomery County. If you know anyone who would be interested in joining MCPD they’ll want to know about a “Recruitment Meet and Greet” for potential applicants happening Sunday, March 26 starting at 9 a.m. at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Academy in Gaithersburg. You can start your application by following this link.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,