ROCKVILLE, Md., December 4, 2012—Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner today concluded his one-year term as president of the Council. The complete text of his remarks reflecting upon the past year are as follows [NOTE: A list of Council major accomplishments of the past year also are included] :
Colleagues, this moment immediately prior to installing our new leadership team is traditionally set aside for reflecting on our year together as a Council. We ask ourselves this fundamental question: did we, as an institution, help move our County forward? And while it is true that I may not be entirely objective, I think any fair assessment would conclude we have.
I hope each of you look back on the year with a certain degree of satisfaction, because each of you have most certainly contributed to the public good.
Mr. Andrews, you led us in reforming a broken disability system;
Mr. Elrich, you continue to lead our County in laying the foundation for a transformative rapid transit network;
Ms. Ervin, you have continued your extraordinary effort on behalf of working families;
Ms. Floreen, your steadfastness on economic development led us to provide critical funds for the Montgomery Business Development Council;
Mr. Leventhal, under your leadership, our Council, and our public, assumed an appropriate role in the disposition of valuable county assets;
Mr. Rice, as lead for libraries, you made sure that we began to restore funding for this beloved part of our county;
Mr. Riemer, as lead for Digital Government, you have been a prime mover in making our government more transparent and efficient;
And last, but certainly not least, Ms. Navarro, you have not only been a most valued partner to me as Vice President, but you have made sure that our county is effectively reaching all of our residents.
I applaud you and thank you for not only these accomplishments on behalf of our community, but for the good spirit you brought to our work together. As a nine-member body, we will never agree on everything but, but for the most part I thought that we exemplified the civility that is one of the bedrock principles of our County’s political culture.
One of our most important responsibilities, of course, is to balance the County’s budget and to be careful stewards of our taxpayers’ dollars. Building on the solid foundation laid by my predecessors, we continued to meet this fundamental obligation to our residents.
We kept spending under control, and we were very sensitive to the fact that so many families are still struggling in the lingering aftermath of the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. We set property taxes below the charter limit for the first time in eleven years and we reduced the energy tax. At the same time, we fully funded the Board of Education’s request for our world class school system; added boots on the ground in the critical realm of public safety; supported those in greatest need by maintaining and strengthening our strong safety net; and provided a very modest acknowledgement of our appreciation to our hard working employees.
Our prudent approach to a sustainable fiscal future was recognized and rewarded by Wall Street when the bond rating agencies unanimously reaffirmed our AAA bond rating – one of only 38 counties in the nation to earn this distinction.
This Council also recognizes a critically important truth: if we are to meet the needs of our community going forward, we must continue to grow our tax base rather than simply increasing tax rates. It is a strategy that is already paying dividends, as we saw the implementation of our work in White Flint begin to come alive this year.
Building on our progress in White Flint, much of our focus this year was on economic development and increasing economic opportunities across our County. We committed significant resources to Wheaton’s redevelopment, allowing Kensington an opportunity to revitalize while maintaining its fine residential neighborhoods and historic character; and making it possible for more good things to happen in Langley, Takoma Park, and Burtonsville.
We also realize that for our economy to grow, businesses must thrive here. When I began my term, I made it one of my major goals to push our county to becoming more nimble, more entrepreneurial, and more business friendly. And while we still have a long way to go in this regard, we did make progress.
With a little nudge from this body, we helped bring about a serious examination of how we do business in this county and the various ways we might be able to streamline our regulatory processes so that our business community spends less of its scarce resources cutting through red tape and more time cutting ribbons. Toward that end, we created a new position in our county government, the Small Business Navigator, to help our business get the answers they need from our County and the Small Business Assistance program to help small businesses during times of redevelopment. We also need to be less enamored with “the Montgomery County Way” and more open to new ideas, and the newly created position of Chief Innovation Officer should help infuse our county with fresh approaches.
More broadly, we need an economic development strategy for our County that has both real thought and real metrics, and legislation that we passed should help bring that about. At the same time, we need to rely more upon .com and less on .gov when it comes to retaining and attracting business, and our funding of the Montgomery Business Development Corporation should move us in that direction. I believe that one of our goals for our County should be to make Montgomery County a “Small Business Sanctuary.”
Our County’s economic future, and our capacity to attract investment, is very much linked to making substantial progress in addressing what has been our number one quality of life issue for many, many years – our overburdened transportation network. One only has to look at what is happening on the other side of the American Legion Bridge to appreciate that standing still is simply not an option.
We have put our shoulders to the wheel here as well. Under Mr. Leventhal’s leadership, we have taken the lead in organizing a state-wide forum next week on transportation funding options, because without a serious and sustained infusion of funding, the underpinning of our economic development plans will not materialize.
Here at home, we deepened our commitment to a Transit First approach. For the first time ever, we put money in our Capital Improvements budget for two critical pieces of the Purple Line – the second entrance to the Metro and to major improvements in the Capital Crescent Trail. We directed our planners to redo the Master Plan of Highways with a Rapid Transit System in mind; we strengthened our test for the adequacy of transit; and in pursuit of alternative and healthy transportation options, we made major progress on promoting bikeable communities.
We also broke new ground in working towards regional solutions to our transportation issues. For the very first time, Montgomery County and Fairfax County sat down together to see if we couldn’t collaborate on finding some solutions, and we did. We met with Prince George’s County to underscore our mutual interests in finding and funding transportation solutions.
The experts have told us that our economic future will also depend upon our capacity to generate housing that is affordable for our workforce and our seniors. This remains a most vexing problem, but we are moving the ball forward here as well. Not only have we provided serious resources to the Housing Initiative Fund, but the number of officially affordable units is on the rise in our community, and we are poised to make sure that we maximize the full potential of our County-owned assets in the pursuit of affordable housing.
One of the hallmarks of our County is our commitment to the environment. I am very proud of our recent work to ensure that as we examine development options in Clarksburg, a community that certainly deserves more than we have given them, that we not lose sight of the need to fully protect one of our county’s most fragile, pristine, and important watersheds—10 Mile Creek. It was, in the opinion of many, the biggest environmental issue we confronted during the year and we did it justice. And I commend each of you for your part in bringing that about.
In the realm of energy, we maintained our focus on doing everything within our limited authority to bring about more reliable utility service and to hold Pepco accountable for its performance. And here too, those efforts are beginning to show modest signs of progress. But as the most recent Pepco rate filing underscores, we will need to keep at this work. It is not for the faint of heart. At the same time, we helped initiate a much larger discussion about our energy future, and the need for a far bolder, more fundamental and revolutionary transformation to bring about a truly 21st Century utility service that is green, efficient, reliable, and consumer friendly.
So, my colleagues, I think we can take some measure of satisfaction in the results of our work this past year. And yet, as I know each of you appreciates, there is so much still to do, so much that must be done if we are to realize our full potential as a community. And make no mistake about it, Montgomery County is a true microcosm of the future of our nation. It is a future that we must shape. And we are, in my view, blessed with the political, economic and intellectual capacity to do just that, to take command of our destiny – which was the goal of our “Shaping the Future: Adapting to Changes” series.
We can and we must succeed in demonstrating that our diversity is indeed one of our greatest strengths; that the education we provide to every child remains second to none academically and also prepares our students to meet the very different demands of the new economy; that we can build a more prosperous, vibrant, egalitarian community upon the strong foundation of our unique economic assets, our lovely neighborhoods, our beautiful parks, and our vital arts organizations; and that we can and will provide 21st century transportation and utility services to our residents.
It is the satisfaction derived in meeting these challenges that leads each of us to do this work.
It is work that we could not do, and I certainly could not have done, without the contributions of our superb professional staff. Last year at this time my predecessor, Councilmember Ervin, referred to our staff as “the backbone of this body.” I came to appreciate every single reason why that statement is so, as it was so true during my time as Council President. Mr. Farber, Dr. Orlin, Ms. Lauer, Dr. Cihlar: you and your teams maintained the standard of excellence that is the hallmark of this institution. Thank you.
And as all of my colleagues appreciate, none of us could do this work without the abiding support of our personal staffs. And I feel particularly blessed in that regard. Zac Trupp, Josh Faust, Susan Buffone, Chad Bolt, and Lou D’Ovidio all stepped up to meet the challenges that the Presidency imposes. And I thank them for their hard work and loyalty. And last, but certainly not least, there is my Chief of Staff, Ms. Cindy Gibson. I can not begin to do justice to what her unerring judgment, wisdom, strength, conviction, warmth, work ethic and loyalty has meant to me. She is most remarkable, something that those of you who had the chance to work with her will attest. Thank you Cindy Gibson—from the very bottom of my heart.
In closing, I, like many of you I suspect, rushed to see the movie Lincoln. I have been drawn to him my entire life since we share the same birthday. David Brooks wrote a column about the movie recently in which he talked about how for him, the most powerful aspect of the movie is that it reminds us why the work we do is so important; that government, when it works, makes good things possible for our citizens; and that the work of government may not always be pretty, but we can get past that if it is in pursuit of a worthy cause.
Colleagues, our work is on behalf of a worthy cause—securing the future of our County—and our work is not done. But I also know that I am turning our Council over to capable hands in the year ahead, and like you, I look forward to Vice President Navarro becoming President Navarro.
It has been a true honor to serve you as President. I thank you for the privilege, and I thank you for all the ways you have made our County a better place to live.
A list of the Council’s actions from the previous year follows:
Accomplishments of the Montgomery County Council
December 2011 – December 2012
Continued sound fiscal stewardship. The Council for the first time in 11 years set the property tax rate below the Charter Limit and reduced the energy tax in a budget that also fully funded the Board of Education’s budget request. The Council’s strong fiscal management was affirmed when the County retained its AAA bond rating.
A focus on economic development. The Council passed legislation that called for a broad economic strategy, that created a Small Business Navigator to assist businesses owners, and that will assist small businesses affected by new development. It passed several new master plans in Wheaton, along with significant funding for Wheaton’s revitalization, as well as Takoma/Langley, Kensington, and Burtonsville.
Vigorously pursued expanded transportation options. The Council directed our Planning Board to amend the Master Plan of Highways to include planning for a Rapid Transit Network; for the first time supported the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail in its Capital Improvements Program (CIP); and supported several measures to make the County more bikeable. It also hosted meetings with Fairfax and Prince George’s County, for the first time, to discuss regional transportation solutions and has spearheaded a state-wide forum on transportation funding options. It voted for rapid transit as the Locally Preferred Alternative for the Corridor Cities Transitway.
Supported the County’s world-class school system. The Council fully funded the Board of Education’s budget and technology request, and in the CIP, all capacity-related projects remained fully funded and on schedule.
Strengthened our safety net services. The Council provided strong support for health care for our uninsured by increasing the funding for primary care visits at Montgomery Cares community clinics, including the new Holy Cross Hospital clinic in Aspen Hill, and adding a care manager for the Montgomery Cares behavioral health program that provides mental health services through the primary care system. It also increased funding for dental services for low-income, uninsured residents and added funding for child care subsidies. It established a Food Recovery Working Group to connect surplus food supply with the needy.
Protected the environment. The Council supported a comprehensive review of the relationship of further development in Clarksburg to the need for protection of the critical Ten Mile Creek watershed. It adopted a new building code that increases energy efficiency by 30% and introduced legislation that creates a tax credit for green businesses. The Council also provided additional protection to residents living near large gas stations and banned the use of coal tar sealant products. It invested in the County's Water Quality Protection Fund that will help the County work toward compliance of one of the most stringent stormwater management permits in the country.
Enhanced public safety. The Council added more boots on the ground in police and fire/rescue and finalized reform of the County’s police disability retirement system. It increased funding to modify light signalization to enhance pedestrian safety. Legislative action was taken to allow the installation and operation of safety cameras on all public school buses, and, for the first time, all public swimming pools will be required to have a defibrillator onsite. It supported increased funding for deer management and asked the National Park Service and the state Department of Natural to partner with the County in addressing deer management.
Promoted affordable housing. The Council introduced legislation that requires analysis and consideration of the co-location of affordable housing on County owned assets, increased funding to the Housing Initiative Fund, and saw groundbreakings on several new affordable housing projects across the County.
Advanced 21st Century Utility Service. The Council took the lead in advocating for the next generation of utility service, Utility 2.0, that would provide more reliable, cleaner, efficient, and consumer friendly service. It also advocated strongly for increased reliability for all utility ratepayers.
Supported the County’s arts organizations, libraries, and recreation centers. The Council added money to the budget to restore library hours and staffing, and added money for new library materials. A new community center in North Potomac was approved and funded in the CIP, and the Council expanded funding for the Families and Youth Enhancement Initiative and the East County Teen Escape Club. It continued its commitment to the County’s strong, vibrant arts community.
Supported seniors, veterans and working families. The Council embraced a “Senior Agenda” to support the County’s growing senior population and supported funding for senior services in the budget. The Council was honored to host an event recognizing the contributions of the County’s World War II veterans. The Council also added funding for the Working Parents Assistance Program and passed legislation protecting displaced workers.
Supported people with disabilities. The Council supported ballot Question A, which supported preferential hiring in County government for people with disabilities, and introduced legislation that would codify this practice into law. It also continued implementation of accessibility improvements.
Advanced innovation and commitment to good government. The Council funded a new position in County Government, a Chief Innovation Officer, to move our County forward in new ways. The Council passed a property disposition measure to allow for more Council oversight of economic development fund actions and disposition of property, including leases. It also passed an open government measure which will bring greater transparency and enhanced access to residents.
Infrastructure. The Council increased funding for road maintenance and resurfacing to keep neighborhood roads in good repair. It also supported substantial increases in WSSC's water and sewer pipe maintenance and replacement programs that will accelerate the renewal of vital infrastructure. Council action on the Blue Plains Intermunicipal Agreement will help secure the cost-effective and environmentally advanced sewage treatment.
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