Montgomery Co. Council gives final approval to budget with eye toward pandemic recovery

One day before Montgomery County moves into Phase 3 of its COVID-19 plans, the Maryland county’s council approved a $6 billion budget that includes a number of items aimed at pandemic recovery.

“It’s always difficult to put together a budget of this scale and complexity,” said Council President Tom Hucker. Referencing the pandemic, he added that the typical challenges were exacerbated by impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. “We’ve lived through the worst public health and economic crisis in a century.”

The bulk of the county’s budget went toward education, with $2.7 billion dollars going to Montgomery County Public Schools. Another $312 million was allocated to Montgomery College.

But a number of items in the FY22 operating budget underscored the impact of the pandemic, with a $25 million dollar increase going to the Working Families Income Supplement program, $13.5 million going to nonprofits that work with the county to provide a variety of services to residents, $24 million dollars for rental assistance, and $3.6 million for “Service Consolidation Hubs” that provided food, diapers and other basics at eight locations throughout the county.

The county’s $692 property tax credit for homeowners remains unchanged, and the council says the “effective” property tax rate is also kept at its current level.

Federal funding played a critical role in supporting state and local governments, and the impact was felt in Montgomery County, where the county put $182.3 million to work to support businesses and residents. That money was part of the CARES Act. Another $204.1 million is a result of the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA.

Hucker told his colleagues on the nine-member council: “I’m so pleased to say we’re finally turning to a new and brighter and exciting chapter in our history post-pandemic.”

Health and Human Services

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services was at the center of dealing with the impact of the pandemic, and federal grants and reimbursements helped cover the costs of testing and vaccinations. The council voted to provide the department with $363 million.

$970,000 was added to the budget to help fund organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities. Another $1.14 million is being allocated to open a wellness center at Seneca Valley High School, which will open at the beginning of the next school year.

Public safety

The Montgomery County Police Department will receive $283 million, a less than 1% increase over the FY21 budget.

A number of sworn positions have been eliminated, including five school resource officer slots assigned to middle schools. Other positions that will not be filled include six traffic complaint officers, five patrol investigations officers and the Centralized Auto Theft Unit.

The county’s Sheriff’s Office will see a budget increase of $857,607, putting the annual budget at $26.4 million.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will get $72.9 million and is instituting a Medication Assisted Treatment Program to address inmates with opioid-related issues.

The county’s fire and rescue services operating budget is being increased by $7.7 million, including funding to support the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad’s Emergency Medical Services supply costs.

Economic development

More than $78.3 million was approved for business assistance programs designed to help the local economy, battered by the effect of the pandemic, including closures and restrictions imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The county’s Visit Montgomery program is getting $1.6 million dollars.

Transportation

Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation is being funded at $228.6 million and the Ride On “fare holiday” — which allows patrons to ride free — has been extended until September. The Seniors Ride Free program has also been extended to all hours of operation, starting in July.

The budget allows parking fee increases in Bethesda and Wheaton, but those won’t become effective until January of 2022.

The budget goes into effect July 1.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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