Berliner says budget aggression will not stand

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner reassured activists and professionals in the Jewish community last week that the County’s proposed budget that includes a 1 percent cut in funding for nonprofits will not stand.

“It just simply can’t stand, and I know my colleagues feel the same way,” Berliner told the 60 participants at the 12th annual Jewish Community Relations Council’s Montgomery County Advocacy Day on April 6.

The reduced funding is proposed to come out of the Department of Health and Human Services Non-Developmental Disabilities Provider Services Contracts budget, which many nonprofits rely on to provide services to County residents.

Berliner pointed in particular to hunger in the County, which he called “an embarrassment,” and a need to take care of the rapidly growing senior population here as to why, rather than a 1 percent cut, he is seeking as much as a 3 percent increase in funding for nonprofit organizations that help County residents.

“We are confident we will be able to achieve” an increase. “We will try and find every dollar we can,” Berliner said. “It’s just an imperative from my perspective.”

The proposed budget, created by County Executive Ike Leggett, includes more than $1 million for various Jewish social services agencies, including the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, the Jewish Council for the Aging, the Jewish Social Service Agency and the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.

Berliner noted that besides the normal expenses, the County plans to hire 13 police officers and help the school system in regard to the achievement gap and overcrowding.

He noted that the County’s population is growing so rapidly that between 2,500 and 3,000 new students are expected to enter the school district each year. “A high school a year, that’s how much it’s growing,” he said.

Also in the proposed budget is money to fund increased security at faith-based institutions.

This is necessary, said Meredith Weisel, director of Maryland Government and Community Relations for the JCRC.

Besides recent phoned-in bomb threats to Jewish federations and day schools, “Mosques have been burned. Churches have been vandalized. We are seeing things in the public schools,” she said.

Council member George Leventhal agreed with the need for increased security “during these troubled times,” adding, “We must model best behavior.”

Berliner praised the efforts of the 170 diverse cultures that reside in the County each time one group is targeted. “It’s one of the silver linings, the way faith communities have come together,” he said.

“We can all weather this terrible climate” if people stand together, he added.

During the two-hour meeting which included lobbying with individual council members, the JCRC also urged the Council to continue its support for the immigrant and refugee community.

“We, as the Jewish community, see this as a very important issue,” Weisel said.

Berliner agreed. “Our County has made it clear that we will not be federal enforcement agencies.” County officials and police believe that “nothing could be worse” than having an immigrant population too scared to talk to police or participate in County life. 

Sarah Rubinow Simon from Jewish Foundation for Group Homes agreed. “It’s part of our [Jewish] tradition. We really want each person in Montgomery County to feel safe,” she said.

Council member Sidney Katz thanked the participants for their work. “We need every advocate who has a good heart,” he said. Even with a County budget of $5.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2018, “it’s not enough money.”



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