Category Archives: Montgomery County Executive

Marc Elrich’s Budget Message

The following is the overview from the $5.9 billion budget proposed by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. You can find the full budget proposal below:

This budget is focused on providing our youngest residents with a great start to life. To that end, I have proposed funding of $2.8 billion for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). I am also proposing $10.4 million for our Early Care and Education Initiative so that we can continue to expand and improve early education services.

This budget contains a modest 0.8 percent increase in tax-supported spending for County Government, which is directed primarily at increasing affordable housing and addressing structural gaps in our fire service and transit budgets. This budget provides our residents with a great amount of detail about my entire $5.9 billion recommended budget.

This budget also ensures that we attain our fiscal policy goal of holding 10 percent of our adjusted gross revenues in reserve in FY20, and we maintain that level in FY21. This is of particular importance now as we face uncertain times.

As I finalize the details of my recommended budget, I am keenly aware of the public health emergency facing our community and the nation. I am proposing this budget with a focus on both the next few days and weeks, as well as the next year and beyond. As we respond to this global health emergency, the economic situation of our residents and our nation are changing rapidly. While this budget reflects my view of County Government on March 16, we all need to be flexible to respond to changing conditions and needs. These conditions may result in me submitting revisions, supplementals and amendments to alter this proposal as conditions warrant.

As we address the immediate needs of our residents and plan for the future, one thing has become abundantly clear to me – our County Government’s revenue structure has reached the breaking point and must be fundamentally altered.

Our County Charter includes a provision that limits the growth in property tax revenue – not property tax rates – to the growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all consumers in the Baltimore-Washington Region from the December 1 to November 30 of the preceding year. Since the Federal Government no longer publishes this index, we have been using the CPI for just the Washington Region. For the period of December 1, 2018, to November 30, 2019, the CPI for the Washington region was only 1.27 percent. No matter how much assessments increase, the total amount of property tax revenues cannot grow by more than 1.27 percent.

It is important to note that this revenue limit does not mean the average property tax bill will only increase by 1.27 percent. Quite the opposite. Most individual bills will increase (or decrease) by the change in one’s taxable assessment. Since County law limits growth in assessments to 10 percent in any given year, a property with such an increase in value will see its tax bill go up by roughly 10 percent. The Charter revenue limit only redistributes the tax burden from properties with little to no increased value to those properties with the greatest increase in value. This has meant that some residents in modestly priced homes have faced 10 percent increases while some high-value properties actually saw their tax bill cut.

When the County Council proposed to the voters our current Charter limit on property taxes in 1990, few people could have foreseen the dramatic changes that would take place in Montgomery County and around the globe. In the past 30 years, our school population has grown by 65 percent and our overall population has grown by 40 percent. The services we provide are now more complex and seek to address a range of challenges, from traffic congestion and climate change to health care disparities and linguistic diversity. And over the past four decades, our property tax rate has declined by 35 percent.

We have all witnessed other local governments regionally and nationally experience generational decline due to conflicting, irreconcilable fiscal policies. Montgomery County is at the precipice of such a decline if we cannot get ourselves out of this cycle of self-enforced structural deficits and inequitable, unpredictable revenue caps. Therefore, I will be sending the Council a proposal for a Charter amendment that will revise our revenue cap to provide certainty to homeowners. This proposal will eliminate our old, cumbersome revenue cap and replace it with a three percent cap on the increase in any homeowner’s taxable assessment. This will give our taxpayers real protection from unexpected increases in property values. It will also provide the County Government with a higher degree of predictable tax revenues like every other jurisdiction in our region.

Without such a change in the Charter, our community could be facing a situation in FY21 where a recession and deflation cripple our ability to provide emergency services and a quality public education system. This perfect storm would threaten lives and diminish the value of properties in our County. I will not stand by and let our community be harmed by the ghosts of voters from four decades ago.

In order to meet the challenge of our rapidly growing school system over the next year, this budget proposal also calls for the creation of a 3.1 cent supplemental property tax rate. State law provides each county with the authority to establish a supplemental property tax rate exclusively for its public schools. While this will be the first use of this State authority in our county, three other counties have already established a similar supplemental tax for their public schools. Even with this additional funding, we will still be providing the school system with less support per pupil than in 2010. A decade of slow growth nationally, unpredictable tax policy changes at the Federal level, and our severe Charter limit has left our schools playing catch-up on funding while absorbing an enrollment growth of more than 25,000 new students.

I am proposing this supplemental tax rate this year to partially offset an unexpected underperformance of the property tax for the last two years. In preparing the FY19 County budget, the taxable property base of the County was overvalued. As a result, the property tax rate needed to generate revenues at the Charter limit for the past two years was set too low. This resulted in lost revenues of $80 million, now permanently embedded in our revenue projections. Fortunately, the income tax has overperformed estimates during FY20 to offset this loss. However, even before the current COVID-19 crisis developed, we were forecasting income tax revenues to drop to a lower level. With this supplemental tax rate, we will be back to the rate set for FY17. We will remain significantly lower than other Maryland counties and in line with the residential rates in Northern Virginia. It is also important to note that the Northern Virginia counties charge higher rates for commercial properties with even higher rates for commercial properties in business districts like Tysons and Crystal City.

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Bill Frick: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

For too long, Council members have used the County budget as a piggy bank to fund their pet projects and ideas, often ones that could not survive a serious cost/benefit review.

As we reorient County government to be a constituent-consumer focused organization, we can find savings.  For example, the county employs nearly 40 personnel in its 311 call center, despite the dramatic shift in technology away from phone calls and towards electronic communications.  If Montgomery County complemented this with a constituent service app, as exists in neighboring jurisdictions, many constituent services would be routed directly to the relevant agencies instead of going first through bureaucratic call centers, and we could save taxpayer money.

Finally, the County should not be a leader in corporate welfare.  I would end our tax credits for investors, money that goes from everyday taxpayers straight to the pockets of wealthy investors, often to reward them for making investments they would have made regardless.  This is a fight I led at the state level as the architect of the Tax Credit Evaluation Act, legislation to spotlight and reform our runaway subsidies, and by going toe-to-toe with Hollywood to make sure our tax dollars were being spent productively.

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Roger Berliner: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

I have been a leading proponent of trying to find ways that our county could operate more efficiently.  Working with the County Executive, I was the lead sponsor of legislation that created the Organizational Reform Commission, led by a diverse and talented group of citizens to identify ways we could make our county government more efficient.  However, at the end of the day, while there were steps we were able to take that made our county government more efficient, direct dollar savings were not significant.

I have for years argued that the County Executive should move to what is known as “zero based budgeting”.  What is zero based budgeting?  “Zero-based budgeting is a repeatable process that organizations use to rigorously review every dollar in the annual budget, manage financial performance on a monthly basis, and build a culture of cost management among all employees.”  That would be my goal as County Executive.

In addition to rigorous scrutiny of costs, there are initiatives that you don’t readily think of that can produce cost savings – initiatives like having our county buy 100% renewable power and putting solar on our county rooftops.  Those initiatives alone will save many millions of dollars going forward.  Sometimes doing the right thing actually can save taxpayer dollars!

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George Leventhal: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

I will work diligently with the Office of Management and Budget, and with every department, to find savings and process improvements if I am elected to lead this government. I understand the mission of every county department. I have low tolerance for redundancy. I am prepared to prioritize, and to say no to additional spending where saying no is warranted. One place we could start is by looking at how the county provides health care to its employees.

Montgomery County will spend $245 million in FY2018 on employee health coverage. In 2011, I commissioned a Task Force on Employee Wellness and Agency Consolidation, which recommended adoption of an employee wellness program. It took the Leggett administration until 2015 to get the program fully up and running. Between 2017 and 2018, health claims dropped by $3 million, although it is not clear this is statistically significant, or directly caused by participation in employee wellness programs. I am confident that continued implementation of employee wellness efforts will lead to continued reduction in utilization of health benefits, and increased savings.

The task force also recommended consolidating procurement of employee health coverage between county government, the school system and Montgomery College. The school system and the college have declined to adopt this recommendation. School employee unions feared their members might lose their more favorable benefits. However, the county’s Office of Human Resources already administers health benefits among different bargaining units, and could easily administer health benefits for school system and college employees, resulting in substantial overhead savings, and savings from group purchasing. I will continue to advocate for unified administration of health benefits among all three agencies.

Additional overhead savings, and efficiencies from volume purchasing, could also be achieved by consolidating procurement of all goods and services for county government, MCPS and Montgomery College in a single office.

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Marc Elrich: Name One Program You Would Cut

  1. Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut. Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

While there’s no one program we could cut that would produce enough savings to fund the education, transportation, and other investments the county needs, I want to explain how I would take a different approach to how the county makes budget decisions.

Montgomery County faces enormous economic and fiscal challenges: slow job growth, federal budget cuts, an aging population, poverty and its attendant social costs, inadequate infrastructure, and rising school enrollment.  Revenue projections indicate that just maintaining current services will continue to be a challenge, not to mention dealing with the costs necessary to address some of the critical unmet needs facing us.  We have to find ways to maintain the services our residents expect while addressing challenges that can impact our quality of life.

The next County Executive will need to get as much value as possible from every tax dollar, and the only way to do that is to bring a new way of thinking to how we spend our $5 billion budget.  While that’s easier said than done, my record shows I can deliver.  During my first term on the County Council, for example, I recognized that the proposed renovation of the Circuit Courthouse had morphed into an incredibly expensive total replacement.  The project didn’t make sense.  I challenged the assumptions behind the change and I ultimately helped save the county tens of millions of dollars by demonstrating that a renovation could be done much more efficiently.

If elected, my team will move away from the county’s traditional budgeting approach, which starts with last year’s spending and adjusts it incrementally.  We won’t balance budgets with across-the-board cuts that punish good programs and protect poor performers.

Our budgets will instead be built from the ground up to achieve the outcomes residents want, such as closing the opportunity gap, reducing commute times, making housing more affordable, and improving public safety.  We will work to foster a culture of innovation, cooperation, creativity, and transparency so we can move away from a “this is how we’ve always done it” mindset into a model of continuous improvement.

What does that mean?  We will work with our employees, nonprofit partners, and our customers – both residents and businesses – to ensure that our service delivery follows best practices and meets our customers’ expectations.  We will insist on accountability and make funding decisions based on performance.  We will publish an annual report, available to everyone, showing how tax dollars were spent, the measurable progress we are making toward our outcomes, and where we need to do better.

I have no doubt that, by realigning work to reflect best practices, insisting on performance accountability, and creating a culture of teamwork, we can operate existing programs more efficiently.  Doing so will allow us to pivot existing human and capital resources to better address the challenges facing us.

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Roger Berliner on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

Increasing prosperity — and having that prosperity shared more broadly — is the central platform of my campaign.  As in most things, achieving this will be a multi-prong effort:

1.  In our county, small business is big business. And for far, far too long, businesses in Montgomery County have seen our county as a foe, not a friend.  We need to be a partner to business, not an obstacle.  That is what prompted me to be the lead sponsor on legislation that created both the Small Business Navigator and the Business Solutions Group in county government — to put in county government resources that are intended to make life easier for our small business community. When we adopt new programs and regulations in our county, we need to make sure we are doing so in a manner that will not harm small businesses.  That is how I have done my work on the Council and it is how I will do my work as County Executive if I have the privilege of leading our great county.

2.  We need to attract businesses to Montgomery County. We have extraordinary assets. Amazon’s request for proposals for its new H2Q brought that home:  Montgomery put checks in all the important boxes.  Smart, skilled work force — check. Transit — check.  Vibrant urban amenities – check.  Awesome quality of life — check.  Diverse population- check.  Good government-check.  Strong, national business leaders-check.  We need to do a better job of promoting our county.  As County Executive, I will be a passionate, ceaseless champion of our county.

3.  What are the fundamentals that create economic growth and opportunities? A skilled workforce, which is why I have been the leading champion of workforce development; world class transit, which is why I have championed fixing Metro, building the Purple Line & Bus Rapid Transit and supporting Ride On Extra; affordable housing, which is why I sponsored legislation that requires our county to consider co-locating affordable housing on county property and increases the obligation of developers to provide affordable housing; creating vibrant urban nodes, with world class architecture, that attracts millennials and businesses like Marriott and Fox 5 to Bethesda; embracing innovation, which is why I led the way to create the Office of Innovation in our county government — we either lean forward or fall back.

4.  Build a “green economy”. Under my leadership, our county has become one of the most sustainable communities in our country.  Those efforts have not only led to our county government being “carbon neutral”, but to creating good green jobs.  Solar companies are thriving; energy efficiency firms are flourishing; composting and organic farming is growing; and our commitment to storm water management should increase jobs and job training opportunities.  A green economy is a healthy economy.

5.  Support our immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrant-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the county’s economy. Often, these businesses need only a little help to get started. That is what motivated me to lead the effort to create our county’s first micro-loan program, modeled after successful programs around the world.

6.  Pay people a decent wage, which is why I support increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour consistent with the County Executive’s proposal.

My record on creating a more favorable economic climate in our county has led four Montgomery County Business Hall of Famers, past presidents of local chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs of the year, minority business leaders and green business leaders to endorse me.

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George Leventhal on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

We have seen good news on job growth recently. County Executive Leggett’s office reported in January that the county had added 7,163 jobs since the previous January and in May that resident employment had increased by 10,900 jobs (not all located in the county) since the previous May. High-profile business location decisions recently have included Marriott’s decision to keep its headquarters in the county, Discovery’s decision to keep 230 jobs in Silver Spring rather than relocate them to Virginia, and WTTG/Fox 5’s decision to relocate to Bethesda from Northwest Washington.

Montgomery County has a great story to tell, but we need to do a better job telling it. Our quality of life is high; we have great public schools; honest and effective government; excellent cultural and recreational opportunities; beautiful natural features; proximity to airports, shipping routes, interstate highways and public transportation; high family incomes; a low crime rate, and a low unemployment rate. I supported creating the new Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and am glad to see it is investing more than ever before in marketing our county’s excellent attributes to grow our job base and retain existing employers.

We have one of the smartest, most diverse work forces in the United States. We should advertise ourselves as the International Gateway to the Nation’s Capital, to attract employers from around the world and entice the talent our employers need to compete in the global marketplace. While our workforce already possesses more graduate degrees than any other community, and a wider array of language skills than most, we must make language education a higher priority in our schools. Language immersion should be expanded, especially in languages critical for global trade and national security, like Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, Russian, Farsi, and Portuguese.

To appeal to the millennial generation of workers, and the generations that will follow them, we must continue our placemaking efforts, to build great urban communities in locations well served by transit, including Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, Wheaton, and Glenmont, and we must expand transit options to economic opportunity hubs like Gaithersburg, Germantown and White Oak.

We should increase vocational training in our schools. The courses available at Edison High School are insufficient. Not all students will, or need to, attend college. Many good-paying jobs in industrial, manufacturing, information technology and other sectors can be filled by high school graduates with additional technical and vocational training.

We need to continue focused efforts to streamline our planning, permitting and procurement processes to see where they can be made more efficient and business-friendly. We must also strengthen our efforts to keep Montgomery County tax dollars in our local economy, by strengthening programs like the Local Small Business Reserve (which I originated), and minority, female and disabled business purchasing preferences.

I support designating Enterprise Zones to attract investment to areas that are struggling, like Glenmont and Burtonsville. I have also supported tax credits for investors in life science, environmental technology and cybersecurity, and I am currently exploring a county add-on to federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. I will seek to reduce our county energy tax, which puts our high-tech and data-intensive businesses at a particular disadvantage.

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Marc Elrich on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

Most job growth comes from new businesses expanding in the location in which they were founded.  Surveys indicate that the quality of life and the quality of public goods in an area – including transportation systems and schools – matter far more when businesses are making their initial location decisions than the taxes and other financial incentives they might be offered.

While there is a lot about the economy that is beyond our control – there’s no silver bullet for job growth – there is much that the county can do to create the conditions for businesses to start and thrive.  To the extent that we have cumbersome and inappropriate regulations, we need to change them, and to the extent that regulatory costs are excessive, we need to lower them.  More importantly, I would focus on incubating new local-grown businesses, nurturing their growth, and improving the county’s economic infrastructure.  Other jurisdictions have creative small business incubators and we can learn from their successes to grow a stronger local economy.  The empty spaces in shopping centers and office buildings were once filled with small businesses, and we need to nourish a new generation of entrepreneurs to refill them.

The bus rapid transit (BRT) system proposal that I initiated and have been advocating for during my time on the County Council also holds real potential as a tool for job growth.  Businesses have made an issue of the lack of transit as an impediment to growth.  If we want people to create startups or expand existing businesses, we need entrepreneurs to feel confident that their employees have a reliable way of getting to and from work, that their customers can get to their stores, and that they will be able to transport the goods and services they need to stay in business.

A well-implemented BRT system would reduce future congestion and move more people than roadways alone, making the county a more attractive location for businesses of all sizes.  It would greatly benefit residents as well.

We also need to work with the school system, including Montgomery College, to make sure our students are prepared for jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree but do require post-high-school education.  And we should expand apprenticeship programs in cooperation with the building trades organizations that need the next generation of skilled workers.

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Bill Frick on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

For far too long, our Council has been complacent with the status quo and at times even outright hostile to the private sector.  Resting on the expectation of stable employment from the federal government, the Council has been largely indifferent and even averse to growing the private sector economy.  We can no longer afford to talk about the need for job and wage growth and yet show no interest in facilitating business growth that creates those jobs.  As Norm Augustine likes to say, “you can’t be for jobs and against employers.”

From our notorious permitting process to our burdensome tax policies, we need to stop treating small business as the enemy.  Small businesses are the vital engine that will drive our middle class growth.  We need to reorient our administration to recognize that being punitive to businesses isn’t actually in our interests.

We must also foster and facilitate growth and entrepreneurship.  We benefit from an amazingly well-educated and creative workforce. But our women and men often find DC or Virginia or Baltimore to be more promising environments in which to grow and create businesses.  I want to enhance access to capital by building on our programs to keep local and state dollars in the community banks that are most likely to lend to small businesses, like I did at the state level. And I will help jump-start our hospitality, service, and restaurant economy by reforming or eliminating the Department of Liquor Control, a broken system that has functioned as a repellent to restaurants and consumers alike. I led this fight in the legislature, and will win this fight as County Executive.

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In Their Own Words, Part IV: George Leventhal

We continue with our County Executive questionnaires with Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large).

What was your most important achievement in your current or past office? How do you think it demonstrates your leadership ability?

My most important achievement is that I have consistently been a champion for those who most need a government on their side. My leadership in public office has been to utilize innovative methods of helping and serving those who, but for the involvement of government, could not achieve a high quality of life on their own.

  • I established the Montgomery Cares program, a network of community clinics that this year will provide 70,000 visits to patients without health insurance. The program includes medical check-ups; sick visits; medications; lab tests; X-Rays; flu shots; access to specialty care; access to behavioral health care; oral health care; and more.
  • In 2015, because of my leadership, Montgomery County housed every identified homeless veteran in the county. We are one of three states and 51 communities that have achieved functional zero for veteran homelessness.
  • In 2017, I provided funding to ensure the county can house every chronically homeless individual by the end of 2018, through the “Inside Not Outside” campaign.
  • I have been the champion every year since 2003 for supplementing the wages paid to caretakers for people with developmental differences.
  • I passed the Design for Living legislation, which provides property tax credits for investments that make housing accessible for elderly and disabled residents.
  • I created the county’s Interagency Commission on Homelessness.

I have consistently championed funding for the Maternity Partnership Program, to ensure prenatal care for expectant mothers without health insurance, and Care for Kids, to ensure health insurance for all Montgomery County children.

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