Montgomery Co. approves $5.8B budget: More for schools and police, plus Bethesda parking hike

Montgomery County Council members smiled and applauded Thursday as they approved a $5.8 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year for Maryland’s largest county.

“It’s a very special day,” said Council President Nancy Navarro. “Congratulations to everybody and thank you to everybody who worked so hard on this.”

The spending plan, which takes effect in July, includes $2.6 billion for schools, an increase of more than $80 million. County officials expect an enrollment of 164,477 students in the next fiscal year, which represents an increase of 1,877 students.

The council voted to include $314.7 million for Montgomery College, an increase of $3.1 million.

In addition, police and fire officials will have more resources to work with.

The county’s police will get $295.3 million, an increase of 5.4% over last year’s budget. It funds two new school resource officers to help protect students. More than $220 million will go to the county’s fire department, a 2.4% increase, helping to fund 20 new firefighter positions.

Drivers will see an increase in street parking fees in the Bethesda area.

Street parking at meters in Bethesda within the parking lot district will rise to $3.25 an hour, while the hours and fees for Silver Spring and Wheaton parking lot districts will remain the same.

The council approved spending $227 million on transportation, including road maintenance, leaf collection and the county’s Ride On bus service. Council members added $100,000 to the budget for pedestrian safety audits designed to make walking and biking safer countywide.

The Kids Ride Free program will be expanded so that anyone under 18 years old can use Ride On free of charge.

Last week, Council member Evan Glass said the service is crucial for students who need reliable public transit. “There’s no reason a student should be walking in the cold or the rain because they couldn’t afford bus fare. And there’s no reason a student should ever miss a job or an internship because they didn’t have a reliable way of getting home,” Glass said.

Programs for children, youth and families will get $85.7 million, including added money for mental health therapists at two schools.

The council added money to the county’s Department of Public Libraries, voting for a total of $43 million. The money will support the anticipated grand opening of the Wheaton Library and Recreation Center and will help expand hours at the Damascus and Long Branch libraries.

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