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Leggett’s Budget Goes Above Schools Minimum, Adds 23 Police Officers

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 3/17/2014, 1:35pm  ET

County Executive Isiah Leggett, with county safety officials at an event in November (file photo)County Executive Isiah Leggett on Monday revealed a $4.97 billion recommended operating budget that goes over the minimum required for school funding, adds 23 police officers and would mean $17 less in property taxes from the average homeowner.

The portion of the FY 2015 budget dedicated to schools looms over other services, with a record $2.16 billion dedicated to MCPS, an increase of $79.8 million, or 3.2 percent, from last year’s budget. It would also fund the schools at $26 million over the state-mandated maintenance of effort minimum, while putting another $11 million in the MCPS fund balance to fund 99.3 percent of the Board of Education’s request.

“I believe that we have made a good-faith effort to get as close as we possibly could,” Leggett said, referring to the BOE’s roughly $2.2 billion request, which would be $51.7 million over the minimum.

Leggett again said former County Executive Doug Duncan’s budget increases meant he inherited unsustainable spending when he took over in 2008.

He also again said his administration’s fiscal stewardship during the Great Recession paved the way for budget increases today. He cited a reduction in the county government workforce and other belt-tightening measures in employee benefits and contracts.

“I can think of no county executive, no governor in the region, no mayor who did as much for as long as I did those things,” said Leggett, who spoke about the budget after introducing it to the County Council on Monday morning.

Leggett’s recommended budget, which would start July 1 this year, is a 3.3 increase overall from last year’s budget. Last year’s increase from the FY 2013 budget was 4.3 percent.

While talking about a funding recommendation for a new fire station in Glenmont, Leggett made clear his intention to be around for next year’s budget. Leggett is running against Duncan and Councilmember Phil Andrews for this June’s Democratic nomination for county executive.

“I plan to open a sixth station in Glenmont next year,” Leggett said. “Let me repeat that. I plan to open a sixth station in Glenmont next year.”

Leggett’s budget would add 23 police officers and drop the property tax value from $1.01 per $100 of assessed value to 99.6 cents. Leggett said that would mean $17 less in property taxes paid next fiscal year by the average homeowner.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which runs the county’s Parks and Planning Departments, would see a 5.2 percent increase in tax-supported funding compared to last year’s budget.

The County Council will review Leggett’s recommendations over the next few months.

The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) quickly put out a response to Leggett’s recommendations commending him for going over the maintenance of effort minimum but saying the group was disappointed Leggett’s recommendation fell about $15 million short of the BOE request:

“We commend the County Executive for looking at the needs of our students and schools, rather than a legal minimum, and proposing an operating budget that goes above MOE for the first time in six years. We recognize that politics require compromise, but insist education should not,” wrote MCCPTA Janette Gilman. “With the needs and numbers of our students on the rise and the imperative of closing the achievement gap, Montgomery County — led by County Executive Leggett — must go further. We must go the distance. We need to be able to both compensate teachers and staff fairly and support new programs specifically designed to close the gap.”

The Council’s public hearings on the operating budget are scheduled for April 8-10. Residents should call 240-777-7803 to sign up to speak. Input can be submitted via email at county[dot]council[at]montgomerycountymd[dot]gov or via regular mail to: County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850.