ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council met for a work session to discuss budget recommendations for county departments.
On May 6 the council discussed budgets and special appropriations for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) and the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).
The WSSC supplies water and sewer services to Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. According to WSSC, it services an area of roughly 1,000 square miles between the two counties, which makes it one of the largest water and sewer companies in the United States.
Councilmember Tom Hucker, who serves on the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee, explained that his committee to urge the full council to approve WSSC’s budget and asked senior legislative analyst Keith Levchenko to give an overview.
Levchenko said that the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget for WSSC totals $817.4 million, or about 1,776 full-time equivalent employee positions. There is no increase in full-time positions planned.
He explained that the 2020 budget is an increase of 4.6 percent over the 2019 budget, but much of this increase is going toward funding debt services.
According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), debt services fund the repayment for construction and upkeep of public facilities, equipment and infrastructure.
In the 2020 budget, officials have allocated money for debt services for WSSC infrastructure, which will keep pipes, water treatment facilities and other services operational for the region.
“If you remove the debt service increase from this equation, the FY 2020 WSSC budget is increasing 2.1 percent,” Levchenko said. “So that gives you an idea of the impact of debt service on the budget.”
He also noted that another fixed cost for WSSC is the regional sewage disposal payment to D.C water.
“Those two costs are essentially fixed by the formula, so if you remove those costs from this equation, then the WSSC budget is increasing 1.1 percent,” Levchenko said. “So, this is a pretty tight budget.”
The WSSC outlines in their budget proposal a need for a five percent increase in water and sewer revenues. which will come from raising rates for residents.
“The average WSSC customer’s residential bill is 1 percent of the median household income,” they wrote in their budget proposal. “The impact of the revenue increase, combined with the implementation of the new four-tier rate structure, will add approximately $1.29 per month to the bill of a customer using 165 gallons a day.”
Levchenko said that over the next six years there could be more rate increases to keep up with debt services
The county council voted unanimously to approve the WSSC budget.
The council also discussed the budget of M-NCPPC. The commission, like WSSC, serves both Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties and oversees the development and maintenance of parks in the area along with providing land-use planning for growth in the two counties.
Councilmember Hans Riemer serves as chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, which deals with issues related to M-NCPPC.
Riemer said that putting together M-NCPPC’s budget has been difficult this year.
“We worked through the budget, and the framework was challenging, because the request from M-NCPPC was not met in the county executive’s recommendation,” he said. “The amount was, I think, about four million below the requested level, and so Park and Planning had a real challenge to figure out how to deal with a lower recommended budget than they expected.”
Riemer explained that the commission was able to absorb about three-million dollars of cuts to their budget but have requested help from the council for the remaining expenses.
One of the expenses Riemer mentioned was moving M-NCPPC’s headquarters to Wheaton and bringing its departments under one roof. There are currently M-NCPPC offices in Silver Spring, Riverdale and Hyattsville.
“Parks and Planning has had to ask us for supplementary funds to support their costs for computer equipment, furniture, basic things that are not otherwise funded in the budget,” Riemer said.
Another area that M-NCPPC hoped it could fund with the help of the council was the M-NCPPC internship program, which brings in college students interested in parks and planning careers.
Without the extra funding from the council, the program — which usually supports six paid interns — would need to cut that number back to just two.
“I started by political career as a paid intern, and the only way I was able to do it was because I was paid, so it’s important to support (these programs),” Councilmember Will Jawando said.
The county council voted unanimously to approve extra funding for the M-NCPPC.
Final budget decisions will need to be made by the council before the June 1 deadline.