Today the Council unanimously reached a preliminary agreement on the Fiscal Year 2017 operating budget and the Fiscal Years 2017-22 Capital Improvements Program. Here are my complete remarks on today's vote:
Leadership is about setting the stage in which difficult conversations can occur. Leadership is about undertaking personal risk to achieve the larger good. Leadership is about the strength to persevere in the face of sustained opposition. Today, leadership is the face of Board of Education president Mike Durso, along with vice president Judy Docca and board members Chris Barclay, Phil Kauffman, Pat O’Neill, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Rebecca Smondrowski and student member Eric Guerci. Leadership is reflected in the coalition formed by union representatives, the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, agency heads and stakeholders all over the county. Leadership is here at this dais. Thank you for your willingness to think about our budget, our educational system, and our future in new ways, to forge a historic new partnership and to take bold action even in the face of extreme pressure to maintain the status quo.
As we embarked on this budget process, we committed ourselves to the core goals of closing the educational achievement gap; reducing class sizes across the board; making decisions that are both achievable in the short term and sustainable over time; and ensuring that residents see results for any additional investments we ask them to make. As a result, we have completely recalibrated the County Executive’s proposed budget.
I really want to acknowledge our taxpayers, who are partners in this restructuring effort. With the increase in the property tax, the owner of an average-priced home will pay less than a dollar a day more. This is a price to be sure, but a modest one for enhanced services and educational opportunities, and I am certain that this investment in our future will enhance property values to everyone’s benefit.
Thanks to our unprecedented collaboration with the interim superintendent, the Board of Education and the employee unions within the school system, Montgomery College and across County Government, we have been able to achieve a significant course correction and make considerable progress toward our core goals. In particular we have been able to rebalance compensation and benefits packages in a way that allows more resources to go directly to the student experience and other key public services. This is unprecedented.
This “education first” budget differs significantly from the County Executive’s proposed budget as we reallocate more than $36 million:
- To reduce class size by two students in many schools.
- To lower student to staff ratios by increasing the number of para-educators.
- To add focus teachers to impacted schools to provide targeted support in literacy and math.
- To add parent community coordinators, psychologists and pupil personnel workers to provide support for our most vulnerable students and their families.
- To add school counselors to impacted elementary schools.
- To expand the Achieving College Excellence and Success program to more schools.
Let’s be clear. Nobody likes the idea of increasing taxes of any kind, but our needs are great. The recordation tax, as we have approved it, is the most progressive approach to meeting the needs our residents have clearly identified as their top priorities.
I want to thank the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors for their many helpful suggestions. Because of their recommendations, we are increasing the exemption from the recordation tax to 100,000 dollars, thereby benefiting every single party that engages in a real estate sale or refinancing in Montgomery County. And we are delaying its impact by two months.
As we have promised, taxpayers will see results for their investment. In fact, we are able to fulfill even more than the Board of Education requested for its Capital Improvements Program. Some specific projects that will benefit from this new revenue are:
- Wootton High School revitalization/expansion is now scheduled for completion in 2021, avoiding a one-year delay.
- Poolesville High School revitalization/expansion is scheduled for a 2023 completion, also avoiding one-year delay.
- Clarksburg Cluster Elementary School scheduled for 2019 completion, avoiding a one-year delay.
- Greencastle, Woodlin and East Silver Spring Elementary Schools, which previously had not been funded at all, are scheduled for a 2022 completion.
- HVAC and roof replacements throughout the County will also be accelerated.
As parents well know, and testified to earlier this spring, our schools are bursting at the seams. With more than 156,000 students, our school system is the 17th largest in the U.S. This budget brings our schools CIP funding to a record $1.7 billion and will provide some long-overdue relief for our students and teachers.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize the hard-working employees who are the engines of County Government, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Our employees drive our government’s success, and our employees have indeed helped to make Montgomery County a model in the nation. Our employees are contributing significantly to this year’s budget adjustments and to our squaring up in the long term. I really regret that this has been painful, but I have worked to keep the lines of communication open, and there have been no surprises. We have some of the best employees around, and although many had hoped for more, I’m pleased to say that most of our personnel will receive a 4.5 percent pay increase this year. That is more than most people employed in the private sector or other governmental jobs, and certainly more than people living on Social Security.
While we have focused primarily on education this year, there are many other items in the budget that will have a direct impact on residents’ lives. We’re asking homeowners to pay more in their property taxes this year, and with that increase we’re focusing on some of the items that residents have identified as their top priorities.
For example, we’re investing heavily in public safety with larger recruit classes in the Police and Fire Departments and in the Sheriff’s Office. We are restoring funding for a paramedic engine at the Hyattstown Fire Station as well as staffing at the Hillandale and Burtonsville stations. And we are providing funding for all police officers to be equipped with body cameras.
We are also beefing up our safety net with an increase in the Working Parents Assistance program’s subsidies for child care; an increase for initiatives for homeless veterans and chronically homeless adults; an increase for the Smartsacks program, which provides food for elementary school children; and numerous other support programs for our most vulnerable residents.
Many of our County’s avid readers and researchers will be glad to see a 2.3 percent increase in this year’s library budget, which includes funding for the interim Wheaton Library while the new Wheaton Library/Recreation Center is under construction. Library users will enjoy extended hours at four branches and additional support for the arts.
Residents in Tobytown will receive bus service, and residents all over will see improved roads, more trees, and more stump removal. And our seniors will now ride buses for free on Saturdays.
Did I mention that we are putting more resources into the program that affects just about everyone? I think we get more e-mails on this than any other subject—and that is roadway maintenance. Much greater detail about this large and complex budget is in a news release which can be accessed from the Council web site at http://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcgportalapps/Press_Detail.aspx?Item_ID=14069.
I want everyone to know that we wouldn’t be here today without our incomparable Council staff—Steve Farber and our outstanding team on the fifth floor, as well as the Office of Legislative Oversight, which has provided us volumes of background information over the course of the year. I know that all of us Councilmembers rely heavily on our personal staffs. I am particularly grateful to my staff, especially my chief of staff, Judy Jablow, who has handled this particularly challenging budget with the right combination of intellect, grace and patience.
This budget is unprecedented. It realigns our spending priorities in a way that is more responsive to those of our residents. It respects employees and taxpayers alike, and it sets us up for a future that will be responsible, nimble and sustainable.Thank you, Councilmembers, for your hard work and collaboration. You are the definition of leadership.
We have made history here. No other Council has done what we’ve done. It has been really hard. Many of us have had to prioritize our county’s future--our children’s education--over our residents’ very valid concerns about affordability, and our employees’ very legitimate commitment to the sanctity of the collective bargaining process. Many of us have had to risk the disappointment of groups that have supported us personally and politically in order that we might serve the greater good.
In a time where, on the national level, extremists routinely malign principled and disciplined decision-making, you (my colleagues) stand out as a strong, collaborative and responsive team of governmental leadership at its best. It has been a true honor to lead you through this very difficult budget process. You should be very proud of what we have achieved.