In early March, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett released his annual budget recommendation for the 2016 fiscal year. Leggett’s proposed $5 billion Operating Budget holds spending fairly similar to current levels, raising spending from the 2015 year by a mere 1.4 percent, or about $70 million dollars.
Of the money allocated for the 2016 Fiscal Year, $1.5 billion will go toward the county government to increase employee salaries, facilitate more affordable housing and fund new safety equipment for the county police. Leggett also gave the public libraries a generous 5 percent spending increase in hopes of restoring full funding in the wake of a series of budgetary slashes.
For Montgomery County Public Schools, Leggett recommended a $2.3 billion budget, falling $80 million short of the Board of Education’s initial monetary requests. “My recommended Operating Budget increases funding for the Montgomery County Public Schools by $30.7 million–about 98 percent of the school system’s request,” Leggett said. “In addition, my budget allows MCPS to use another $27 million from future health benefits for retirees to meet current needs. Schools spending overall goes up 1.4 percent while overall spending for the whole county is 1.1 percent.”
Although he was unable to appease the Board, Leggett maintains that the slight cuts are justified and have good intentions. “As a teacher myself and a grandfather with grandchildren in our public schools, I know how important a strong education is to building a better future,” Leggett said. “Within the limits of a very tight budget, I wanted to help MCPS meet as many needs as possible.”
However, school officials are discontented with Leggett’s failure to meet their requests. Among them is interim superintendent Larry Bowers who predicts MCPS will likely be forced to cut close to 400 employees from its payroll, 150 of them being teachers. “These are painful cuts that will impact every school in this district,” Bowers said to the “Washington Post”.
While the current budget saw a 4 percent increase from the previous year, Leggett did his best to avoid raising taxes too drastically this year, though he projects an inevitable tax increase in the coming year due to the economic slump and anticipated cuts in state funding.
Ultimately, Leggett is gradually building the county toward myriad long-term goals and says that he is exercising caution with tax increases because he does not want to win the battle for 2016 but lose the war in the long run.
“[My long-term goals for this budget are to] invest in education, public safety, the creation of 100,000 new jobs in the county and help those in our midst who are most vulnerable. We have to do all this while carefully matching our needs with available resources and not spend beyond our means,” Leggett said.
Leggett’s recommended budget is to be put into action July 1 after input gathered from public hearings on April 14-16 and pending approval from the County Council.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Catherine Yang of Wootton High School