Showing posts with label budget. Show all posts
Showing posts with label budget. Show all posts

Monday, March 18, 2024

Rockville residents asking Mayor & Council to boost funding for police as Montgomery County retreats

A downward spiral that began when the Montgomery County Council made a modest effort to "defund the police" in 2021 by cutting 30 positions picked up speed on November 1, 2023, when the Montgomery County Police Department announced it would no longer respond to 911 calls in the municipalities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, unless their respective City police departments had no units available or needed backup assistance. The pull-out was due to a shortage of officers, which is forecast to grow to 239 vacancies by July 2025. Montgomery County currently has 176 police officer vacancies, as former County Council staff member Adam Pagnucco reported last fall. Rockville residents concerned about the greater responsibility now being shouldered by its municipal police officers plan to press the Mayor and Council to boost funding for the Rockville City Police Department outside of City Hall tonight, March 18, 2024 at 6:45 PM.

Residents want to "let the City Council know that public safety, funding and support for the Rockville Police Department is important, especially given the increasing crime throughout Rockville and the County, as a whole," rally organizer Brigitta Mullican said in a press release about tonight's effort. The Mayor and Council will be holding a hearing on the city's FY-2025 budget during their meeting tonight. 

Last month, Rockville City Police Chief Victor Brito told the Mayor and Council that his department is now handling 88% of emergency calls within the city limits. That's up from 71% in 2018. Mullican said that she will be testifying during tonight's public hearing for an increase in police funding and salaries. 

Recruitment has become a challenge nationwide, as officers in many jurisdictions where elected officials have disparaged or criticized police - including Montgomery County - have either retired early, or moved to other departments around the region or country that are perceived as being more supportive of police officers. The competition for the reduced number of people choosing to enter the law enforcement field has become intense as a result. Rockville must remain competitive with officer salaries and benefits to attract enough officers to handle its increased responsibilities.

Brito's presentation last month showed the impact of the City's greater call load - exacerbated by a persistent crime wave in the County since 2020 - on officer response time. He noted the national statistics that indicate that for every additional 1000 emergency calls, another 9 minutes are added to response time, on average. 

Participants in tonight's rally outside City Hall, located at 111 Maryland Avenue, are asked to bring signs showing support for Rockville City police. A group photo will be taken to show the size of support from residents for City officers.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Montgomery County property tax hike proposed in County Executive's $6.8 billion FY-2024 budget

Montgomery County elected officials have raised property taxes on homeowners every year since 2010, except for FY-2015, when a 2014 election-year tax cut delivered a whopping average $12 savings to tax-whipped residents (gee, thanks!). It looks like they are going to do it again for FY-2024, as County Executive Marc Elrich (D) released his proposed budget yesterday, and he suggested the largest property tax hike since FY-2017. The extra payday would go exclusively to Montgomery County Public Schools, whose student performance has only declined as bigger and bigger budgets have been approved for it by the County Council. Money has never been the problem at MCPS, only incompetent leadership since the exit of Superintendent Jerry Weast, a clearly-failed curriculum, and an increasingly-stark lack of student safety and security.

There's an even greater problem about the record $3.2 billion outlay for MCPS in Elrich's budget. Due to the disastrous Maintenance of Effort law, the amount spent on MCPS can never go down from one year to the next. So, even as Elrich himself declares "a mild recession could take place later this year," his budget would lock in a required expenditure of at least $3.2 billion for MCPS in the FY-2025 budget - even if a recession deals a severe blow to County revenue. And we're not even talking about the worrisome situation in the banking sector, which is persisting despite a federal bailout of wealthy billionaires at Silicon Valley Bank earlier this week.

What that would mean, is that savings and cuts would have to be found elsewhere in the budget: police, fire, libraries, road maintenance, etc. And the County Council is already cruising toward a rude fiscal awakening, as it has convinced itself, the local media, and enough voters that its rosy budgets of the last few pandemic years were due to councilmembers' overwhelming talent and skill, and not the overwhelming federal cash that poured into the County to cover COVID-19 losses. That money is now being cut off by Uncle Sam.

You wouldn't know it from reviewing the proposed budget. And from a steep tax hike being proposed, you wouldn't know that a majority of County residents are being hit hard by persistent inflation. Not to mention that, for many County residents - particularly the elderly and others on fixed incomes - the current property tax has become the equivalent of a second mortgage they must pay off on their home.

There are other fanciful ideas in the budget announcement, such as the recent canard pushed by the County political cartel that Montgomery County residents are somehow paying less property taxes than some other jurisdictions. This is false, because the assessments on houses are so much higher in Montgomery County than in those jurisdictions that MoCo residents actually pay more. In reality, Montgomery County has the highest real property tax payments, and the highest total tax and fee burden in the Washington, D.C. region. We pay massive income and piggyback income taxes, real estate transfer taxes, energy taxes, cell phone taxes, rain taxes, and more - many of these being taxes that don't even exist in counties around us. 

Our current tax structure and burden are two of the major reasons for our moribund County economy. Montgomery County's economic growth and strength have been at or near rock bottom in the region for more than a decade, as measured by every relevant federal indicator. No major corporation has relocated its headquarters to Montgomery County in over a quarter century. 

Taxes have also been the major cause for the flight of the rich out of Montgomery County, which caused the County's "Rodeo Drive" of Friendship Heights to crash, leaving behind vacant buildings and empty storefronts. Significantly increasing taxes and spending, as we've done and as is being proposed again here, is a reckless move in this context, and total insanity when you factor in the County's massive debt.

One positive thing Elrich's budget proposes? Providing the funding to restore the Office of the People's Counsel, a lawyer who can represent the people in land use matters. This is long overdue, but we don't need a $6.8 billion budget or a property tax hike to make that happen.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

City of Rockville proposes $20 hike in trash collection fee

A resolution to increase Rockville's refuse collection fee by $20 in FY-2023 will be reviewed by the Mayor and Council at their virtual meeting this Monday night, February 28, 2022 at 7:00 PM. The proposed 4.4% increase would raise City of Rockville residents' annual refuse fee to $479. If approved, this would be the first increase in the fee since FY-2017. The resolution will be voted on by the Mayor and Council at their May 9, 2022 meeting.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Monday, November 15, 2021

Stacey Webster named CFO for City of Rockville

Stacey Webster
, a longtime member of the City of Rockville's Department of Finance who has worked on many city budgets, has been named Chief Financial Officer for the city. City Manager Rob DiSpirito announced the decision promoting Webster, who is currently the Deputy CFO. “I look forward to the opportunity to lead Rockville’s outstanding Department of Finance, and to continue to provide sound and strategic financial advice to the executive team and to our Mayor and Council,” Webster said in a statement.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Early opportunity to speak to Mayor & Council on FY-18 Rockville budget Nov. 1

In an effort to get more public feedback about the Rockville budget before it starts to take shape during the official process, the Mayor and Council are holding a public hearing on Tuesday, November 1, at 7:00 PM at City Hall. If you have comments about taxes, fees, spending and priorities, this is the time to make them known.

Anyone wishing to testify should call 240-314-8280 before 4:00 PM on November 1 to get on the speakers’ list.

The proposed FY-2018 budget is scheduled to be introduced by the City Manager on February 27, 2017, and the Mayor & Council will vote on its adoption in May.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Should Rockville eliminate long-vacant government positions?

Rockville City Councilmember Beryl Feinberg urged her colleagues to eliminate several city government positions that have long been vacant at last night's Mayor and Council meeting. Reasoning that the City has managed without those employees for an extended period, Feinberg concluded they could be safely eliminated, to constrain the budget going forward. She brought up the issue during an FY-2017 budget worksession.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Feinberg's Council colleagues strongly disagreed with her proposal that they discuss the possibility. "We need to stay in our lane," Newton said, referring to the City's Council-Manager form of government, which gives the City Manager purview over personnel. Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala, Julie Palakovich Carr and Virginia Onley agreed with Newton.

Feinberg stressed that no current City employee would face a salary cut or termination, as all of the positions are currently empty. Newton suggested that the vacancies may not be as clear-cut as they appear, and might not remain vacant far into the future. On the code enforcement position Feinberg cited, Newton noted that the shortage of such City inspectors has been to blame for delayed restaurant openings in Rockville Town Square.

Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau backed up her line of argument later in the discussion. He said one of the positions became vacant because that employee was on a military deployment overseas. Another is in the process of being filled. And Simoneau hinted that he might well fill some of those vacancies, and put those new employees to work where current staff are most-overtaxed.

With no support for her targeted proposal, Feinberg then asked for $300,000 in general cost savings to be found in personnel. She noted that in her years of government experience, she has not found government departments to be willing to voluntarily eliminate chronically-vacant positions. Simoneau candidly acknowledged that he would not seek to eliminate these positions at this time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Caregiver grants, cell tower revenue among Rockville budget concerns

Rockville's FY-2017 budget will increase spending by 2.2% to $126.1 million dollars, but property taxes will remain the same, under recommendations by the City's finance department. Deputy Director of Finance Stacey Webster presented the budget at last night's Mayor and Council meeting.

Savings were found in many areas, Webster reported, such as in taking advantage of lower fuel prices. Other costs have gone up, including the amount needed to cover new vehicle purchases across many departments. The City is also facing a major fiscal challenge in the Supreme Court's decision in the Wynne case, which will result in less revenue coming from the state to Rockville.

Expanded programming at the Twinbrook Community Center and Rockville Senior Center, upgrades at the Swim Center, and design improvements for the Croydon Creek Trail are among the expenditures that residents will notice the most. Rockville taxpayers will also face greater burdens as a result of Montgomery County's increase in the minimum wage. Public funds of $43,250 and $50,000 for temporary employees in refuse collection and Recreation and Parks, respectively, show that County wage boost has required greater public spending.

Councilmembers Mark Pierzchala and Beryl Feinberg raised concerns over the cost of caregivers funded by the City. Not all who receive City funding are keeping adequate records, Pierzchala noted, and he suggested that for next year they should be warned that such failure may result in termination of City funding.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked Webster and Finance Director Gavin Cohen if cell tower revenue from towers at a water tank and RedGate golf course currently going into the general fund could be moved back to the enterprise funds they were meant to support. Webster said RedGate is in good financial shape, but she and Cohen said the potential of reverting the funds could be explored.

One new factor this year is that the County is demanding the City pay its property taxes much earlier. Originally, they asked to receive them by May 13, but Webster was able to obtain an extension until May 17, the day after the Mayor and Council are expected to adopt the final budget.

Public hearings on the budget will be held on March 21, April 4, and April 18, 2016.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rockville Mayor and Council discuss FY-17 budget priorities

Rockville's budget season is officially underway, and a preview of the FY-2017 budget was presented to the Mayor and Council at last night's regular meeting by Deputy Director of Finance Stacey Webster. Some information will not be available until the February 8 meeting, including whether or not tax increases - such as the property tax - will be necessary.

But if the Mayor and Council accept the general outline presented by staff last night, there would be a 5-6% increase in trash fees, and a two-cent hike in what commercial property owners at Rockville Town Square pay toward the parking fund annually. Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked what that spike in trash fees would cost the average Rockville resident. Webster said it would be about $20 to $25 out of residents' pockets in FY-17. She said a number of factors led to the suggested increase, including a renegotiated city refuse agreement, new vehicle purchases, and labor costs.

Finance Director Gavin Cohen said the Rockville Town Square parking tax hike would cost property owners there about $12,000. He added that the new revenue would help cover the installation and adoption of "smart" parking meters.

Councilmember Mark Pierzchala, known for being well-prepared for meetings, identified a discrepancy in the newest unassigned reserves figure for FY-17. He noted it was now below the target established in the FY-16 budget. Webster explained that the number had to be revised due to new concerns about revenue, particularly in light of the Wynne decision and the recent mistake by the Maryland Comptroller's office in allocation of revenues to municipalities such as Rockville. The latter gaffe means the City will likely have to return an unknown amount of funds it mistakenly received from Annapolis.

In the context of those concerns, Webster said, she did not recommend the City reduce the property tax at this time. Councilmember Beryl Feinberg asked her colleagues if there was any inclination among the body to pursue a property tax reduction or credit for FY-17. There appeared to be no takers. Pierzchala said he was not only concerned about the factors Webster mentioned, but about the increasing forecasts of another national recession.

Webster said that Rockville is in a position to keep water and sewer fees flat this year, but cautioned against reducing the amount of unassigned reserves. She said the money that would free up would likely be outweighed by the negative message such a move would send to bond rating agencies, upon whom staff had impressed last year's increased commitment to reserve funding. Webster said those agencies expect the City to continue on that course to retain its prized Aaa bond rating.

With the recent election having just passed, the Mayor and Council also sought to deliver on promises made during the 2015 campaign. Newton noted that the Rockville Senior Center is in urgent need of both a full-time social worker, and a dedicated staff member who can help manage the aging-in-place Village programs being established across the city. She also pressed for one of her top priorities, increasing the number of police officers in the city. Newton said Rockviille's population, demographics and law enforcement challenges are not what they were 30 years ago. Rockville Police Chief Terry Treschuk concurred with the Mayor's comments. "It's time we had a frank discussion about the Police Department in this city," Treschuk said, "and lay it all on the table."

Pierzchala said he was hesitant to add signifcant numbers of new officers without first examining how current personnel are deployed and other efficiency options. Newton and Treschuk's remarks suggested that such analysis would be part of the overall discussion. But Newton argued that additions to the force are clearly warranted, with Rockville officers answering over 70% of calls within the city last year. She said Montgomery County officials have told her the efforts of the Rockville Police have allowed County Police assets to be redeployed to other priorities.

Feinberg brought up another proposal supported by several candidates last fall, the construction of additional recreation centers around the city. She suggested Potomac Woods Park as a prime location, because it already has utility lines running out to it, and existing recreational facilities in place.

Newton encouraged residents and staff to come forward with needs that could be addressed in this budget, saying it is important that the document reflect their priorities while maintaining the City's sound financial management.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rockville councilman: Stop funding tackle football

Rockville Councilmember Mark Pierzchala advised his colleagues at last night's Mayor and Council meeting that he wants the City to stop funding contact football for youth in its budget. The Mayor and Council have allotted $342,510 for youth sports in FY-2016. However, the amount of that which funds tackle football is not broken out in the budget document.

The Recreation and Parks Department offers a Rockville Football League for youth on its list of sports. A representative for the City, Jen Liberto, sits on the Board of Directors of this league entity. But it's unclear how much control or say Rockville has in its budget and operations, or how much the City contributes financially to the league. If Rockville were to cease funding tackle football, the impact on this or other programs is also unclear.

Pierzchala said that, as a former football player in his own youth, he knows football is inherently a "helmet-to-helmet" game. With recent concerns over concussions and long-term brain injuries in football players at all levels, Pierzchala argued that this is discussion the City must have. He said he wanted to give advance notice of his position, so that no one would be taken by surprise when the new budget deliberations are underway.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mayor and Council pass Rockville FY-2016 budget, add $1.2M reserves amendment

Rockville's Mayor and Council passed the budget for FY2016 last night, with no increase in property taxes, but a hike in the trash fee from $379 to $400. The general fund budget grew 4.6% to $123,418,080, but the capital budget decreased 14.1% to $63,536,662.

Councilmember Beryl Feinberg proposed an amendment to the budget, which would set aside $1.2 million from the unassigned general fund balance to pay for the Compensation and Class Study costs, which have not yet been determined.

The addition was opposed by Councilmembers Tom Moore and Julie Palakovich Carr. Moore said "there's no one of us who cares more about the employees than the other," but argued that setting a specific amount would raise expectations, and box the city in at a later date.

"I respectfully disagree," Feinberg said. She described the amendment as being "a transparency issue for our residents," to give them advance notice of a possible expense not covered in the budget being passed last night. City Budget and Finance Director Stacey Webster said the city would not be tied to a specific figure even if one was included in the budget. Feinberg said the reserves would be simply a "placeholder," not a fixed expense.

Palakovich Carr was concerned that the Mayor and Council "may be sending the wrong message," in only setting aside funds for those employees who are compensated from the general fund.

Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said it was "incumbent upon us as stewards of this city...that we show a good faith effort" regarding employees and the budget.

The reserves amendment passed 3-2, with Moore and Palakovich Carr opposed. Ultimately, the Mayor and Council unanimously passed the FY2016 budget. The trash fee vote was unanimous, as well.

Photo courtesy City of Rockville

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rockville's budget, minimum wage get bigger; property tax rate stays the same in FY2016 proposal

Rockville's operating and general fund budgets would increase (by 3.6% and 4.3%, respectively) in size under City Manager Barbara Matthews' proposed FY2016 fiscal plan. The budget book was formally introduced to the Mayor and Council at last night's council meeting.

The city government's minimum wage would increase to $9.55 on July 1, 2015, but the property tax rate paid by residents and businesses would remain the same as this year's. That won't prevent some from paying more property taxes, however, as assessments have been trending upward.

Watch your wallet, though: utility bills and refuse/recycling fees would increase under the proposed budget.

About $64 million would go to capital improvement projects, including the following:

  • Funding for bridge repairs, including a $1.3 million taxpayer-supported debt issue in FY16 to address repairs to the First Street bridge and $1.8 million in FY 2019 for repairs to the Hurley Avenue bridge
  • $1.7 million in FY 2017 to begin improvements to the Swim and Fitness Center locker rooms and for improvements to the Civic Center in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • $3 million in FY 2018 to continue Swim and Fitness Center improvements
  • Pedestrian safety initiatives and sidewalks
  • Water, sewer and stormwater management system improvements, including debt issues to support the water, sewer and stormwater management funds
  • Stabilization and rehabilitation of the King Farm Farmstead dairy barns
  • Road and sidewalk repair and replacement
  • A new utility billing system

You can read the full budget here. The budget will change based on feedback from the Mayor and Council and the public.

To comment on the proposed budget before it is adopted at the May 18 Mayor and Council meeting, you can speak at public hearings scheduled for March 30, April 13, and April 20.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


David Thomas, a resident of Hungerford in Rockville, questioned the proposed increase in refuse fees in the draft of the city's next budget. Speaking at Monday night's Mayor and Council meeting, Thomas noted that funds were previously designated to be moved from the refuse fee funds to other expenditures. He said such a transfer "means you had plenty in the refuse fund at this point."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


The union that represents Rockville's police officers is asking the Mayor and Council to reverse cutbacks in officers' compensation, now that the recession is over. Officer Jan Seilhamer, who is the union's president (and an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm), said "morale is at an all-time low within the police department," due to the reductions.

Speaking at the last council meeting, Seilhamer argued that the city can easily afford to restore step increases to officers, as jurisdictions with worse economies have already done so. A forensic accountant the Rockville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 117 hired to review the city's finances concluded the city is in "excellent financial health," Seilhamer noted.

Given that context, Seilhamer said, officers see "a mayor and council who do not value our contributions and sacrifices. We have sacrificed time with our families, we have sacrificed our bodies for this city."

A one-time FY-2015 bonus is "unacceptable," Seilhamer said, especially when officers may be ordered to contribute more to their retirement plans, to boot.

Seilhamer pointed to the amount of the city's surplus being spent on capital improvement projects in the budget as evidence of misplaced priorities. "When are you going to make the people who help make this city so great a priority?" she asked.

The mayor and council did not publicly respond to the issue in their Response to Community Forum directly following Seilhamer's testimony.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Expect a barrage of numbers at tonight's Mayor and Council meeting at 7:00 PM at City Hall.

It's budget time again.

Aside from a presentation of the budget for the next fiscal year, the meeting agenda includes a six-figure bid on police cruisers, an election law change to allow candidates to withdraw their candidacy, and a proclamation of "Earth Hour."

You can watch the meeting on Channel 11, or online.