ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council held the first of three public hearings to receive feedback from the community on the 2020 proposed budget on April 8.
County Executive Marc Elrich released his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year on March 15.
The budget has a total of $5.7 billion which is supported primarily by taxes and intergovernmental funds. Charges for services, licenses, and permits along with fines and forfeitures also contribute to total revenue but to a much lesser extent.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is proposed to receive 46.3 percent of the total funding. Public safety and other county government functions will receive the second and third largest amount of funding respectively.
During his presentation of the budget in March, Elrich explained that Montgomery County has experienced large swings in tax revenue which makes it difficult to accurately estimate how much revenue the county will collect in the coming year.
“You can no longer just take a really good year and project data from that year forward,” he said in a press conference. “It’s hard to make plans when you don’t know what your base revenues are going to be.”
The County Council can alter the budget as they see fit and official public comment is included in the budget process.
A public hearing for the proposed budget on April 8 allowed members of the community to provide their thoughts on programs that deserved funding or to urge against cuts.
Montgomery College is one area that did not receive the full amount of funding they were hoping to achieve.
For 2020 the county executive proposed that 5.4 percent of the operating budget or a total of $310.4 million would go towards Montgomery College. According to the Office of Budget Management (OMB) that is a decrease of 1.1 percent or a cut of about $3 million. They report that this cut is for the most part due to a reduction in revenue from tuition and a reduction in fee revenue from declining enrollment at the college.
“The County Executive’s recommendation funds 99 percent of the college’s request and provides an affordable and sustainable level of support,” OMB wrote in their budget overview.
Oluseyi Ilupegu of Gaithersburg was one community member that came to the meeting to urge more funding for Montgomery College.
In his testimony, he explained that as a recent immigrant from Nigeria without a college degree his salary was low, and his family couldn’t get by in any comfortable way.
Iluseyi enrolled in one of Montgomery College’s Job Skills program and studied apartment maintenance.
“I took time off from work today, so I could be here to ask the county council to fund Montgomery College’s operating budget request fully,” he said. “I know that Montgomery College’s training and educational opportunities make a difference in the lives of people, I know because Montgomery College changed my life.”
Iluseyi also noted that there is more to gain from the programs that Montgomery College offers. They teach interview skills, resume writing, problem-solving and how to be a team player. Iluseyi explained that he is now gainfully employed and grateful for the opportunities Montgomery College provides.
“Let us consider funding Montgomery College and the programs like the apartment maintenance technician program the college offers. Opportunities that otherwise would not be possible for people like me,” Iluseyi said.
If the County Council doesn’t commit full funding, the college might need to make further cuts or increase the cost of tuition.
Another group hoping to receive more funding from the county was the Easterseals which is a nonprofit organization that provides health and wellness programs for people with disabilities, veterans and seniors.
Elizabeth Barnes, who serves as the senior director of Adult and Senior Services in Washington, D.C. Maryland, and Virginia, urged the council for more funding for the charity.
“We serve to age 16 through the life span, we provide a safety net for many participants in the community that have medical conditions and need support with their activities of daily living,” Barnes said.
The nonprofit asked the County Council to include a line item for the coming year that would make sure labor costs are steady with the increase in minimum wage. Barnes explained that the group’s primary source of funding is through Medicaid, and with the coming increase in minimum wage there will be a widening funding gap. Medicaid doesn’t allow the organizations it funds to pass on rate increases to the people they serve, and with minimum staffing requirements, the Easterseals can’t make personnel cuts.
“We respectfully request the council to include a line item for the fiscal year 2020 budget that ensures labor costs are kept steady with the increase in minimum wage,” she said.
A line item adds a single item onto a budget.
Penelope Stetina is a participant in the Easterseals Adult Day Care Program. She explained that after suffering a stroke, she found the organization and has come to enjoy the programs they offer thoroughly.
“Adult day care has touched my life and has fulfilled my life,” she said. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning. So, I ask that when you look at the budget lines, please add us in.”
Community members had the opportunity to voice their opinion on the proposed budget at hearings on April 8, 9 and 10. The County Council will make final decisions before their deadlines on June 1.