The County Executive transmitted his Recommended FY12 Operating Budget to the County Council on March 15. The proposed budget contains cost-cutting measures that will be difficult for residents and employees in the short term, but I am pleased that it includes a balanced long-term fiscal plan. I commend the County Executive and his team for their hard work in developing the proposal.
Last year, I spearheaded a new approach to budgeting that requires a balanced six-year fiscal plan, and I'm gratified to see a continued long-term perspective in our budget work. I have asked our Office of Legislative Oversight to look at the plan, particularly in terms of its progress toward resolving our structural deficit.
I encourage you to engage in the conversation about the hard decisions we will make in the coming months. As I have said many times before, I remain committed to fairness and equity among stakeholders and will work to make sure no one group shoulders a disproportionate burden.
You can let us know your thoughts on the County budget at one of five public hearings spread over April 5-7. The public hearings will be held at 7 p.m. on April 5; at 1:30 and 7 p.m. on April 6; and at 1:30 and 7 p.m. on April 7. All hearings will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building. To register to speak, call 240-777-7803.
If you can't make the public hearings, you can still let us know your views by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Our six committees and the full Council will analyze the recommendations over the next two months and will adopt the FY12 budget in late May. The budget will take effect on July 1.
Tune in to Montgomery Municipal Cable (channel 16) at 7:30 on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday during the weeks of April 18 and May 2. I will discuss my thoughts on the budget in further detail on Inside Out with Pat Smith.
And if the tax wouldn't save our streams, then it better save our equally stressed budget. But it wouldn't do that, either. It would give MontgomeryCounty residents nothing while leaving them, well, holding the bag.
A study by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, an environmental and education group working to clean up the Potomac River, showed a drop in bag use after the District's bag tax went into effect last year, but it's important to note that the effect on city waters has not yet been quantified; a reduction in bags does not necessarily mean a reduction in litter.
As a dog owner, I put my old grocery bags to good use a second time, and that makes me one of the 90 percent of consumers who reuse their grocery bags at least once. Taxing people who already exercise good judgment isn't going to change the attitudes of rogue litterbugs.
My larger concern, though, is that this tax -- which will come up for a public hearing on March 31 -- is regressive, placing the heaviest burden on those with the lowest incomes. The added expense of paying the tax or buying reusable bags may not be much of a problem for the wealthy; not so for families already having a hard time making ends meet. I foresee scenes in which residents, perhaps senior citizens, overload their shopping bags to save money, only to spill groceries all over the sidewalk on the walk home. That's not saving anybody's environment.
And speaking of environments: The one inside a reusable bag is perfect for growing bacteria and cross-contaminating food, so if you opt against paying for disposable bags, you had better remember to wash your reusable ones. Do you really want to carry home unwashed chicken or seafood in a bag you might be carrying apples in later?
But most important, this proposal is a distraction from the fiscal crisis we must face right now. To literally nickel-and-dime residents this way might bring in $1.5 million in revenue under the best-case scenario, but that's a drop in the bucket compared with the huge shortfall Montgomery County is confronting.
Don't get me wrong. I have real concerns about the environment, and I agree we should look at viable solutions to our pollution problems. That might mean reexamining the Water Quality Protection Charge that residents already pay as a part of their property tax bill and which has a proven track record of success.
Right now, though, we need to focus our time and attention on how we can maintain needed services, treat employees fairly and invest in our future, all while slashing spending. That's our real mandate.
I say, bag this tax.
Council Counters Legal Challenge from County Board of Education- back to top
The Montgomery County Council will vigorously defend its authority to balance the County operating budget equitably between the public schools and other vital services. That's why the Council sent a letter to Montgomery County Board of Education President Christopher Barclay asking the board to withdraw its Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the State Board of Education and avoid the potential for litigation. I've included the full text of the letter at the bottom of this article.
Montgomery County's Board of Education filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the Maryland State Board of Education on March 2 seeking an order that would interpret the state's Maintenance of Effort school funding law to effectively eliminate the County Council's ability to equitably balance the County operating budget.
The voter-approved County Charter assigns final budget and appropriation authority over all County-funded agencies, including Montgomery County Public Schools, to the County Council.
The state educational Maintenance of Effort law requirement for Fiscal Year 2012 would force the County to increase the MCPS budget by $82 million (or 5.8 percent) above last year's approved funding of $1.4 billion, even though the County faces a $300 million gap in its overall budget. This law ignores the fact that over the last decade the County has funded MCPS at a total of $577 million above the annual Maintenance of Effort requirements.
While we all agree with the intent of the law, it allows no flexibility during a fiscal crisis. We have always supported education, and we always will. We also support the other services funded by Montgomery County. Many of those include services for children outside of school.
This year Montgomery's operating budgets for police, fire, libraries, safety net and other core County services were reduced by levels not seen in more than 40 years, some by more than 20 percent. The coming fiscal year promises more of the same. We need the Board of Education's help in balancing the budget in a way that preserves core services and does not adversely impact classroom instruction.
We're all Montgomery County residents, and we're all in this together. We will continue to work with the Board of Education and other stakeholders as we move through the budget process and as we strive to meet the needs of all of our nearly one million residents.
Here's the full text of the letter:
Mr. Christopher S. Barclay, President Montgomery County Board of Education Carver Educational Services Center 850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123 Rockville, MD 20850
Dear Board President Barclay,
I am writing to express the Council's extreme disappointment with the Board's latest legal maneuver to challenge our budget and appropriation authority in the County Charter. The Council will vigorously defend its authority and responsibility under the Charter to balance the County operating budget equitably between the public schools and other vital services.
The Council regrets that you did not consult with any of its members or even notify us about the Board's March 2 filing for a Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the Maryland State Board of Education. Seeking this order, at a time when we are all attempting to work collaboratively to solve our budget crisis, is a wasteful distraction. It will divert scarce tax dollars to cover MCPS' legal fees when all our resources are needed to provide direct services to our students and residents.
The voter-approved County Charter assigns final budget and appropriation authority over all County-funded agencies, including MCPS, to the County Council. As we have in the past, we will balance the needs of our students, other County service recipients, and taxpayers in adopting an operating budget that is fair to all. Despite your unprecedented legal action, this Council is committed to balancing the school budget in a way that does not adversely impact classroom instruction.
My hope is that we can continue to collaborate on issues that affect education and that you will roll up your sleeves with us to do what is required to help us equitably balance our operating budget for all of our residents. Montgomery County residents deserve no less from their elected officials. We request that you start by withdrawing your Petition for Declaratory Ruling.
Sincerely, Valerie Ervin Council President
c: Shirley Brandman, Vice President Philip Kauffman Judith Docca Laura Berthiaume Patricia ONeill Michael A. Durso Alan Xie
We're now taking applications for two positions on the Planning Board. These are important positions as the Planning Board serves as the Council's principal adviser on land use planning and community planning. This means the board is responsible for preparation and amendment of the County General Plan; preparation and amendment of Master Plans and functional plans; implementation of the subdivision process and a whole lot more.
The two vacancies are created because the terms of Norman Dreyfuss (Republican) and Joseph Alfandre (Democrat) expire on June 14. No more than three members of the Planning Board may be from the same political party.On average, a Planning Board member can expect to spend at least two full days a week in scheduled and informational meetings. We need some good talent for these positions, so remember to get your application in by April 27.
Not sure what new zoning laws mean to you? Take a look at the Web site about recently enacted zoning laws that are designed to help protect and maintain the residential character of neighborhoods. The new laws, which go into effect on April 24, deal with home-based businesses, off-street parking and paving of front yards. A law, which went into effect in July 2009, prohibits on-street parking of heavy commercial and recreational vehicles in residential neighborhoods.
Dust off your gloves and get ready for Earth Month. The Volunteer Center can help you find an environmental project in your community. Park, waterway, and neighborhood clean ups, painting and gardening are just a few ways you or your group can make a difference.
Did you find something useful in this e-newsletter? Some people have asked me if they can use the material from my newsletter in their own civic association or HOA newsletters. The answer is yes. I provide this information to help residents find what they need and participate in the legislative process, so feel free to use it.