The following is text of a February 28 letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett from the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board regarding the FY 15 County Operating Budget.
Dear Mr. Leggett:
Thank you for this opportunity to present the views of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board (WMCCAB) in advance of the release of your recommended operating budget for fiscal year 2015 (FY2015). We particularly appreciate you coming to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (BCCRSC) on January 13th to hear from the WMCCAB and members of the community regarding our budget priorities.
The County is beginning to emerge from a difficult time in which our elected leaders have had to close a series of budget gaps caused, largely, by the troubled economic landscape. This year’s estimated budget gap will be smaller than those of the past few years, but challenges remain as the needs are still great in many areas. While we believe our government needs to be adequately staffed and support our public workforce, we urge caution and careful consideration as positions are added and as programs are restored to pre-recession levels. The County does not want to inadvertently find itself in a situation in future years where it must eliminate positions or curtail services once again.
We continue to encourage the County to look for more opportunities for existing programs to achieve greater efficiency and savings through shared investments by multiple agencies. A multi-agency task force could be convened to identify such opportunities. Other opportunities may exist within annual maintenance programs. For example, the County Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection could look for opportunities to incorporate green infrastructure into annual street resurfacing and maintenance efforts. Other communities have demonstrated that strategic investments in innovative green infrastructure techniques can produce improved water quality, pedestrian safety and neighborhood character within the existing budgets of current programs.
Based on input from the community, the WMCCAB would also like to highlight the following specific issues that are important to the business, non-profit and residential communities within the area we represent. We recognize the extraordinary challenge of balancing so many competing priorities.
We join you in celebrating the renovation of two libraries. Further, we applaud your determination to continue to restore library funding, which is still below 2008 levels. Increased operating funds are still required for (1) book purchases and (2) additional library hours. Book purchases require new funding in two formats: while the circulation of traditional books has not diminished, e-book demand has skyrocketed. Our libraries need the funds to meet these demands. We also regularly hear requests for additional library hours for evenings and weekends. Particularly in urbanized areas of the County, evening library hours can play a role in the “Nighttime Economy” and can allow for more use of library meeting rooms, etc.
Regional Services Centers (RSCs):
The RSCs perform a valuable local governance service and must be maintained and strengthened in future operating budgets. For many County residents, the RSCs are their connection to County government and the proof that government is available to them and responsive to their concerns. The BCCRSC has been instrumental in coordinating public dialogue on the ongoing Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan and White Flint urban services; assisting emerging Senior Villages; and increasing educational and non-profit services for the public at the RSC. Without adequate administrative support on site at the RSCs, time that RSC directors would otherwise spend on engaging with the community is spent on administrative tasks like building management and scheduling. This “penny wise, pound foolish” approach limits the work that RSCs can do, a problem recently highlighted by the 2014 Committee Evaluation and Review Board recommendations.
School Resource Officers (SROs):
WMCCAB has long advocated for the SRO program and it has become only more vital with the prevalence of school shootings nationwide. We are pleased that you are considering a funding increase for this program and that funding was increased last year. The program has been effective in promoting safety and positive community relations at the high school level. For the SRO program to work, the officer must have adequate time to focus on a school and become a trusted figure there. This cannot happen if a single officer is responsible for numerous schools with thousands of students.
We heard from the audience and from our membership at the January 13th meeting regarding the importance of senior services, services for the disabled, and Ride-On. All deserve your continued support. We also once again urge funding for the Planning Department as they take up planning efforts that impact western Montgomery County, including the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan, White Flint 2 Sector Plan, and a new Westbard Sector Plan.
We appreciate your consideration of these points as you craft your FY2015 budget request. Thank you again for addressing WMCCAB and the community at our January 13th meeting.
Jad Donohoe, Chair