The Montgomery County Council today unanimously approved a $4.8 billion County total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2014. The FY14 operating budget, and adjustments to the Fiscal Years 2013-18 six-year Capital Improvements Program, will go into effect on July 1.
After some debate about cutting the energy tax, the Council tentatively agreed to the budget last week.
Montgomery Students Are Failing Math Exams At High Rates, How Much Does It Matter? — Montgomery County Public Schools released data on its students’ high failure rates on math final exams, what some say is a result of students studying only to get the final exam grade they need to pass the course. In January, countywide stats show each non-honors math course except for Pre-Cal (48 percent) saw more than 50 percent of students get an E on the final exam. In January, 86 percent of Bridge to Algebra 2 students countywide failed the exam. [Washington Post]
Union Boycott, Protest Doesn’t Stop Money From Coming Into Local Democratic Party — A boycott and protest of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Spring Ball meant some big names stayed away from the event, but it hasn’t hurt the party’s fundraising efforts. The group’s chairman said donations from people who did not attend the Ball have put the party over its $50,000 fundraising goal. [The Gazette]
Citizens Advisory Board To Talk Budget, Housing and Tenant Rights — The Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board will meet tonight for its monthly meeting. Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda) will give an update on the recently agreed upon FY14 budget. The Board will see a presentation on the county’s Housing Policy and discuss tenants’ rights. The meeting is open to the public and will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane). [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center]
Share Your Bethesda, Chevy Chase, North Bethesda and White Flint Photos With Us — Contribute to the BethesdaNow.com Flickr pool to see your photo lead off our Morning Notes or to show us what’s going on in your community. [Flickr]
Flickr photo by daveandraina
Those two major changes from County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended budget will be paid for in part by adjustments to the six-year Capital Improvement budget and a transfer of roughly $14 million from other county funds into its general fund. The 10 percent cut in the energy tax, which was instituted three years ago, will mean the loss of $11.6 million in revenue.
The Council unanimously agreed on the budget, despite councilmember Phil Andrews’ contention that Leggett’s proposed pay increases for county employees were too large. Andrews said he will vote against the County Government portion of the budget when it is formalized next week. Councilmember Marc Elrich said not enough money was dedicated to restoring social service cuts that came during the recession.
“I think if most of our residents were given a choice between reducing their average energy tax bills by just 65 cents per month or restoring some of these services, they would choose the services,” Elrich said in a statement.
The Council also added $100,000 to Leggett’s 10 percent bump in county library funding to increase the purchase of e-Books. In the six-year Capital Improvements budget, the Council differed on some of Leggett’s recommendations by keeping funding for the Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance on track, accelerating more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and adding $4 million for bridge renovations, including on the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda.
In a statement, Leggett commended the Council for its work in finalizing the budget, but took issue with the energy tax cut. The Council approved 99 percent of Leggett’s recommended budget, which is fairly typical:
I am, however, particularly concerned about two Council actions that create an $18 million problem this year and create greater difficulties in balancing the budget in FY15 and beyond.
The energy tax cut of 10 percent reduces revenues by $11.6 million in FY14 and well into the future. One of the many reasons why I recommended retaining the energy tax at the current level is that a substantial portion of the tax comes from federal and other tax-exempt facilities in the County that otherwise pay nothing to the County for the services that they consume. This reduction reduces our budget flexibility in future years.
I also do not believe the Council should “borrow” $6.7 million in funds I set aside to pay for retired County employees’ health benefits. Those funds will have to be repaid next year, which will result in higher future obligations.
I understand the Council’s desire to meet its own policy goals and the tremendous demands that make these decisions so difficult. My goal is to continue to improve our fiscal stability that we have worked so tirelessly and collaboratively to achieve.
The parking fee structure for downtown Bethesda will change, as Leggett recommended. The Council also agreed to add 40 police positions and double the amount of School Resource Officers from 6 to 12.
Flickr photo by dan reed!
For the first time in four years, Montgomery County employees will get a pay raise after the County Council today approved County Executive Isiah Leggett’s negotiated $32 million in increases for FY14.
The lone dissenting vote was from Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) who argued Leggett’s agreed upon increases with the County’s three employee unions were too large.
Leggett negotiated a 3.25 percent cost-of-living increase that will come in September. Police officers will get a 2.1 percent increase and career firefighters will get a 2.75 percent increase in July.
Eligible employees will get step increases of 3.5 percent on their anniversary date.
From Andrews’ statement:
County employees deserve a pay raise after three years without a step increase and four years without a general wage adjustment, and I support (and proposed in March) a reasonable and sustainable increase in pay of 4-6 percent for county employees for each of the next two years. However, the pay raises of 13.5 percent over two years for most non-public safety county employees; 14.7 percent over two years for most police officers, and 19.5 percent over two years for most career firefighters agreed to by County Executive Leggett and the County Council are excessive, irresponsible and unsustainable. These pay raises will cost taxpayers $31 million in FY14, $73 million in FY15, and $85 million in FY16.
Leggett argued that after four years of holding the line during the Great Recession, county employees deserved the raise:
Our cost cutting efforts were necessary, but they called for great sacrifice from County employees. Over the past four years, the average County employee has contributed over $30,000 to help close $2.7 billion in budgetary gaps. Based on the actions already taken, each employee will continue to contribute up to $6,500 a year well into the future.
The County Council agreed.
The Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee this morning ran through a number of changes proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) for parking rates in his recommended budget. The Committee also took a stand against Leggett’s recommended six-month delay of the Bethesda Metro South Entrance project.
The Committee agreed to support the Department of Transportation’s recommended change of how drivers pay parking rates in the Bethesda Parking Lot District.
The new system would make on-street meter parking $2 an hour, parking lot spaces $1.25 an hour and parking garage spaces 80 cents an hour. Existing rates are $1.25 an hour for any parking space up to four hours and 80 cents an hour for any long-term parking in excess of four hours.
Council staff transportation expert Glenn Orlin said the new system would mean most people would pay more, some would pay less and every-day commuters and residents who buy monthly passes would feel little effect. Those rates won’t change.
Also included in the FY14 Transportation budget is a permanent expansion of last year’s four-month “smart-meter” pilot program. About $280,000 would be dedicated for the replacement of existing on-street parking meters with Single Space Smart Meters, which allow drivers to use their credit and debit cards at the machines and see parking rates, hours and time limits on an illuminated display.
Also in the budget is the installation of about 90 parking meters along the south side of Cedar Lane between Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike. The meters, which would border NIH, were in last year’s budget but DOT did not follow through because of the opposition it faced from residents on Chevy Chase Drive once parking meter installation began there.
County Faces Potential $300 Million Budget Deficit In FY 15 — Pay raises that would cost Montgomery $100 million over two years and uncertain tax revenues could put the county in a tough spot next budget season. The County Council is weighing the pay increases for county employees proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). [Washington Examiner]
The New Wall Park — Known for its aquatics center, Wall Park in North Bethesda (at Nicholson Lane and Executive Boulevard) is set to become the “primary recreational destination” for a redeveloped White Flint. [Friends of White Flint]
Montgomery Community Media Capturing “A Day In The Life” — Montgomery Community Media is asking county residents to submit photos and video from Monday, April 22 to help capture what a day in the life of Montgomery County is. [MyMCMedia]
Flickr pool photo by AmyMarieMoore
The Citizens Advisory Board that covers Bethesda, Chevy Chase, North Potomac and Potomac is hoping the County Council adds more money to its FY14 budget for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.
The Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane) is the county government’s base of operations in downtown Bethesda, but has gone through significant staff and funding cuts in recent years. The Center is down to Director Ken Hartman, who oversees many of the boards and committees that deal with development and government services, Bethesda Urban District manager Karen Thon and an intern.
County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY14 budget includes a $17,000 bump in funding from last year, an amount that Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board chair Marc Korman last week told Councilmembers was not enough:
The Regional Services Centers perform a valuable local government service and must be maintained and strengthened. The Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, for example, has been instrumental in coordinating public dialogue on Woodmont Triangle development and White Flint urban services, assisting emerging Senior Villages, and increasing non-profit services. We are disappointed that the recommended operating budget proposes only a relatively negligible increase in funding to the Regional Services Centers (approximately $17,000 over last year’s approved expenditure). We urge the County Council to recognize the vital function performed by the Regional Services Centers, and increase funding proportionally. Specifically, the regional services centers need their own administrative coordinator at each center, at least on a part time basis. Some of the work done in these centers cannot be done from Rockville.
The Citizens Advisory Board also identified a faster Bethesda CBD Sector Plan rewrite, library funding, an increase in School Resource Officers and economic development funding as priorities in its full testimony.
Video via Montgomery County Council
Street Sweeping Set For Downtown — The county’s annual street sweeping program will hit downtown Bethesda roads starting later this week through next Tuesday, according to signs posted on Woodmont Avenue on Monday. For the full schedule, check the county’s street sweeping route map and schedule. [Montgomery County Department of Transportation]
House of Delegates Approves Lockheed Hotel Tax Exemption Bill — Mirroring the vast State Senate support of the proposal, the House of Delegates yesterday approved a hotel/motel tax exemption for Lockheed Martin’s training center and hotel in Bethesda with a landslide vote. Del. Bill Frick (D-Dist. 16) voted against the exemption despite his earlier support for the measure, which was blocked at the county government level by the Montgomery County Council. [Maryland Juice]
Rebuilding Together Honors Brewer — The nonprofit that helps repair old homes so low-income homeowners can remain in them honored land-use attorney and philanthropist Robby Brewer at an event last week. [Bethesda Magazine]
Council Budget Hearings Start Today — Today’s County Council session will include the first of five scheduled public hearings over the next three days on County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY 14 budget. The first hearing is today at 7 p.m. All hearings are in the Council Office Building’s Third Floor Hearing Room in Rockville. [Montgomery County Council]
Average Property Owner Would Pay $80 More In Taxes With Proposed Budget — County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended FY 14 budget would include a property tax increase from 99.1 cents per $100 of assessed value to to a little more than $1 per $100 of assessed value. [The Gazette]
Food, Wine & Co. Owners Bringing Taqueria To Cabin John — The owners of downtown Bethesda favorite Food, Wine & Co. (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) are bringing their Fish Taco casual seafood eatery to 7945 MacArthur Blvd. near Carderock Springs. [Bethesda Magazine]
Town of Chevy Chase Green Home Tour Set For Sunday — The second Town of Chevy Chase Green Home Tour is set for this Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will let participants see how some residents have incorporated geothermal power, solar panels and other green strategies into their homes. Sign up with the Town Office by emailing email@example.com.
Jaleo Takes “Martini Madness” Prize — Jaleo’s “Clouds over the Cosmo” martini was voted as the best in a competition of Bethesda Row restaurants. [Bethesda Row via Facebook]
Flickr photo by ehpien
Montgomery County Department of Transportation officials hope to the success of a four-month “smart” parking meter pilot last year means money in the budget to install the meters permanently throughout downtown Bethesda.
County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY 14 Operating Budget includes $277,200 for the replacement of existing on-street parking meters with Single Space Smart Meters, the same kind the county tested out starting last March on Norfolk Avenue between Woodmont and Del Ray Avenues.
The meters, from San Diego-based IPS Group, allow drivers to use their credit and debit cards at the machines and see parking rates, hours and time limits on an illuminated display.
The meters use a solar-powered battery and will display how much time remains when a driver pays by cell phone. Drivers now must rely on their cell phones to know how much time remains if they pay through the county-chosen pay by cell phone application.
The meters could also allow the county “the opportunity for future advances in performance pricing of parking based on demonstrated demand,” according to the Parking District Services Budget Overview.
The total recommended FY 14 Operating Budget for the Parking Districts Funds is $25,856,395, an increase of $425,638 or 1.7 percent form last year’s approved total.
Parking fees in downtown Bethesda range from 85 cents to $1.25 per hour and much of the revenue goes toward funding the Bethesda Urban Partnership, responsible for maintaining and marketing downtown Bethesda.
With progress on a transportation bill in Annapolis that could provide funding for the Purple Line, the debate over Montgomery County’s Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance might re-emerge this budget season.
On April 17, the County Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee will discuss County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed amendments to transportation projects, including a six-month delay of the South Entrance project that drew some criticism.
Leggett said his recommended six-month funding delay in the FY 2014 Capital Budget wouldn’t actually delay construction of the project as it is tied into building the Purple Line station. The estimated $80 million entrance would connect the Metro platform 120 feet underground with high speed elevators to the Purple Line station at Elm Street west of Wisconsin Avenue.
At the time the recommended delay was announced, the state portion of funding for the 16-mile, east-to-west light rail project was uncertain.
With a gas tax hike proposal going to a vote in the House of Delegates this week and with support from State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, some form of state transportation funding for the Purple Line looks likely to come out of the General Assembly by the time it’s scheduled to adjourn on April 8.
In a Committee hearing on Monday on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which as proposed would use Purple Line funding as a trigger for a second stage of development, Council staff transportation expert Glenn Orlin said the Bethesda Metro South Entrance would come up in the Council’s budget review process.
Orlin pointed it out after Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) asked for a Maryland Transit Administration briefing on the status of the Purple Line after the General Assembly if funding is passed.
“You’re going to have that discussion in just a couple of weeks because the executive recommended delaying the Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, so it’s tied to the schedule,” Orlin said.
Image via Maryland Transit Administration
County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) will speak about County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recently released budget at a community meeting tonight and Leggett will answer questions about his proposal in an online chat tomorrow.
Floreen will address the $4.8 billion budget from Leggett, which includes a 4.1 percent increase from last year’s budget with cost-of-living increases for county employees, expanded library hours and 40 additional police personnel, in the monthly meeting of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board.
The Board will also receive a presentation from the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection on recycling and sustainability goals. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at a special location, the Avenel Community Association in Potomac (9501 Beman Woods Way). It is open to the public.
Leggett will address any questions about the budget, which now heads to the County Council, in an online chat from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Residents can start submitting questions now at the county’s website.
The budget includes a moderate property tax increase and the continuation of the county’s energy tax, which Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) said should be cut by 10 percent on Friday. Andrews again argued that pay increases Leggett negotiated with the county’s firefighters, police and employees are too much at this time.
The Council’s public hearing on the budget will be April 9 to April 11.
Also tomorrow is a Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee meeting, where State Highway Administration officials will update residents on the improvement project at Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane. County Planning Staff will give a presentation on Bus Rapid Transit, and what that could mean for repurposing two lanes of traffic on Rockville Pike.
The BRAC meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).
Flickr photo by dan reed!
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) today proposed a $4.8 billion operating budget that would add School Resource Officers to more schools, restore some funding to libraries and fund pay raises for many county employees for the first time in four years.
Leggett said the county saved $469 million since FY 08 with savings from reducing the county workforce and denying cost of living increases. Because of a recent ruling from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals against the county’s stance on binding arbitration, Leggett negotiated a total of $31.6 million in raises for county employees, a $15.3 million increase from last year, with county employee unions.
“My judgment is that if we had failed to reach agreement and the matter went to arbitration, the result would likely be arbitrator-mandated decisions on raises that could double or triple the rate of raises contained in the package I negotiated with our unions,” Leggett said.
Leggett proposed a 4.1 percent budget increase from last year, what he said was a sign that the county had survived the worst of the Great Recession and economic downturn.
“This is a day we are making a transition, but it is not the day that we all hope for yet,” Leggett said.
The budget includes a property tax increase less than the average rate of inflation, which would mean an additional $80 a year from an average homeowner in the county. The budget relies on increased state aid, lower than estimated debt service costs and higher-than-projected income tax revenue to close a $136 million budget gap.
The proposal adds 40 more police personnel, part of Leggett’s three-year plan to add 120 new officers and 23 police civilian employees. That includes doubling the amount of School Resource Officers, police personnel assigned to county high schools.
Leggett proposed funding MCPS at the minimum level required by the state’s Maintenance of Effort law, which has already drawn some reaction from MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr. Starr recommended funding schools at $10 million more than the minimum Maintenance of Effort level.
Libraries would see a 10 percent bump in funding to partially restore the 26 percent cuts the department saw between 2007 and 2012. Leggett’s proposal would add 34 positions, expand hours at libraries open on Sundays to five hours, and restore 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours for major libraries such as Bethesda.
MCDOT funding proposals include the first phase of the Capital Bikeshare program, which the county hopes to introduce in Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase and Bethesda later this year. The budget also includes funding for the ongoing implementation of the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
Whitman Girls Basketball Falls In State Semifinal — The Vikings lost 33-32 to Baltimore Polytechnic on Thursday afternoon, ending their best season since 2007 two wins short of the Class 4A State title. [The Gazette]
Dance Bethesda Starts This Weekend — Tonight and tomorrow, the Bethesda Urban Partnership and local dance studios host free lessons, parties and a professional performance throughout downtown. [Dance Bethesda]
Budget Public Hearings Coming In April — Public hearings on the county’s FY ’14 capital and operating budgets are scheduled for April 9 at 7 p.m. and April 10 and April 11 at at 1:30 p.m. Those interested in testifying can sign up beginning on March 15 by calling 240-777-7803. [Council President Nancy Navarro]
Move Your Clocks Forward This Weekend — A reminder that Daylight Saving Time is this Sunday, March 10. Move your clocks forward one hour.
Flickr photo by PedroGringo
Leggett Says Employee Raise Necessary To Avoid Arbitration — County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) defended his recent deal with county employee unions to give workers their first pay raise in four years at the cost of about $11 million a year. Leggett said leaving matters to binding arbitration would have meant steeper costs for the county. [Washington Post]
Police Warn of Telephone Scam — Police believe three recent incidents are part of the same telephone scam. None happened in Bethesda, but one in Rockville in which the caller told a resident her son had been in a car accident and kidnapped was similar to a series of telephone scams taking advantage of elderly residents last year in Friendship Heights. [Montgomery County Police]
Bethesda Cycling Instructor Helps To Raise Money For Rare Cancer Research — Colleen Fisher, a Chevy Chase resident and group cycling instructor at Equinox on Bethesda Row, recently helped raise $176,000 as part of the Cycle For Survival. Fisher and her team cycled for the four hours of the fundraiser. [The Gazette]
Flickr photo by ehpien