ROCKVILLE—The Montgomery County Council added additional funding to the budget for fiscal year 2020.
The council made their preliminary budget agreements on May 16 by straw vote and finalized the budget on May 23.
This year’s budget process was slightly different from that of years past. County Executive Marc Elrich, who was elected to his new position in November of last year, left the council $10 million in unallocated funds to appoint at their discretion.
The council was then able to make changes to the budget as they saw fit and allocate the $10 million to the programs and departments they felt needed the money the most.
“When I introduced the budget, I left $10 million unallocated for the council to apportion as a sign of my new approach,” Elrich said in a statement. “It was a tough decision to leave many worthy requests unfulfilled, but I was heartened to hear many councilmembers partially credit this action for creating a more cooperative decision-making process.”
The council agreed to provide more funding to public safety, health and human services and parks and planning.
Although they are smaller portions of the county’s budget in comparison with education funding for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) or Montgomery College, the council felt it necessary to provide additional funding for those departments.
According to the council, public safety was slightly underfunded in the original budget proposal.
The budget for the Department of Police is set at $295.3 million, which is a 5.4 percent increase from the budget last year.
The council allocated an additional $122,514 to fund two new school resource officer positions. The budget for the department also includes two recruit classes of 44 potential officers and restores six police officer positions that had lapsed in the previous year.
“We depend on (the police) at our most challenging times and it is so very important that we ensure that every first responder has the training and equipment they need to serve the public,” said Council Vice President Sidney Katz, who also serves as chair of the council’s public safety committee.
Katz explained that it is important to be able to fund school resource officer positions because it is beneficial to have children develop relationships with officers and to help keep students safe.
“I am disappointed that there are no additional police officer positions funded,” he said. “But I will be sure to have the public safety committee continue to examine the needs of our police department.”
The budget for the fire and rescue service is set at $223.3 million — an increase of 2.4 percent from the 2019 budget.
Health and human services also received a bump from the council.
The budget for the department is set at $328.6 million — a 2.9 percent increase from the previous year, according to the council.
This money will fund 1,445 full-time positions and 343 part-time positions within the department.
The council also added funding to the county’s developmental disabilities supplement, totaling $1.85 million, which will restore its funding levels to the same amount as in 2019.
“Restoring funding for the support payment to organizations that provide direct services to people with disabilities was a top priority for me,” said Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, chair of the health and human services committee. “We are seeing a sharp increase in adults with disabilities, and make no mistake: we are approaching a cliff. We cannot afford to ignore the realities we will be facing in the near future.”
Albornoz said that he plans to create a work group to outline equitable funding for organizations that serve people with disabilities. He also noted that the council will need to work with officials in Annapolis and state partners in the future to serve people holistically who are living with disabilities.
Finally, parks and planning also received additional funding from the council.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is set to receive $162.4 million, which excludes debt services.
According to the council this is a 5.7 percent increase in funding from last year’s budget and includes $109 million to maintain the county’s park system.
The county has 421 parks and nearly 37,000 acres of land.
The parks budget also includes $300,000 to improve ballfields and $100,000 to support the installation of Wi-Fi in the parks through the Connected Parks Program, according to the council.
Many of the Councilmembers noted a tendency to “kick the can down the road,” so to speak, when it comes to budget issues. That is, if an issue can be put off or wait for a later day, county officials will decide to deal with it later on.
Councilmember Hans Riemer noted this in his budget statement.
“I am concerned that we need to address an underlying problem; we have a structural deficit in our budget. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has gone on too long, and we need to tackle it head on,” he said. “We need to work together as a county to tackle that and make some big changes to get on a better path.”