ROCKVILLE — Montgomery County Council Members are concerned that the County’s new effort to pour money into preventing the growth of gang activity could be a casualty of the forthcoming budget cuts intended to mitigate a budget shortfall.
“Here’s my concern so, alright, we are going to engage very actively in January to address the savings plan,” said Council member Nancy Navarro (D-4) during a joint meeting of the Council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committees. “At the same time that we also heard there were programs that we have funded previously that have not actually been implemented.”
Last week County Executive Ike Leggett announced that the County incorrectly forecasted its revenue for the fiscal year 2018, and the County would be in a $120 budget shortfall for the current fiscal year. While Leggett suggested each County agencies except to cut their budgets by at least two percent, the County Council will have the final say over what is and is not cut from the budget.
“Whatever programs are in place right now are either going to have to ramp up somehow, you know, obviously not with additional resources,” Navarro said. “But obviously there is going to be more stress placed on those frontline people who are right now working very hard because those programs have not been implemented yet.”
Before the announcement of the unexpected budget shortfall, the Council made several investments in gang prevention by appropriating $843,693 to allow the Montgomery County Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office to hire additional staff to help combat gangs.
The Public Safety and Health and Human Services committees have also held several meetings on funding for family and youth services to address the needs of people at-risk of becoming involved in gang activity.
During the committee meeting, Navarro specifically mentioned the County’s “safe space” programs and places that are free from gang activity. Navarro said the safe space program has yet to be implanted meaning it could be up for budget cuts. The committee also considered funding for Catholic Charities to help provide services.
County Legislative Analyst Linda McMillian said children who are in the process of being reunited with their families are a particular focus for gang prevention programs. Both Leggett and County Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator Luis Cardona suggested steering funds to Catholic Charities as a way to support these families because their communities are often skeptical of government help.
“What that creates is not a culture clash, but a learning curve for this community,” Cardona said.
Council member George Leventhal (D-at large), said he supports the County funding faith-based charities, the County needs to take a lead role.
“To say that these young people will only trust the faith community because of the conditions in the countries from which they fled,” Leventhal said. “They fled those countries; we’re not going to replicate those conditions here.”