Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Advisory Board testifies for funding priorities

The following testimony of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board on the Recommended FY 2014 County Operating Budget delivered to the Montgomery County Council on April 10 by Marc Korman, Chair.

Council President Navarro and Councilmembers, my name is Marc Korman and I am the current chair of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, also known as the CAB. Thank you for this opportunity to present our views on the fiscal year 2014 operating budget. As you know, the CAB is appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the Council for the express purpose of advising both regarding local issues. The CAB is made up of residential, business, and non-profit members. Its area includes Bethesda, North Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Rockville, parts of Potomac and numerous points in between. The County Executive met with the CAB and other members of the community at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center on January 28th to hear from the community regarding its budget priorities. We appreciate that a number of the priorities shared at that meeting and in a subsequent letter to the County Executive are reflected in the recommended budget.

As the County Council begins to consider the recommended operating budget, we recognize that while we are beginning to come out of the most difficult economic downturn this county has faced during most of our lifetimes, tough choices still remain to be made. Responsibly rebuilding agencies and programs that were hard-hit during the depths of the recession is not an easy task.

Before we discuss the particulars of the recommended operating budget, we would like to articulate one overarching principle that the CAB has been focusing on for the past several years. We encourage the County to look for more opportunities for existing programs to achieve greater efficiency and savings through shared investments by multiple agencies. The County should look to increase the use of shared facilities or staff that can perform specialized functions for multiple departments. For example, we urge agencies such as the County Department of Transportation, the State Highway Administration, and utilities such as Pepco, Washington Gas, and WSSC to coordinate on timing and scope of work in public rights-of-way, in an effort to achieve time and cost efficiencies. The County Council can, through oversight, advance these efforts that do away with our old silo form of government in favor of a 21st century, interagency and intergovernmental approach.

With regard to the particulars of the recommended fiscal year 2014 operating budget, we would like to highlight the following specific issues that are important to the business, non-profit, and residential communities within the area the CAB represents.

School Resource Officers (SROs)

The CAB has long advocated for the School Resource Officers program, and this program has become even more important in the aftermath of recent national events. We are heartened that the County Executive’s recommended operating budget doubles the number of officers in our County’s schools. While this is an improvement, there are 150,000 children in Montgomery County Public Schools, and there is a great need for more than the 12 SROs proposed. We encourage the County Council to at the very least maintain the 12 SROs proposed, and consider adding funding to this program to expand the number of SROs in the coming year.

Regional Services Centers (RSCs)

The Regional Services Centers perform a valuable local government service and must be maintained and strengthened. The Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, for example, has been instrumental in coordinating public dialogue on Woodmont Triangle development and White Flint urban services, assisting emerging Senior Villages, and increasing non-profit services. We are disappointed that the recommended operating budget proposes only a relatively negligible increase in funding to the Regional Services Centers (approximately $17,000 over last year’s approved expenditure). We urge the County Council to recognize the vital function performed by the Regional Services Centers, and increase funding proportionally. Specifically, the regional services centers need their own administrative coordinator at each center, at least on a part time basis. Some of the work done in these centers cannot be done from Rockville.

Public Libraries

During the recent recession, our public libraries’ budget appeared to suffer more than any other program. Those cuts coincide with libraries being used by more people for Internet and E-book services scarcely imaginable just a few years ago. We support the County Executive’s proposal to increase funding for public libraries by 10.5% over last year’s approved operating budget.

Planning

Ensuring adequate funding for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is important for the County’s long-term fiscal health. Over the past few years, lack of funding has forced the County to delay sector planning efforts. Increased funding to update outdated plans, particularly in areas with good transit access such as the Bethesda Central Business District, will support the kind of private investment that expands the County’s tax base with less impact. We support the County Executive’s recommended 4.5% increase in the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s budget over last year’s approved budget.

Economic Development

The mission of the County Department of Economic Development is to build and improve the economic viability of the County and increase the tax base, allowing us to support our high quality of life. Given that improving economic viability and increasing the tax base are vitally necessary to the County’s fiscal health, particularly as we come out of the recession, the CAB is concerned with the proposed 5.1% decrease in the Department’s budget from last year’s approved budget. The Department brings new businesses and residents, and thus new sources of revenue and taxes, into the County. To cut the budget of a department that everyday helps to build the economy of Montgomery County seems counter-intuitive. The CAB urges the County Council to at least restore the Department’s budget to last year’s approved level.

We recognize that the County continues to face a number of fiscal and budgetary challenges. As you study the budget, we hope you will take into account these recommendations, which reflect the feedback we have heard from the citizens, businesses, and non-profits of western Montgomery County. Those issues, once again, are increasing funding for School Resource Officers, Park & Planning and Libraries (all as the County Executive has suggested), and considering additional funding for the Regional Services Centers and Department of Economic Development. We also hope to see the County find savings through mandating better interagency and intergovernmental cooperation. The CAB looks forward to working with the County Executive and County Council on these issues. Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony this evening.