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BETHESDA – Calling his proposed Fiscal Year 2020 operating budget “really, really constrained,” County Executive Marc Elrich said he still must pare $182 million from the $5.6-billion budget before revenues and expenditures are balanced.
“That’s a gap we’ve got to close,” Elrich said to a crowded cafeteria at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Feb. 5.
However, he stressed, he does not plan to cut any safety-net programs.
“The last things that I am going after are programs that help people,” he said.
Almost half of the proposed operating budget will be spent on education at public schools. Another 10.6 percent is designated for public safety. The debt service is third on the list of expenditures, at 8.6 percent of the budget, according to Chris Mullin, senior budget analyst for the county’s Office of Management and Budget.
Besides the operating budget, the county also has a capital budget, for facilities’ improvements and other capital projects.
Tuesday night’s budget forum was Elrich’s fifth and final one, although the county has a website on which residents can still make their budget requests known.
Next, Elrich’s budget will be presented to the county council by March 15. The council will then review and approve it by the end of May.
During the two-hour meeting, Elrich said he is not raising taxes.
His major budget priority is increasing the number of children attending preschool and the number of sites available for preschool education. He also vowed to shutter the county’s Dickerson Landfill and make the county greener.
He told the audience that everything his administration does will be addressed through a “racial equity lens” so that all residents receive the same chance as everyone else to succeed.
“I think this is one of the most-important things this county can do,” he said to a highly favorable crowd.
In the area of economic development, Elrich said he hopes to bring jobs “into the buildings we have,” noting that there are currently 10-million square feet of empty offices here.
That is why, Elrich said, he intends to travel to California soon and speak with businesses that may be interested in moving here as part of the Amazon move to northern Virginia.
While in California, he also plans to visit a recycling plant that recycles many more products than the county currently does.
Another goal of Elrich’s is to improve high-tech education at schools here, which he said would then attract more companies to the area.
In another announcement geared to bringing more businesses here, Elrich said he asked Councilman Sidney Katz to head a committee that will examine tax rates and business regulations at neighboring counties with the goal of bringing Montgomery County “in line with the rest of the area.”
During the meeting, about 25 people urged Elrich to fund education and school building improvements, continue on the county’s energy conservation path, and focus on road congestion.
Elrich told the audience he favored easing congestion without adding any toll lanes by changing the direction of some lanes during rush hour to accommodate the increased traffic.
He also discussed bus rapid transit, noting that he preferred that buses drive in the left lanes and stop to pick up and drop off riders onto already-existing medians.
Adding more crosswalks along busy roads is a good way to increase pedestrian safety, he also said.
In an effort to end homelessness and increase affordable housing in the county, Elrich said he currently is looking into using shipping containers as housing.
“We are repurposing the trendy shipping containers” for use at the county’s homeless shelter on East Gude Drive in Rockville, he said.
“Hopefully, in not too long, we will add more,” he said, explaining that about two dozens of the containers could be joined and made into an apartment complex.
Ending homelessness “is a priority for me,” Elrich said. “You can’t treat people who are living in the woods.”
The Fiscal Year 2020 budget runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.