ROCKVILLE — The budget for fiscal year 2020 focuses its largest portion of funding on public schools in Montgomery County.
Residents will be happy to see that the 2020 budget does not include tax increases. The budget, which has a grand total of $5.7 billion, also dedicates major funding to public safety at $653 million and debt services at $439.2 million.
County Executive Marc Elrich presented his budget for the coming year on March 15, when he explained that Montgomery County has experienced an incredible amount of volatility in income taxes, which is where the county gets most of its revenue.
“You can no longer just take a really good year and project data from that year forward,” he said. “It’s hard to make plans when you don’t know what your base revenues are going to be.”
Elrich said he plans to design budgets for the future that can handle swings in tax revenues. He explained that he came into the budget process midway, and that one of his goals is to break the pattern of midyear-savings plans.
“I would rather have this more politically challenging budget that’s honest than a budget which promises everybody everything and then promptly starts taking the money back,” he said.
It’s no surprise that the budget focuses attention on public schools in the county. Elrich campaigned on the promise of and has worked in his first 100 days toward bolstering access to early education services for children.
“I prioritized early education funding, and we’re putting a $7 million down payment for that fund in this budget,” Elrich said.
Although the largest portion of funding will go towards MCPS, Elrich’s budget does not address all the requests of the school board.
Councilman Craig Rice was not happy with Elrich’s proposed budget because this coming budget is the first year that it does not fully fund the Montgomery County Board of Education’s requests, or support Montgomery College where it can.
“This recommended budget jeopardizes many of the children and adults in our community who need the most help,” Rice said in a statement. “(It) represents a divestment in education both at the K-12 and higher education levels.”
He went on to explain that the proposed budget is $3.1 million below the requests of Montgomery College and $12.4 million below the requests of the Montgomery County Public School Board.
Montgomery College President Dr. DeRionne Pollard said she was also disappointed to find that funding for the local community college will remain at the same levels as last year.
“The County Executive’s proposal for only a maintenance of (the) effort funding level is tremendously disappointing and frustrating,” Pollard said, “especially after the college worked to propose an exceptionally lean budget.”
Another primary focus of the budget is on the environment. Elrich and the County Council have been working toward environmental goals for the county. In 2017 they put together a resolution to declare a climate emergency and created high goals for drastically reducing carbon emissions by 2027 and making Montgomery County carbon neutral by 2035.
Elrich included in his proposed budget funding for 10 electric Ride On buses and money to augment the existing food waste pilot program, which was created by the former County Executive Isiah Leggett.
“We’re going to be putting another half-million dollars into the food scrap program,” Elrich said. “My goal is to shut the incinerator down and not dump all this stuff on some poor black community in Virginia.”
Elrich pointed out the importance of adopting innovative ideas from other communities and shaping them to help Montgomery County reach its goals.
“I don’t think all good ideas start here there are other people who are equally committed to a more sustainable society perhaps more so than us,” Elrich said. “We need to open up our eyes and see what other people are doing; we need to learn from others and do a better job.”
The budget that Elrich has put together still has time to change. The County Council has authority to alter the budget if they see fit. Part of the council’s approval process of the budget will include public hearings, which allow residents to voice their concern on April 8, 9 and 10.
“Our focus will be on prioritizing funding for core services such as education and public safety, protecting our safety net services that serve our most-vulnerable residents and making strategic investment for our county’s economic and fiscal future,” said County Council President Nancy Navarro.
A vote on a finalized version of the 2020 budget is expected in late May.