Calling it a prudent attempt to guide Montgomery County through fiscal uncertainty, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) released the final budget proposal of his last term as county executive Thursday, putting forward a $5.56 billion operating budget – increasing spending by 2 percent – for Fiscal Year 2019, with most of the increase directed to Montgomery County Public Schools.
“This budget continues my commitment to prudent fiscal policies critical to sound fiscal management,” Leggett said. “I have increased our reserve levels to cushion the taxpayers against any future unanticipated economic setbacks and included the required level of funding for retiree health benefits."
Leggett had stressed caution in the weeks leading up to the budget announcement, promising that it would not include a property tax increase, with the caveat that it was unlikely that he would propose drastic spending increases in most areas thanks to the current budget’s $120 million shortfall.
Leggett kept to his word on property taxes, even proposing a slight cut of nearly two cents in the rate, which will end up slightly increasing property taxes for the average homeowner by $27 a year. The change in taxes is below the charter limit, meaning there will not have to be unanimous support on the County Council to approve Leggett’s proposed changes to property taxes.
“The hard work of fiscal responsibility is not complete,” Leggett said. “This budget provides a blueprint for a sustainable and comprehensive fiscal future for the County. It reflects a balanced approach to meeting the growing needs of our diverse communities and robust business sector while keeping faith with County taxpayers.”
As is common practice with a Montgomery County budget, Leggett’s proposed outline allocates the most dollars toward education, for which he pledges to spend $2.59 billion on Montgomery County Public Schools – fully funding the Board of Education’s request. But with MCPS fully funded, other agencies are likely to lose out, particularly Montgomery College, government operations and parks and planning.
County Council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large) backed Leggett’s proposed budget during his weekly news conference, during which he repeated a familiar phrase – “education first” – which underscored his support for Leggett’s choice to prioritize MCPS over other areas.
“It’s an education-first budget, it fully funds the operating needs of the school system,” Riemer said. “It does so by having a slower rate of growth in other County spending priority areas, so it certainly represents some tougher choices, but they are choices that support the mission of education in this community, and that’s always a high priority for our residents.”