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Montgomery Council President Berliner's statement on Council's agreement on County FY18 operating budget

For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 18, 2017

Montgomery Council President Berliner’s

statement on FY18 operating budget agreement

and amendments to the
FY17-22 Capital Improvements Program

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 18, 2017—Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner made the following remarks today after the Council unanimously reached agreement on the County’s Fiscal Year 2018 operating budget and amendments to the Fiscal Years 2017-22 Capital Improvements Program. The budget will be formally adopted by the Council on May 25.

The complete text of Council President Berliner’s remarks:

Colleagues and County residents,

Budgets are many things. They reflect our values, our commitment to core government services, as well as the economic conditions of our County and our residents. I believe the budget we have just approved harmonizes our fiscal realities with our values while building on the basic services that our residents and taxpayers see and rely on every day.

The County Executive provided us, as he has for many years, with a solid blueprint. Our budget builds on the basics and makes progress on pressing needs. At the same time, our budget holds the line on property taxes and continues the tradition of fiscal responsibility that has allowed us to weather economic storms and maintain our respected AAA bond rating that is the hallmark of well-run governments. It sets aside an unprecedented $457 million to honor our fiscal plan, which calls for a reserve of 8.9 percent. This budget also supports our County employees—the people who do so much to make our government run every day.

As always, one of our County’s highest priorities and most basic responsibilities is education. We have funded 100 percent of our school system’s $2.5 billion budget request in order to continue making progress in reducing class size and closing the academic achievement gap. The collaboration between the Council, the Board of Education, Superintendent Smith and the school system reflects our shared commitment to providing a world class education for all Montgomery County students while using transparent metrics that will allow us to gauge our progress. Being able to work in true partnership with our MCPS colleagues has helped us address the critical needs of our growing school system and ensure that it remains one of the best school systems in the country.

We also funded 100 percent of the school system’s request in our capital improvement budget. Our system continues to grow by 2,000 to 3,000 students each year and our schools are feeling the pressure. The Council continues to demonstrate our commitment to funding the school system’s facility needs in order to provide our students and teachers with an environment that is conducive to teaching and learning.

When it comes to education, one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that our children do well in school is to invest in early education. Other communities such as New York, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia are doing that in a big way. We have more work to do before we launch something that ambitious, but we can take important incremental steps in that direction, and we have. We have added more than $4.5 million in this budget for pre-Kindergarten and Head Start programs to serve students from low-income families.

Our budget also reflects the increasing importance of Montgomery College. It is one of our County’s great assets and equalizers, serving more than 60,000 students of all ages, walks of life and ethnicities. It is a great mirror of our County, and we worked hard to address its needs by providing $3.2 million more than the County Executive proposed to strengthen its impact and support the quality programming it offers.

One of the major changes we have made to the County Executive’s budget is to increase funding for non-profits that are on the front lines helping those who need help the most. Our non-profit providers, reflective of our County’s incredibly diverse population, are among our greatest assets. And their work is more important than ever as needs grow and broader societal tensions threaten support from the federal government. We must face with clear-eyed resoluteness the growing poverty in our midst, and this budget does so. We have provided a 2 percent increase to Health and Human Services nonprofit providers and increased Council grants to our non-profits that work to end chronic homelessness, address the scourge of hunger, provide essential medical services to our most vulnerable, and confront the mental health challenges in our community.

We often talk about our changing demographics. One change that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the explosive growth of our senior population. In 2020, 20 percent of our population will be seniors and we want our seniors to stay in our County. This budget will help our seniors and their family members understand how they can make informed decisions on their caregiving needs, expand the County’s lunch program for seniors, and strengthen the capacity of our Adult Protective Services so they can get to the bottom of cases of reported fraud or abuse committed against our seniors. And we also met the number one transportation request of our seniors—extending the Seniors Ride Free program on Saturdays.

We have also taken steps in this budget to create a stronger business climate. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our County’s economy. Through the creation of a Business Solutions Group, they will have a better chance of navigating our regulatory landscape. We will be providing critically important seed capital in the form of microloans to aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the County and implementing an initiative to bring more jobs to East County. We provided needed funds for the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and WorkSource Montgomery, which are now responsible for both economic development and workforce training in our county. We need them to succeed.

Affordable housing continues to be a daunting issue for our County, as it is for almost every desirable place to live in the country. We have doubled down on that issue and we are using every tool in our toolbox, including our master plans to increase our stock of affordable housing. This budget provides the highest level of funding for the Housing Initiative Fund in more than seven years, a total of $59 million. We also built on the momentum of the Council’s recent Landlord-Tenant bill by providing funding for more tenant advocacy.

Transportation related items were high on our list as well, as they should be given the state of traffic in our County. We are strengthening transit by advancing smarter and more efficient bus service on Route 29 and Route 355—two of our County’s most vital arteries. At the same time, we took a major step forward in our pursuit of Bus Rapid Transit. Route 29 will be the corridor we tackle first with the help of $10 million in federal funds. New Ride On routes in Clarksburg and the Upcounty area will provide needed services to one of the fastest growing parts of our county. And we are moving forward with a state-of-the-art traffic signal operation that has been shown to reduce travel times by 10 to 15 percent to help our commuting public.

We are also mindful of the state of our roads. Many are not in the condition that our community expects or deserves. We have taken on that challenge too—providing an additional $6.8 million dollars for a total of $11.9 million next year to make progress on fulfilling one of our most basic responsibilities.

We have done all this while addressing some of the most fundamental services County government provides:
• We increased our public safety budget by restoring overnight police department coverage and adding 16 new patrol officers plus two Community Engagement officers.

• We are expanding Library hours at three branches and added funding to keep our libraries and our recreational facilities clean and inviting public spaces.

Finally, one of the qualities that I think sets our County apart from other communities is our commitment to what I would call the soul of Montgomery County. We value the arts that feed our soul, and we value nature that keeps us grounded. This budget reflects those values too. We added funding for our terrific arts organizations, including the National Philharmonic. And we restored funding for our Parks Department so they can continue to maintain what is consistently ranked as one of the most valued attributes of our County—our great parks. This funding will help maintain our playing fields, our world-class trail system, and assist with activating and programming our most utilized parks. Our residents also value trees and we added approximately a half-million dollars for tree planting in neighborhoods across the County.

The budget process is demanding work and often requires tough decisions. Without the support of our terrific Council staff—who toil late hours and weekends to guide us—the process would be nearly impossible. Thank you to Steve Farber, Dr. Orlin and the entire Fifth Floor staff for your tremendous work.

And each of us know how important our own staffs are to making sure we have the information and support necessary to make these decisions. I want to thank my entire team for their hard work, and in particular. my Chief of Staff Cindy Gibson, whose wisdom and professionalism we all benefit from.

But most of all, I want to thank you, my Council colleagues. Every one of you made a significant contribution to improving the quality of life for our residents in this budget. Every highlight I referenced came at your initiative. As a result, we have produced a budget that is fiscally responsible, reflective of our values and strengthens core government services that collectively make our County an extraordinary place to live.

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Release ID: 17-173
Media Contact: Neil Greenberger 240-777-7939