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Metro approves budget with no fare increase

  • Published in Local

metro logoWASHINGTON, D.C. — The Metro Board of Directors unanimously voted to not increase fares when it approved its operating and capital budgets for Fiscal Year 2019, providing at least one year of fare relief after an increase to fares last year.

Finance committee chairman Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said a highlight in the approved operating budget was the absence of service cuts and fare increases.

“[Maintaining fares and service levels], that reduced the amount of controversy and it also sticks to the general manager’s commitment to keep the subsidy [request] increase to the jurisdictions to 3 percent from the prior year,” Goldman said Thursday.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in his proposed FY ’19 budget said he planned to put a 3 percent cap, or limit, on the semi-annual increase in operating budget requests to the funding jurisdictions. A year ago, Metro’s Board of Directors approved and adopted the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, which included fare increases to both bus and rail. The Metro Board raised fares for FY ’18 by 25 cents per bus trip and about 10 cents per mile on Metrorail. Spokesperson Dan Stessel said at the time it was the first fare increase in three years, and that normally the board of directors follows a model of increasing fares every other year.

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Metro faces severe budget trouble

metro logoWith ridership continuing to decline, revenues from fares also decreasing despite rate increases and at least a half a dozen pending lawsuits with claims of one million dollars or more, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority trains continue to chug along, in part, thanks to an influx of government money.

“A primary cause of Metro’s current budget challenge is the decline in rail ridership. Total rail ridership peaked in 2009 and has stagnated or declined each year since then,” Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA General Manager/CEO, wrote in his executive summary of this year’s Fiscal Budget, which began July 1.

The $3.1 billion FY 2018 proposed budget includes $1.8 billion for operations and has more expenses than income in the 186 page-budget. Money for operations includes $841 million from fares, parking and advertising, and another $976 million from government funding from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Metro’s total operating budget is very dependent upon the government, noted a spokesman from the National Society of Accountants, who reviewed recent budgets for the Sentinel.

“This thing is bleeding, but it is propped up by government funds,” the spokesman said. “There has been a substantial drop in the use of the Metro.”

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Trump's budget would force state, county to 'pick up pieces'

  • Published in State

President Trump proposed a detailed budget May 23 that kept the themes of his March budget blueprint: steep cuts to science-based agencies, many headquartered in Montgomery County, and to programs to aid lower-income people, offset by sizable increases for defense and Homeland Security.

Compared with the 80-page budget released in March, the new spending plan for Fiscal Year 2018 (October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018) is a vast, eight-volume document with details on Trump’s proposals for every agency. Other subjects newly addressed include how the deficit would be affected, the major changes from previous budgets, revenue forecasts, and economic growth assumptions.

Given the size of the new document, reactions to it this week are only preliminary, with the meanings of many provisions yet to be unearthed by congressional review over the coming months.

If the proposed major cuts are enacted to Medicaid, food stamps (called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “SNAP”), elderly and school nutrition, “It would be up to the County or state government or both to pick up the pieces,” said Joy Nurmi, special assistant to County Executive Ike Leggett. For instance, she predicted, if SNAP cutbacks are adopted, many people would go to food pantries such as Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg. Manna is partially funded by the County and the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg.

“A budget is a moral document,” reflecting a community’s values, Nurmi asserted. She called the Trump budget “completely morally corrupt.”

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Rockville battles budget woes

  • Published in Local

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ROCKVILLE – Residents and community representatives spoke out Monday night in the last public hearing before the City Council passes the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

City Manager Robert DiSpirito proposed a $129.4 million operating budget, which would be a 2.5 percent increase from last year’s. DiSpirito proposed to keep the city’s taxes for real property and personal property the same as last year’s.

The city manager said he did not have as much influence over the budget as he would like, given that he started in Rockville long after the city began to craft its budget.

“I’m a Johnny-come-lately on the process, definitely,” said DiSpirito, who started as city manager in January.

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Metro GM running out of “tools in the toolbox” to fix budget shortfall

  • Published in Local

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Metro’s general manager told the Metro Board of Directors’ finance committee that budget shortfalls may lead the public transit system back to the jurisdictions to ask for more money.

Board Chairman and D.C. Council member Jack Evans as well as Board member Michael Goldman have said they believe Metro will have to raise fares and reduce service, as Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld had proposed, for the FY 2018 budget because Metro needs the money.

Wiedefeld said Metro hopes to close the FY 2017 budget gap but that it might not be enough.

"The reality is, we are very close to (debt),” Wiedefeld said.

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Rockville city manager’s proposed budget includes more police officers

  • Published in Local

ROCKVILLE – The city manager’s proposed fiscal year 2018 capital and operating budgets include increased water costs for residents, new capital improvement projects and added police officers.

According to the Department of Finance, Administration and Budget Division, the only new positions in the proposed budget are three additional sworn police officers. The last time the city received new police officers was the addition of two for a total of 59 in fiscal year 2014.

The new City Manager Rob DiSpirito said in a letter to the city and to the mayor and council that he proposed to add three police officers to the city department “to increase public safety and to improve health and well-being of our Police force.”

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Leggett proposes investing $2 billion in new school construction projects

  • Published in Local

Calling it a critical investment for schools, infrastructure and housing, County Executive Ike Leggett last week released his capital budget for fiscal year 2018.

In his proposed Capital Budget, Leggett said he wanted the County to invest $2 billion in education, most of which would go to school construction during the next six years.

 “This FY18 Capital Budget and amended six-year Capital Improvements Program represent critical investments in schools, jobs, transportation and housing while also being prudent with future borrowing,” said Leggett in a statement.

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WSSC rates called "Unfair"

  • Published in Local

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ROCKVILLE – Calling the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s (WSSC) rates unfair, WSSC customer testified against the company’s rate structure last week during a Montgomery County Council public hearing on the utility’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

At the hearing, WSSC customers testified to the council about what they called an unfair rate structure, calling for the Council to restructure how WSSC charges its customers.

“The ball is now squarely in your court, and that of the (Prince George’s) County Council, to move ahead to assure a reasonable rate structure is implemented that treats all of WSSC’s residential ratepayers, your constituents, fairly” said Richard Boltuck, a resident of Bethesda.

“Perhaps that will not happen in FY ‘18, but there are simply no remaining excuses for it be delayed beyond FY ‘19. For that to happen, however, you must insist clearly and unequivocally to WSSC now that this council will not approve an unduly discriminatory rate structure next year.”

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