LAUREL – Bi-county cooperation continued in 2017, with Prince George’s and Montgomery counties coming together to approve the budgets for several bi-county agencies last week.
On May 11, members of the county councils for both counties met at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) headquarters to vote on the operating and capital budgets for that organization, as well as the Washington Suburban Transit Commission (WSTC) and portions of the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) budgets.
All of the budgets passed unanimously, with the exception of WSSC’s operating budget, which was separated from the omnibus package at the request of Prince George’s Councilwoman Mary Lehman. She voted against the WSSC operating budget, making the final vote 12-1 on that issue.
Lehman has voted against the operating budget several times due to disagreement about the rate increases, which this year amount to 3.5 percent.
“We split the vote out so that she would have the opportunity to vote against that specific piece that she didn’t agree with,” said Prince George’s County Council Chair Derrick Davis.
He added that this year’s budget process was “quite typical.” Davis said the WSSC budget decisions focus on the system’s infrastructure needs in light of an expanding regional population.
“It’s a rough reality. Water is essential to life, and what people tend to miss is that infrastructure is old, aging, breaking. Every time that you hear about a (water) main break or anything like that, it’s us going through the growing pains of a bi-county system that serves upwards of two million people,” he said.
Councilman Todd Turner agreed.
“The big thing for us right now is making sure they have resources to meet their needs, at the same time being fair to the customers who have to utilize that,” he said.
Turner said discussions about WSSC will continue, especially in light of the rate structure study and overhaul the utility is undertaking as a result of a regulatory decision ruling its current structure “unduly discriminatory.”
Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen shares the sentiment. During the meeting, she remarked, “Our staffs, together with WSSC staff and WSSC’s consultant, are currently reviewing rate structure options. WSSC will submit recommendations to the councils this summer. We look forward to continued close collaboration.”
The approved WSSC budget totals $1.4 billion, with $740.8 million in operating and $488.4 million in capital expenditures, according to a Prince George’s County Council letter to the Montgomery County Council. In addition to approving the rate increase, the staffs of both counties recommended reducing the debt service costs for the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant based on updated cost projections.
For WSTC, the Prince George’s County appropriation for fiscal year 2018 is $120,126, with Montgomery County contributing $142,626.
The bi-county portion of M-NCPPC’s FY18 budget includes the central administrative services. The councils approved the compensation adjustments in the tentative agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 30 and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 (MCGEO) unions, as well as similar adjustments for non-represented employees, provided the “combination of merit increase, general wage adjustment… and/or lump sum payment” does not exceeded the amount budgeted ($1.97 million for Montgomery and $2.6 million for Prince George’s), according to council documents.