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Statement From County Executive Marc Elrich Regarding County Council Approval of the County’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2021

For Immediate Release: Thursday 21 May

I want to thank the Council for passing the County’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 21) Budget. The budget passed by the Council endorses 98.4 percent of my proposed budget submitted on March 16. Other than my recommendation to fully fund the Board of Education’s full request for the next school year, my proposed budget plan, and the budget ultimately endorsed by the Council, contained minimal growth in spending.

The preparation of the budget started last October before the world had heard of COVID-19. When I submitted the budget, I included a special schools tax to meet the increasing needs of our students. I had included this proposal based on my work with our County’s legislative delegation in Annapolis and the need for our County to meet the extraordinary opportunity contained in the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations. Unfortunately, this unique opportunity to improve our schools for every student was another victim of the pandemic. Considering we are still providing less funding on a per-student basis than we were 10 years ago, there is much work to be done to live up to our County’s expectation of great public schools; and I will continue to work with the Council to guarantee we have the resources to meet this expectation.

My administration fully recognizes that the FY21 budget by necessity will be a flexible document that will evolve to take into account what are changing daily circumstances. The budget I sent over also included the reserves necessary to maintain our AAA bond rating, and I appreciate the Council maintaining the reserves, which will be important in the coming months. The Council also maintained the recommended funding for new positions for school nurses and other positions necessary as new schools open.

I want to be clear that we have been monitoring the budget very closely for months. I was the first County Executive in the state – and before the state itself – to issue a hiring and procurement freeze; and I have directed my County departments to aggressively start saving money. We do not need a “savings plan” immediately, although we have begun saving immediately. Although it has been represented as different from that of Washington, D.C., my actions mirror that of the District and other jurisdictions – to consider federal money, reserves, and savings from hiring freezes.  It does not make budgetary sense at this moment to issue a “savings plan” until we have a clear picture of our losses and revenues. Why set things in motion that are not needed now and may not be needed? For example, FEMA just announced that they will not be requiring local matches – we had been planning on our paying the usual 25 percent cost share, but now they will pay 100 percent of the costs – that is good news for our budget.

I regret that the Council did not maintain my proposal to provide 80 percent of homeowners with some property tax relief through an increase in the Income Tax Offset Credit (ITOC) from $692 to $800. The ITOC provides a flat dollar credit – currently $692 – to every homeowner living in their principal residence. The Council’s own staff concurred with the benefits of my proposal as their analysis demonstrated that homes worth $250,000 would have realized a $74 savings; homes worth $500,000 would have saved $40; and homes worth $750,000 would have saved $6. Homes worth $1 million would have paid an extra $28 in taxes.

I also want to thank the Council for passing the capital budget which, like the operating budget I submitted, maintains our public schools as the highest priority. The Council also endorsed my Vision Zero proposal to increase pedestrian and biker safety and maintained work to develop a Bus Rapid Transit system. I do want to point out one cautionary note that the Council-approved capital budget assumes an $80.6 million increase in state aid for school construction. This is not guaranteed and will require concerted collaboration among all of us – the state delegation, the Board of Education, the Council and myself to make sure it is a reality. If that state aid does not materialize, it will be impossible to maintain funding for all the planned projects.

Other important funding for critical infrastructure that I recommended, and was maintained by the Council, include new projects such as the Public Safety Communications Center, the Detention Center demolition/renovation, the outdoor firearms training center, Progress Place Renovation, the Recreation pool slide replacement, and Recreation facilities refurbishment projects. My recommended funding for the Clarksburg Library and the Boyds Transit Center was maintained. These are projects that the communities have requested for some time.

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Release ID: 20-012