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Council Vice President Kate Stewart’s Statement on the FY25 Operating Budget and FY25-30 Capital Improvements Program

MARYLAND, May 16 - For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 16, 2024

From the Office of Council Vice President Kate Stewart

Montgomery County Council Vice President Kate Stewart made the following statement about the Fiscal Year 2025 Operating Budget and the Fiscal Year 2025-2030 Capital Improvements Program. The Council’s final vote on the capital and operating budgets for Montgomery County is scheduled for May 23.

Below is Council Vice President Stewart's full statement:

Today, the Council unanimously voted to move forward with the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. Our budget reflects a great deal of work over the last few months. Vital to the process was the record level of public input. Thank you to all the residents who engaged in the process. This year we had to balance many urgent needs in our community, as we considered funding for our schools, programs to assist the unhoused, tackling food insecurity and our mental health crisis, and to provide funding for services for our LGBTQ+ community, as well as address the climate crisis and invest in economic development.

I have previously described the budget we received from the County Executive as a puzzle, and that as we took a closer look, we saw there were some pieces missing and not all of the pieces quite fit together. It became the Council’s job to find a way to piece everything together.

As difficult a task as it is, at the end of the day, we must balance multiple needs in our County. A key part of tackling this task is listening to residents. During our budget process, we hosted public hearings to hear from residents about their priorities with a record number of 255 speakers joining us to share their views. We also received many emails and calls and appreciated everyone’s time as we were adjusting the budget to address the urgent needs of residents and plan for the future. This advocacy was incredibly important and insightful.

Right now, we are facing a transition away from pandemic era federal funding for our schools and our County programs that address issues of homelessness, food insecurity, mental health and other programs that focus on the most critical needs of our residents.

Specifically, our school children, educators and school staff are a large part of the budget puzzle – recognizing the vital role MCPS plays in our community and their need for support, especially right now.

We were able to fund 99.2 percent of the Board of Education’s budget request going above the County Executive’s recommended level and provide more than $150 million over Maintenance of Effort. I want to thank Interim Superintendent Dr. Monique Felder, MCPS staff and the Board of Education for all their work and collaboration.

We know needs still exist, especially given the critical point our County school system is at right now as they search for a new superintendent and the increasing needs of students and families. I am committed to working with our Board of Education and MCPS staff to find innovative ways to address unmet needs moving forward.

Given the needs we face, I also felt it is important to maintain our reserves at a level to ensure we are able to address unknown expenses and emergencies in the year ahead. For example, just in the last couple of weeks as we were working on the budget, we had a request from MCPS for $20 million to help deal with unexpected increases in health care claims and cost increases that were not included in the budget. We moved quickly to approve a $10 million special appropriation of undesignated reserves to contribute to the MCPS Employee Benefit Plan Fund. This $10 million was not part of the FY25 budget request and I am very glad that we had funding in the reserves so we could grant this request.

We have been making progress this year in our conversations with MCPS and we still have work to do. The budget resolution we will be passing for MCPS includes new accountability measures which will provide a framework for expectations and transparency. It is my hope this will help address concerns raised by the public and members of the Council moving forward. In addition, last year we added two positions to increase oversight of our school system in the Inspector General’s office. I am pleased that we added an additional two positions this year.

Early child education is another item we know our communities need and we were able to add funding through the Early Child Education Initiative and the Children’s Opportunity Alliance to address these needs. It is critical we make investments in early childhood education to make sure every child enters school ready to succeed.

We also know the decrease in federal funds leaves us needing to backfill funding for critical programs and services to assist our unhoused and food insecure populations, which is why I supported and prioritized key items during our budget deliberations to both address the immediate need and to fund the work toward addressing the root causes of these issues.

In the last two years, our unhoused population has increased, especially in Silver Spring and Wheaton. The 2024 MWCOG Point In Time Count showed a 71 percent increase in homelessness in the County. This budget adds peer support specialists, psychiatric services in our shelters and continues funding emergency sheltering in hotels.

We are continuing the work toward the goal that Councilmember Gabe Albornoz started when he was the Council president to end childhood hunger, something that no child in Montgomery County should experience. This budget funds the Community Food Assistance Competitive Grant Program and provides additional resources for food staples. However, we were not able to fully fund these programs, and the need is great, especially as we look to ensure families are able to enroll in nutrition benefit programs such as SNAP. We need to continue to evaluate these needs and how to address them in the months ahead.

We know that mental health needs are increasing as well, and we must ensure that funding for our mental health services doesn’t lapse as federal dollars dry up. This budget backfills two mobile crisis outreach teams that lost federal funding and adds two additional teams to address the overwhelming mental health crisis we are facing.

And we were able to increase funding for the Youth Safety Initiative. This funding is in response to the County’s ongoing youth safety concerns including the opioid and fentanyl crisis, crime prevention, substance use disorder, treatment services and response strategies.

Over the last year, we have learned a great deal about the needs of the LGBTQ+ population in Montgomery County through the Community Survey and the Office of Legislative Oversight’s report on Transgender Healthcare. For too long, we have not had dedicated funding to meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and we are changing that in this budget.

The MoCo Pride Center serves many members of our LGBTQ+ community in a variety of ways, with a direct focus on linkages to care programs that partner with government programs, nonprofits, and community-oriented businesses. I am thrilled that we are finally providing them with this direct funding.

In addition, there is funding to help CCI Health Services to open the first sexual and gender minorities health clinic in Montgomery County! We still have much to do as was identified in the Community Survey and the OLO report, but with this budget we are taking a big leap forward. Thank you to Councilmember Kristin Mink, Councilmember Evan Glass, Councilmember Marilyn Balcombe, and everyone on the Council for prioritizing this funding.

As the Councilmember for District 4, I have the most apartment buildings and renters in my district. I know firsthand the importance of having good code enforcement and housing policy to ensure housing stability and security.

I am looking forward to the Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ (DCHA) restructuring to include the new Rent Stabilization Office and staff for short term rentals. DHCA is a resource that many in our County rely on and ensuring that they have the ability to respond to renters’ needs is key.

We also have to be able to respond to public safety challenges, addressing high vacancies in our police department and keeping residents safe. We are expanding the Drone as First Responder Program, which has proven to be an exceedingly useful tool for triaging police responses to calls, along with the increased support for the Police Cadet Program, which over time will help us address our vacancies.

In addition to addressing these urgent needs, we need to support our businesses and economic development throughout our County. If we do not support the businesses that are here now, grow existing businesses and attract new ones, we are never going to deliver on our promises to our communities. We doubled down on our commitment to training life sciences professionals right here in Montgomery County at a state-of-the-art BioHub.

I do wish we could have funded resources for the businesses impacted by the Purple Line on Bonifant Street. Unfortunately, this did not make it on the final list, and we need to find ways to support these businesses. If we do not support businesses impacted by Purple Line construction and they close, we have failed them.

Another missing piece in the budget puzzle was the resources needed to ensure the same level of service for our parks. While we were not able to fund all the requests, we were able to support their top priorities, and I thank them for working with the Council as we made tough decisions.

As the chair of the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, I am glad to see included in the budget resources to ensure we are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) appropriately and putting in place needed guidelines for County departments. While we did not fully fund the request for the AI Center of Excellence, we were able to provide resources to assist in developing guidance and tools for our government’s usage of this rapidly advancing technology, which if used properly has the potential to make our government more efficient and effective.

And, last year we were not able to fund the badly needed updates to the website but we are able to do so this year to make sure we are compliant with federal ADA guidelines.

As a member of the Transportation and Environment Committee, we have discussed the pressing need to address climate change and I am glad for the added support for climate communication and engagement so we can help more residents reduce their energy use and cut their monthly energy costs. For the first time, we funded planning for our own food scraps composting facility as we move toward countywide curbside composting and zero waste. We also continued efforts to electrify our County fleet and County buildings to cut our own County government’s transportation emissions and save money on fuel and utilities.

I also want to thank Councilmember Glass for his advocacy for the funding of the Great Seneca Transit Network and glad we were able to fund the project to move more people in fewer vehicles.

As we turn to capital projects, we face challenging inflationary increases to all construction costs. We kept projects to the Executive’s recommended timeline to continue those under construction toward completion and prioritize the most urgent needs.

I am immensely grateful that the Summit Avenue Extended Project was moved back into the infrastructure budget as it is a project vital to unlocking economic development, housing options and improving connectivity in Kensington and the surrounding communities. We also maintained planning funding for a future park, the Lyttonsville Civic Green.

As I have also said before, I want to thank the Education and Culture Committee for their work on the Capital Improvement Projects. I appreciate the work the committee and Chair Will Jawando did to ensure we have a much more realistic and sustainable capital budget.

There is more work that we need to do given MCPS’ late decision to delay the auditoriums at Woodward and Crown. I know many of us are committed to working with MCPS and the community to find ways to move forward as quickly as possible.

At the end of the day, we were not able to do everything in this budget as we looked at balancing the many needs of our County.

There are 11 of us on this body and we have at times differing priorities. What we were able to accomplish, I believe, is a budget that addresses our top, urgent concerns across the board, and preserves a level of reserves to ensure our County is well situated to address unexpected needs and expenses and even some we can expect in the upcoming year.

I am so grateful to the work of my colleagues and our Council staff for the process we had and the budget we have before us. We would not be here without all of those who worked tirelessly to get us here.

I want to thank our staff – both my own team – Chief of Staff Cecily Thorne, Paul B. Ellis, Kiran Kochar McCabe, Juan Arango Millan and Deborah Getachew – and the Council central staff – for their amazing work the last few months on the FY25 budget. Specifically, I want to thank Craig Howard and Essie McGuire and everyone for their work. And we welcome Caven West to his first MoCo budget as our executive director. I also want to thank Council President Andrew Friedson and his staff, especially his Chief of Staff Cindy Gibson, for shepherding us through this process.

I am pleased to support this FY25 budget and look forward to our final vote next week on May 23.

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Release ID: 24-190
Media Contact: Cecily Thorne 301-910-0610
Categories: Kate Stewart