ROCKVILLE—Mayor Bridget Newton and the Rockville City Council had their first work session to discuss their 2020 proposed operating budget.
The budget has a slight increase of 1.7 percent from the 2019 operating budget and totals $138.5 million. This small increase in budget totals can also be seen in the recently released Montgomery County budget as well. Officials caution that slower growth like this can be an indication of a coming recession.
“Officials from the State of Maryland have cautioned all jurisdictions to budget conservatively and protect reserves considering a potential market contraction or recession in the near future,” wrote Rockville City Manager Robert DiSpirito in his budget introduction.
His staff and other departments have been mindful of this advice by maintaining reserve levels near policy guidelines and by being strategic about capital expenses.
“This annual increase is the lowest in seven years,” said Stacey Webster of the Financial Advisory Board. “The modest annual increases are a sign that the economy has cooled slightly from our post recessionary years.”
The city of Rockville receives the majority of its funding from property taxes and income tax revenue. These two sources support approximately 68 percent of the city’s General Fund Budget which supports many of the city’s core services and departments. This year’s revenue from property taxes increased a modest two percent from fiscal year 2019 to $13.9 billion.
According to the budget report this slight increase can be attributed to higher property assessments and new properties being added to the tax roll in January earlier this year. Assessments take place every three years; the next assessment will be in 2021.
Income tax revenue is the second factor that allocates towards the city’s General Fund. According to the report, income tax revenue is estimated to increase in 2020 to $14.2 million. Income tax revenue can be difficult to predict because multiple economic factors contribute to making an accurate estimation like employment rates and the stock market, according to DiSpirito.
One of the departments that will receive a large portion of funding is the department of the Mayor and City Council. For fiscal year 2020 the Mayor and City Council will be funded with $1.1 million.
“This is a significant increase over last year mainly due to the election,” Webster said.
In the coming year, Rockville will become the first city in the state of Maryland to incorporate vote-by-mail elections to select candidates for the positions of mayor and to fill four city council seats.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 22 states allow for a vote-by-mail option and three states, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, hold all elections by mail-in-vote.
“Voting by mail provides more and better options for voters, as opposed to getting voters to the polls,” said the Rockville Public Information Office in a press release.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that some studies suggest that due to the convenience of mail-in ballots voter turnout is higher.
Getting out the vote has been a priority for the Rockville City Council and the Mayor because Rockville’s voter turnout has declined in recent years, according to the public information office.
Another highlight for the proposed 2020 budget is supporting the increase of wages for select temporary positions within the Parks and Recreation department.
The Montgomery County minimum wage is set to be $13.00 an hour when the new minimum wage law takes effect in July of 2019.
The 2020 budget allocates an additional $76,810 to bring wages for temporary positions within the department of Parks and Recreation up to the county’s minimum wage.
The city of Rockville also approved extra money to allocate towards the Volunteer Fire Department.
“Another change you’ll see in the Department of the Mayor and Council is the addition of $50,000 for the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department for the assistance of the replacement of their aerial truck,” Webster said.
The Volunteer Fire department made their request for a new truck during a Rockville City Council meeting earlier this year.
The next budget work session is on April 1 where citizens will be able to voice their opinions on the budget. Public comment will close on April 5 and the budget is set to be adopted on May 6.