Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Monday, June 08, 2009)
Mr. Leggett: Hello, and welcome to today's live discussion. I am County Executive Ike Leggett and I welcome your questions. Let us get started.
Kyung Lee from Rockville
What’s going on with the ambulance fee? Did the Council approve it as part of the budget? Why do we need to do something like this? How is it working in other places?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The ambulance fee was included in the budget that I submitteed to Council, but they did not approve it as part of the budget, choosing instead to take needed funding from the County's reserves and increased fees in other areas such as parking and cut the revenues for affordable housing and several other important programs. I believe it would be far better for our taxpayers and residents to pass the cost of emergency medical transports along to the insurance companies that already fund this within their fee structure rather than take the actions that the Council took. The ambulance fee would bring in at least $14 million a year in much needed funding, and County residents would not have to pay the fee or even see a bill. An ambulance fee is working successfully in Fairfax, Frederick, Prince George's, Carroll, Charles, Arlington and Washington counties. Cities such as Alexandria, Baltimore and the District of Columbia also collect the fee.
Kyung Lee from Mid County
How do I report a pothole on my street that needs filling? It is giving everybody who lives here a real jolt.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Maintaining safe highways is important. When citizens take the time as you have just done to inform us about damaged or undafe roads, our Highway Services Divison of the Department of Transportation can program the apporpriate response or repair in a timely manner. Please report this pothole to them at 240-777-6000 or on the County web page at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/dpwt/pothole/Pothole.asp
James from Up County
Do you plan to raise County taxes for FY11 in the event of another significant budget gap?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Though I am fully expecting a significant budget gap, I do not intend to raise taxes in FY 11. Based on current financial projections we are anticipating a budget gap of nearly $400 million. That is why since the day I became County Executive I have been noting that the double-digit budget increases in the years prior to my taking office were unsustainable. Overall, in my first three years, I have closed budget gaps totalling approximately $1.2 billion. This is unprecedented in Montgomery County history. In my first year, I brought the rate of growth down to less than 7%, the next year I reduced it to about 1% and this year, the budget for County Government will actually decrease, something that has not occurred in nearly two decades. I believe that this recession will hopefully begin to recede soon. However, even if the country’s economic recovery begins tomorrow, the County will face difficult financial challenges for a number of years. Our property tax revenues have just started to reflect the lowered assessments and as more properties are reassessed at lower values, that revenue decline will only get worse. At the same time, while income tax revenues may stop plummeting, they also are unlikely to increase dramatically as income from capital gains is not expected to rebound quickly. For all of these reasons, we must focus on ensuring that we spend the taxpayers’ dollars responsibly, with no expectation that increasing revenues will sustain increases in spending. The math simply isn’t there.
Frank from Rockville
Do you have plans to furlough County workers in fiscal year 2010?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have worked hard to avoid furloughs so far, but given the fiscal situation that I outlined in the above question, we must all recognize that furloughs may need to be part of the future fiscal solution. I reduced many programs, reduced our reserve, took nearly all of the operating funds out of the capital budget and reduced a number of programs and services in order to balance the budget for this year. In addition, we eliminated COLAs, instituted a hiring freeze and eliminated more than 400 positions. I hope that these measures will help us avoid further cuts in the coming year, but we may have to revisit questions of furloughs and other cost-saving measures.
Kyung Lee from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
How can we be sure that whatever federal stimulus monies the County gets doesn’t get wasted?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your timely question. I share the President's concern that federal stimulus money be spent quickly and effectively to create jobs and address important public purposes. I have established an interagency task force responsible for the identification of stimulus money available to our county. The County will align funds with local qualified projects; assure compliance with federal guidelines; and assure proper accounting for every dollar spent. I am confident that this group, under the leadership of the county's Chief Administrative Officer, will assure the effective and accountable use of federal stimulus funds. You can see how we are tracking the use of this money on our Recovery and Reinvestment website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/recovery.
Amr from Silver Spring
Montgomery County provides very little of its operational data and only through contractors. DC, on the other hand, has created a data catalog of all of its operational data (311, crime incidents, registered property, etc). Other cities are doing it too (San Francisco and others). This is of great interest to the citizens of Montgomery Country because it touches on transparency and accountability. Do you have plans in this regard? And if so, can you share them with us.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Transparency and accountability is very important to me. We actually provide a great deal of data directly to our residents, but it may not be in the most user-friendly format and we will certainly go back and review that to ensure that our information is accessible and easily understandable. We are in the process of establishing early in 2010 a single 311 system in Montgomery County for access to all County services. This will also provide us with real-time data. In addition, we've already established a CountyStat program in Montgomery County that looks at many similar issues regarding County operations. It also contains a great deal of data, as you will see if you go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/countystat.
James from Up County
Our biotechnology industry employs a lot of people for mostly good money. How are we doing on keeping it growing and keeping it from moving somewhere else?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I appreciate having the opportunity to inform you of my Smart Growth Initiative which will help ensure the future of the biotechnology industry in Montgomery County. When fully implemented, this initiative provides for a complex series of property acquisitions and sales in the midst of our high technology corridor. The biotechnology industry then will have expansion opportunities near mass transit and quality housing. Much of this initiative is currently before the County Council for their consideration. I am confident that the Council will approve my proposals which will expand the County's biotechnology industry and will position our County well into the 21st century. I've convened a Life Sciences Task Force to help chart plans for our technology future. Just last month, the Governor announced that the state biotechnology initiative would be co-located in Montgomery County, and he previously announced the location of the state's Clean Energy Center here. Given the proximity of the strong federal sector in biotechnology, the cluster of private technology firms in the County, our strong and experienced workforce and educational achievement, the County should continue to make significant improvements in this employment sector. We have also sought to expand our interest in this area globally, with trade missions and working relationships with firms in countries such as India, China, Israel and South Korea.
Gerry from Rockville
Dear Chief Executive Leggett,
As you may know, in March Montgomery College Rockville closed the access at the Princeton Place cul-de-sac - an access that is important for walkers, bikers and commuters and the community enjoyed for over 40 years.
Last week residents on both sides of the issue mediated, but were unable to find a successful resolution.
Since Montgomery College receives substantial County and State taxpayer funds, we put this issue before you.
What steps are necessary to obtain a public hearing before the Montgomery County Council? Will you be willing to facilitate such a hearing? Or what alternate steps would you recommend we take.
Once again, the City of Rockville will hold its Independence Day celebration at Montgomery College. You can see the urgency of our request.
College Gardens/Princeton Place Community Task Force for Open Access at Princeton Place
(Representing approximately 1100 households)
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Even though we help fund Montgomery College, that does not provide us with the authority to intervene in this matter. The road you are referring to, Princeton Place, is within the Rockville City limits. Therefore, Montgomery County does not have jurisdiction. I suggest that you contact the Rockville City Mayor and Council regarding this matter. You can reach the City at 240-314-5000 or on the internet at www.rockvillemd.gov/contacts/index.html
Helen from Up County
What do you think about Council legislation that would make it harder to designate and preserve historic structures in the County?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I believe that there are some minor adjustments that should be addressed regarding our historic preservation process. However, a major revision as reflected in
the proposed legislation is unwarranted. It substantially shifts the burden on the Preservation Commission to recommend or
to find that any structure meets the criteria outlined in the
legislation. It also provides a nearly veto power to the
property owners who might object to that designation. Taken
altogether, the legislation, I believe, goes too far and, other
than minor changes, should be rejected by the Council.
Donna from Up County
Is it true that the money we pay for automated speeding cameras tickets all goes to traffic safety expenses? How will the new state law allowing other parts of Maruyland to do this thing affect cameras here?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. It is true that the revenue that results from a speed camera citation is allocated to traffic and pedestrian safety. A few examples of the way the County is using these funds are: safety improvements to dangerous intersections; public information regarding pedestrian safety; covering the costs of the camera program operation; and sidewalk improvements. No speed camera revenue is permitted for unrestricted general county use.
We are currently reviewing the new State legislation and anticipate that some minor modifications to the County law may be needed.
Charles from Mid County
Good day. With unemployment rising nationally, what is the County doing to promote business development in order to create good jobs here in the County?
Mr. Leggett: Good day to you and thank you for your question. While many businesses and their employees in our County are struggling with the current economic downturn, we are fortunate that our local economic condition remains relatively strong. The significant presence of the federal government, our strong biotechology industry and our educated and experienced workforce are some of the many reasons for the County's relative economic health. However, we cannot rest on our laurels, especially in these difficult economic times. I have implemented economic policies of the County that include aggressive efforts to retain and grow the backbone of our economy -- the many vibrant small businesses located in Montgomery County. Additionally we are investing in the biotech industry through my Smart Growth Initiative (explained in the above question on the biotechnology industry) and are seeking new, foreign companies to locate in the county. I have recommended an 11-point economic plan that provides some tangible means of assisting businesses and economic development in Montgomery County. This plan can be viewed at montgomerycountymd.gov/content/home/pdf/11_point_plan.pdf
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining us for today's live discussion. I appreciate your questions and hope that you will feel free to contact me anytime at email@example.com .