Residents in Montgomery County, Maryland, can expect their property taxes to rise nearly five cents under a budget agreement arrived at by the county council Thursday.
The preliminary vote by the 11-member council approves a $6.7 billion operating budget. Instead of approving a 10-cent property tax increase, the council voted 7-4 to approve a property tax increase of 4.7 cents.
Council members Andrew Friedson, Will Jawando, Kristin Mink and Kate Stewart voted against the increase.
Friedson opposed increasing the property tax, while Jawando, Mink and Stewart objected to cutting the proposed increase by roughly half, insisting schools needed a greater funding increase.
The council’s straw vote approves a budget that includes nearly $3.2 billion for the Montgomery County school system.
While the school system’s budget request wasn’t fully funded, Council President Evan Glass emphasized the system not only gets half the county’s overall budget, but that “this is the largest increase to MCPS since before the Great Recession.” The vote adds $215.7 million to the school system’s FY24 budget.
The union that represents teachers and nonsupervisory professionals in the school system, the Montgomery County Education Association, issued a statement blasting the council for failing to approve a 10-cent property tax increase, accusing the council of voting “to starve our school system.”
“Every member of this council expressed our intention to fully fund the contracts for our hardworking teachers, paraeducators, bus operators and administrators,” Glass said.
Council member Marilyn Balcombe echoed Glass’ statement about fully funding the teacher’s contracts, “even though by law, the council does not have control over the allocation of funds that we provide to MCPS.” That authority belongs to the board of education.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich issued a statement on the budget vote, saying “I appreciate their willingness to consider the proposals I placed before them on March 15.” Elrich also pointed out that, under the preliminary vote, the council “includes 98 percent of my recommended budget and funds many critical services for our residents.”
However, Elrich expressed concern that the council didn’t approve his plan to boost the property tax rate by 10 cents, instead opting for the lower rate of 4.7 cents. Elrich said he appreciated the vote to increase property taxes, “but I do remain concerned that the vote will leave us facing a similar debate next year.”
While the 11 members on the council professed their appreciation for each other, there was criticism within the body on how the budget process has been carried out.
Jawando complained of a lack of transparency, a sentiment shared by Mink, who was the lone vote against the overall budget plan.
“I cannot support this budget because of how we arrived here, and my belief that we are not providing our school system with the resources that it needs to succeed,” Mink said.
Several members sounded a note of caution, saying some hard decisions were avoided by approving a tax increase, but that in the next budget year, they’ll face much tougher choices.
“This budget funds many critical priorities, but it doesn’t make the type of tough decisions needed to avoid tougher and harder decisions next year and beyond,” Friedson said.
Among the items included in the budget plan given preliminary approval by the council:
- A budget of $345.2 million for Montgomery College, including the first tuition increase for the college since FY20. Under that plan, tuition would go up by $2 per semester hour for county residents, $4 for state residents and $6 for nonresidents.
- Montgomery County police would see a 5.3% overall budget increase, with a total budget of $313 million.
- The sheriff’s office would get a $2 million boost, for a budget of $29 million.
- The fire and rescue services department would see a $14 million increase, for an operating budget of $266 million.
- More than $61 million in salary and benefit increases are contained in the contract agreements for the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Municipal and County Government Employees’ Organization and county employees who are not members of unions.
- $71 million for the Alcohol Beverage Services, which includes licensing, wholesale and retail sales of alcohol.
- $11.1 million was approved for Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton urban districts. An amendment also allows funding appropriations for the newly-established Friendship Heights Urban District.
- $3.2 million for county supported incubators and economic partnerships.
- $3.5 million for the Montgomery County Economic Development Fund.
- $6 million for the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.
- $6 million for the Montgomery County Arts and Humanities Council.
Health and Human Services:
- A total of $480 million, which amounts to a nearly 11% increase in spending.
- More than $270 million, including nearly $300,000 for the Transportation Service Improvement Fund.
The final vote by the 11-member county council is scheduled for next week.
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