Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

Labor Contracts

County’s Dark Economic Prospects

According to new report from the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) the county faces a difficult fiscal path ahead.  Basically, income will not be enough to cover expenses.  About 88% of the county’s programs are financed by income taxes and property taxes.  Income taxes can’t be raised because the rates are at the maximum level allowed by State law.  Property taxes can be raised above the tax-cap only with the approval of all nine Council members.

“Across the four County-funded agencies, employee compensation costs (consisting of salaries and wages as well as benefits) comprise 80% of all agency operating expenditures.

“The approved Fiscal Plan projects annual average revenue growth of 2.7% through FY24. This revenue growth will be insufficient to cover projected compensation costs if wages, social security, and group insurance grow at the same rates and retirement costs are held constant.

“A budget trade-off exists costs increases for existing positions compete for finite resources against the cost of adding new positions.”

 

Testimony before the County Council on the Proposed FY 2019 Budget

Testimony before the County Council on the Proposed FY 2019 Budget

April 11, 2018

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the proposed FY 2019 budget. I am Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League.

I’d like to note that this is very definitely a $5.56 billion election year budget – no property tax increases and a decrease in the property tax rate. And kudos to the County Executive for increasing the county’s reserve fund to $492 million.

And now a cautionary note: income taxes continue to be volatile. We ask that despite pleas from many for “more money, more money, more money” that the only exceptions be for the most vulnerable in the county – the working poor, the homeless, veterans and the developmentally disabled.

Next, we believe it is extremely short-sighted and somewhat reckless to reduce the county’s contribution to the employee retirement fund by $21 million – let us not mortgage our future.

Regarding our public schools where funding has been proposed at $19 million over the mandated what we call the Maintenance of Emolument level, we ask that you require the school system to provide you with the specific goals that they plan to achieve along with performance measures and timelines. If they are unable to do so, then taxpayers are funding a budget of $2.59 billion with results of which we are unaware. The school system does have a strategic plan that I would describe as more poetry than prose.

And here are two ideas: (1) that MCPS establish at least one charter school, perhaps in easy county, focused entirely on innovation – perhaps one that attempts new ways to narrow the achievement gap, and (2) that MCPS establish an Inspector General position reporting directly to the Board of Education – MCPS is too large a system to be run by bureaucrats with no “lean, mean junkyard dog” overseeing its operations, and more important, its performance. The Board alone cannot do it.

And now to job creation. Our increase in job growth has been, let me understate this, abysmal. According to BLS, the growth of establishments in Montgomery County between 2011 and 2016 was SIX! We were dead last in the Washington region. Is the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation really succeeding?

I end on a somewhat nostalgic note as this is the last time I will be testifying on the budget before this particular County Council. Four of you will not have to sit through such hearings again. And so we at the Taxpayers League wish council members Berliner, Elrich, Floreen and Leventhal the very best as you move on to other pursuits.

Thank you.

Questions for the meeting of April 19, 2017

Topic:   ” The Montgomery County Police Department and Performance-Based Budgeting”

Speaker:  J. Thomas Manger, Chief of Police, Montgomery County

April 19, 2017  — Free and open to the public — 7-9 pm. —  Council Office Building

The following questions have been sent to Chief Manger in advance of the meeting

1. Almost every police department in the country has performance targets to reduce crime.  We assume that such targets do exist for the Montgomery County Police Department.  However they are not included in the budget or strategic plan (except for strategy 1.3.2- traffic safety).  How do these targets compare, over the last 5 years, with those in Fairfax County where you were the Chief of Police prior to your current appointment?

2. Other than crime reduction, many police departments use performance measures such as clearance rates, response times, and enforcement productivity (#of arrests, citations, “stop and frisk” searches, etc).  Are these useful measures for the Montgomery County Police Department?  How do you measure whether the department is working intelligently, using appropriate methods and having a positive impact? 

3. How much of the $115 million for Patrol Services goes for Community Policing?  The research shows that unreported crimes such as crimes against youth ages 12-17 and crimes committed by someone the victim knows well, for example, are 2-3 times higher than reported crime rates.  Would these and “invisible” crimes such as crimes within the family, white collar crime, crimes involving intimidation, etc. be covered by community policing? 

4. The $43 million budget for Strategic Direction 1, “Reduce and Prevent Crime and Create Safer Communities”, is allocated to Field Services.  What are the performance measures for this category; more specifically, by how much will this $43 million reduce crime?

5. The budget for Investigative Services is $46 million.  What are the performance measures for this category inasmuch as they relate to reduction in crime? 

6. Management Services- How much of this $73 million budget relates to Strategic Direction 1 (e.g. body cameras), and how much relates to the other 4 strategic directions?  How does the cost of overhead functions compare to other police departments such as those in Fairfax and Howard counties?

7. How large is the fleet and what is the budget for operating and maintaining this fleet?  How does this compare to other police departments such as those in Fairfax and Howard counties?  What are some of the metrics used to make these comparisons?

8. Last year, personnel of the Police Department received a 4% pay raise,; at the national level the increase was 2.3% as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This year’s budget includes a general wage increase of 2%, service increase of 3.5%, and longevity increase of 3.5%.  Are these pay increases linked to the productivity of the Police Department?  How does the average annual compensation (salary plus overtime) compare to police departments in   Fairfax and Howard counties?

9. The retirement plan for county government workers is a defined contributions plan.  The retirement plan for the Police Department is a much more generous and expensive defined benefits plan.  Can you give us some reasons for the discrepancy between the two?  Also, what percentage of those retiring this year are retiring on a disability?

10. Are there initiatives that longer term would make your department more efficient and save taxpayers money that are not in your budget due to belt tightening?

11. What is your process for identifying cost savings?  What cost savings are included in this budget?  Other police forces have implemented cost saving measures, have you considered or implemented any of these: 

– eliminating land line phones for officers that have department-issued cell phones

redesigning patrol deployment and creating shorter shifts to optimize coverage during periods of high call volumes and reducing coverage during times of low call volumes

– fleet reduction measures

 

Notes from the meeting of March 22, 2017

Topic: “The FY 2018 Montgomery County Budget and what it means for County Residents”

Speaker:   Jennifer Hughes, Director
Office of Management and Budget, Montgomery County

Wed., March 22, 2017  –  7:00 – 9:00 pm
Council Office Bldg. (3rd Fl. Conf. Rm.), 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850

Free and open to the public

Here are the 9 questions sent to the speaker in advance of the meeting and the answers supplied by the speaker at the meeting:

Q1.  Moody Analytics predicts that reductions outlined so far by the Trump administration would reduce employment in our region by 1.8%, personal income by 3.5% and lower home prices by 1.9%.  These reductions might affect Montgomery County even harder given the presence of several federal agencies and tens of thousands of employees in the county.  The budget has been touted as a “cautious” budget.  Is there room in this budget to handle what could be deep cuts later in the year?

A1. The proposed Federal budget suggests major cuts in Federal programs and employment, which will affect the county significantly. The county is home to many Federal agencies (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, National Institutes of Health, etc.). There are approximately 50,000 federal employees in Montgomery County. The county has not made any serious efforts to analyze the effects of the Federal budget so far and will wait until the federal budget picture becomes clearer.

Q2.  Can you discuss the major sources of revenue for the County, and comment on the percentage contribution of each and their volatility (unpredictability) for the last 5 years?  Are the revenue projections that underlie this budget realistic?  How so?

A2. The major source of revenue is property tax which accounts for $1.8 B (28.7%) of total revenue followed by income tax of $1.6 B ( 25.3%) and Intergovernmental which is State and Federal funds of $1.1 B almost all of which goes to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The rest of the revenue pie consists of transfer and recordation taxes, charges for services, fines and miscellaneous and other taxes.

As to revenue projections, so far these projections have been valid.

The county’s bond rating has remained at AAA, the highest possible, allowing the county to borrow at a rate less than 1 percent. Much of the bond revenue goes to finance capital projects such as school buildings and police and fire stations.

The County Executive’s highest priorities are education and public safety. For FY 2018, 49.6% of the budget is for MCPS 12.2% for public safety and 8.4% for debt service.

Q3.   What did the property tax increase of last year actually accomplish?  Could you list the programs towards which this increase was applied and did these programs achieve the ends for which they were intended?  Given that the tax increase raised the base for these programs, how are these funds being spent in the FY 2018 budget or are these funds being used elsewhere?  

A3. Most of the tax increase went to MCPS where the Maintenance of Effort funding has remained static for at least 5 years. The increased funding was able to decrease class size by 1, though the results of reducing class size will take some time to show up.

For FY 2018, the County Executive has recommended that the property tax rate be decreased but because property values are going up, there will be a small increase in property tax revenue.

Q4.   When will we see a sunset of the energy tax which we were promised was temporary with a 2-year life ending in 2012? It is now 2017 and the energy tax lives on.  It is true that the County Council has reduced it somewhat by nibbling at the edges but the promise has not been kept.  What gives?

A4. The energy tax increase, enacted in 2010 brings in over $200 million in revenue. One advantage of this tax is that it is very broad and includes entities that pay very little or no tax such as the Federal Government and non-profit groups. There will be a problem if this tax is reduced or eliminated as it currently funds many programs. While the speaker did not address this, it is clear that a tax, once levied never goes away as this “temporary” tax increase now funds permanent programs.

Q5.  What is the rationale for increasing the MCPS budget above the maintenance of effort level, after the huge increase provided last year?  In the absence of a strategic plan to close the achievement gap, how is the Executive assured that continuing the extra spending will make a difference in academic performance?  How much of the increase for MCPS is directly related to employee salaries and benefits?

A5. About half the county budget goes to MCPS which has grown by 2,000 new students annually over the last several years. Of the entire State student population, Montgomery County accounts for 30% of the increase every year; which is the equivalent of one high school per year. This increase in student population is more than that of any of the other 23 school districts in the State. A question was raised that it appears that 25,000 of our total student population are undocumented. The number was said to be highly suspect as there are only 23,000 students in the system who qualify as English for Speakers of Other languages (ESOL)and this includes those who are here legally.

The MCPS budget is supplemented by over $250 million in additional county funds that are used for police officers in schools, nurses, health aides, debt service for school construction, IT modernization, etc. This funding does not appear in the MCPS budget.

Q6.   Given that 70+% of the county budget funds county salaries and benefits, what is the pay raise this year and how much will this pay raise alone increase pension costs over the next 10 years?  Given the collective bargaining process where the unions are much more successful in bargaining than the Administration and given the tilted playing field of arbitration, is there a likelihood that the County Executive will push to change the arbitration process that failed in the Council last year? 

A6. The pay raise for fire, police and Montgomery County Government staff is 2% for COLA, 3.5% for within-grade increases and 3.5 % for longevity. This was questioned by audience members as excessive compared to the private sector in the county.

As to the collective bargaining process and the need for public participation at least at the stage of “opening offers” and later before the “final” decision, the response was that the public might not find the process too interesting.

Q7.  Would the county consider including civics/citizens groups in the budget formulation process so that ordinary citizens and taxpayers have greater input into how their money is spent?  Also, has the County considered asking for representation in the budget formulation process for MCPS, given that it is close to half of the entire County budget.

A7. The County Executive has been very transparent and has held many meetings open to the public where he has listened to the public’s ideas on the budget. The question was raised as to why there could not be civic representation in the budget formulation process at the agency level before decisions were made by OMB and the County Executive. It was suggested to the speaker that public input could be useful in setting performance measures for the budget year linked to strategies and spending. Most performance measures are “outputs” and not “outcomes”. A discussion ensued as to whether county programs are developed and funded without performance measures established at the outset.

Q8.  The County Executive supported a 4.5% salary increase last year for the WSSC, a $1 billion bi-county enterprise with little oversight and no Inspector General.   In light of a benchmarking study last summer that showed higher than necessary staffing, and weak controls over high fixed cost reliability of service activities, and water rates that are much higher than Fairfax County for residences and businesses, how does the Executive justify a 3.5% spending increase this year.   Why is there not a freeze on spending until new cost controls are implemented?

A8. The WSSC is a bi-county organization which means that both counties have to agree on the budget proposed by the WSSC. If there is no agreement, the budget as proposed by the WSSC goes into effect automatically. Also there is quite a bit of oversight in existence at present by 4 entities – each of the county executives for Montgomery County and Prince George’s County as well as the county councils of both counties.

Q9.   Does every major department in the County Government have a strategic plan in place?  For those that have such plans, why can’t the published budget for the department include a cross-walk of the budget request to the strategic plan so that the public can see how much planned spending is related to strategies, how cost-effective those strategies are, and how much spending is for non-strategic programs and overhead activities?

A9. Will think about it.

Questions for the of meeting of November 16, 2016

Free and open to the public

Topic: “What Factors will Shape the FY 2018 County Budget?”

Speaker: Steve Farber, Council Administrator, Montgomery County Council

Questions sent to the speakers in advance of the MCTL meeting of November 16, 2016

1.  Will the results of the national elections affect the projections for FY 2018 revenue and spending for Montgomery County?

2.  What do you project to be the revenue source mix for FY 2018 among property taxes, income taxes, grants and contract, fees and other?  Are there policy options in place for increasing the less volatile property tax share?  Is it likely that there will be another Charter busting property tax increase?   How could other revenue sources be boosted to match Fairfax County’s approach?

3.  Given that the Wayne case decision has been incorporated into the projections for FY 2018, will ITOC credit refunds, faster reassessments for property improvements, and collections of overpayments made to municipalities affect the revenue picture positively?  By how much?

4.  Other than spending increases that are likely to exceed the CPI such as negotiated salaries and benefits for MCPS and county employees, and debt service, what other spending increases are likely?

5.  With the FY 2017 funding of MCPS of $90 million over the Maintenance of Effort requirement, by how much will this increase the baseline of per pupil costs for FY 2018?  Given MCPS cost projections for FY 2018, is it likely that funding for MCPS will exceed the MoE limit once again?

6.  What are some of the bills passed at the last legislative session in Annapolis that will affect the Montgomery County budget in FY 2018 –  both positively and adversely?

 

“A County’s Self-Inflicted Compensation Crisis”

From Governing.com:

“One reason why even a large tax increase can’t cover the county’s expenses is that over the last six years deals negotiated by County Executive Isiah Leggett raised the wages of police, firefighters and other county employees by between 25.4 and 31.5 percent. Leggett says one reason for the hefty raises was his desire to avoid arbitration; the county has lost 16 of 20 arbitration decisions since 1988.”

Your comments are welcomed.

“Unions kill a smart arbitration proposal in Montgomery County”

From the Washington Post of July 29, 2016:

“OVER THE past six years, wages for Montgomery County’s about 9,000 public employees — police, firefighters, budget analysts, clerks, librarians, bus drivers, jail guards and others — have grown between 25 and 31 percent. That increase, nearly three times the inflation rate over the same period, is much greater than that enjoyed by most public- and private-sector workers, including federal workers. Montgomery taxpayers are on the hook for those raises, mainly through their property taxes, which will spike 9 percent this year.”

The proposal had its genesis in the Organizational Reform Commission report submitted to the County Council in 2011.  MCTL President Fidler was a member of the Commission.

As always we invite your comments.

 

 

 

 

Testimony by Pres. Fidler on Transparency in Labor Negotiations

Testimony Before the County Council on Expedited Bill 24-16, Collective Bargaining – Impasse Procedures – Amendments

by  Joan Fidler, President of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, July 12, 2016:

President Floreen and members of the Council, I am Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League and I am here to testify in support of Expedited Bill 24-16 on Collective Bargaining – Impasse Procedures.

First, we would like to thank President Floreen for proposing the bill as it reflects a degree of courage that we admire. It begins to restore the balance for the taxpayers of the county.

Bill 24-15 is a new beginning. Let us count the ways:

The bill provides transparency – it requires public disclosure at the outset of bargaining and at evidentiary hearings.

The bill introduces objectivity – it separates the roles of mediator and arbitrator

The bill recognizes the need for a level playing field – it replaces the single arbitrator with a 3-member panel.

There will be opposition to this bill from the labor unions. We believe that labor unions are important and so are employee rights. But taxpayers are important too and they too have rights.

So to the argument that requiring public disclosure would impede efficiency and effectiveness, we would respond that opening proposals are not exactly state secrets to be hidden from the taxpaying public and that evidentiary hearings in all trials are open to the public. Why not here?

To the argument that the transparency provisions of this bill are harmful, we would argue that the only two transparency provisions in this bill are opening positions and evidentiary hearings. Should the taxpayer be barred from those? The bill does not require any open bargaining sessions.

To the argument that using the same individual as mediator and arbitrator streamlines the process, we would argue that separating the two roles is a standard method of mediation used in our court system and in other local collective bargaining laws. Why not here?

To the argument that labor relations professionals will be replaced by retired judges, we would argue that retired judges have vast experience in assessing facts fairly. Why would we reject an experienced judge?

Most important, the current system of interest arbitration has a direct and tremendous impact on the cost of County wages and benefits. In the last 3 years most county employees have had pay raises of 21% with another 4.5% this year. The bulk of property tax increases fund the salaries and benefits of our county employees. It is said that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Could taxpayers see the arbitration sheet music before the score is settled?

We invite you to post your comments.

 

Booing and heckling against transparency in collective bargaining

President Joan Fidler of the Taxpayers League testified on July 12, 2016, before the County Council in support of Bill 24-16, Collective Bargaining – Impasse Procedures – Amendments.  She was booed and heckled by union workers during her statement in the last paragraph of her testimony where she stated “In the last three years most county employees have had pay raises of 21% with another 4.5% this year”.

For those who do not follow the minutiae of pay raise percentages, here is the source on Page 9.

http://montgomerycountymd.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=6&clip_id=10488&meta_id=92904

Specifically “…..For merit system County Government employees not at their maximum salary (nearly three-fourths of the total), the compound pay increases negotiated by the Executive and approved by the Council for these three years” (FY 2014 – 2016) “total 20.6 percent for general government employees and still more for public safety employees eligible for make-up service increments.”

In the video of the hearing, President Fidler’s testimony begins at minute 16 and lasts for 4 minutes.

“Montgomery County homeowners face biggest tax hike in seven years”

From the Washington Post of May 19, 2016:

“The Montgomery County Council, citing the unmet needs of a school system facing explosive enrollment growth and a widening academic achievement gap, voted Thursday to raise the average residential property tax bill by 8.7 percent — the largest increase in seven years.

The tax hike required a unanimous 9-0 vote because it exceeds the charter limit on tax revenue the county can collect each year. That revenue will help underwrite a $5.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, with about half of the money resulting from the tax increase going to Montgomery County Public Schools.

The council set the property tax rate at $1.02 per $100 of assessed value, 3.9 cents above last year’s rate. With rising assessments, it means that the average annual residential property tax bill will rise $326, to $4,075.”

Feel free to leave your comment below.