Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, November 19, 2009)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's online discussion. Let's get started.
Richard from Silver Spring
it is a pleasure to be able to submit the taxpayer concerns to you for consideration. I am writing about a problem that poses a serious threat to the residents on Seminole Street in Silver Srping. A high tension line has grown through the limb of a County owned tree on our property. The limb is large and bends over the street where children play and resients park their cars. Recent storms and winds have moved the limb closer to the ground. This poses a serious hazard and despite repeated calls to PEPCO, they have not seen fit to remove the wires and and cut the limb. Could you help us?
Thanks you for your time and consideration.
9513 Seminole Street
Silver Spring, MD 20901
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Thanks for contacting me on this. Right after we get off this chat I will have my office reach out to PEPCO to get them working on this potentially dangerous situation.
Jason from Silver Spring
Are we going to get the pedestrian bridge we need at the new Silver Spring Library
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I strongly support the pedestrian bridge for the Silver Spring Library. Unfortunately, the County Council has, thus far, rejected the pedestrian bridge. It is my intent to design the library in a manner that will accommodate adding the bridge at any point in the future. There is a strong need to better acccommodate access for the elderly, families with small children and the people with disabilities, and without the bridge, I believe this would be very challenging.
dinah from Up County
When will we see the new Fillmore Music Hall open in Silver Spring?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am pleased that we were able to bring to fruition an agreement for the long-sought music venue for Montgomery County. The Fillmore Music Hall will provide a very needed economic development boost to a part of Silver Spring that has languished. We are working in partnership with the land-owner and Live Nation and our hope is that within a couple of years, all of Montgomery County will be able to enjoy a new opportunity to enjoy fine music performances in Montgomery County.
Jerry from Eastern Montgomery
When can we expect to see more H1N1 vaccine?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your email regarding the availability of H1N1 vaccinations in Montgomery County.
This is indeed a very serious issue and one that many residents are concerned about. Our public health staff has worked hard since early October to make all of the vaccine we receive available to Montgomery County residents in the target high risk groups (as set by the Centers for Disease Control).
We have had more than one dozen clinics (large and small) and have vaccinated more than 10,000 individuals. Our approach has been to get the H1N1 out to those who need it as soon as we get it.
We have a mass vaccination clinic scheduled for Sunday, November 22 at Montgomery College (details on our website). We anticipate having vaccination clinics through the next several months and we will continue to get vaccine out to the community as we receive it.
The distribution of vaccine to local health departments is coordinated by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and their method may be different from that of surrounding jurisdictions. We are beginning to get more vaccine delivered and we will continue to have clinics (both walk-in and appointment-only) to reach the target groups. Once we hear from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that we can open the clinics up to the general public, we will do so. In the meantime, we ask those who do not fall into one of the target high-risk groups to wait for their vaccination.
Our website (www.montgomerycountymd.gov/h1n1flu) is updated frequently with our clinic dates and locations. On that website, you can also sign up for Public Health Alerts to keep up with the latest updates.
Monika from Rockville
What will be the effect of recent RideOn cuts on bus service/frequency?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Our Ride On system carries millions of passengers a year. It’s an important part of our approach to providing a range of transportation choices for County residents. Not everyone can use transit but it benefits all of us when more people do.
Over the past 18 months we’ve cut direct transit route funding twice to help close severe budget shortfalls caused by the economic downturn and cuts in State aid to the County. In selecting the cuts, we aimed to impact as few riders as possible, in many cases preserving routes while eliminating service during low-ridership hours and/or having affected buses run less frequently. In all cases, we have taken feedback from users into account.
I am extremely reluctant to reduce transit services – and will do all I can to minimize adverse impacts to riders in the future.
Sunil from Up County
My name is sunil sudigala, I'm working for US NAVY and Stationed at bethesda.
I'm relatively new resident in Montgomery county,
and a soon to be US citizen.
I would love to see and know more about our community interactions with different cultures and as well inter county relations with other nations which would indeed increase awareness in numerous ways and help solve many issues like(i;e) clean energy health, crime and cost effectiveness. which on todays date are very important to revive.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and welcome to Montgomery County. Your question is important because our County is enormously diverse with people living here from all over the world. In fact,among our public school children, there are more than 160 languages and dialects spoken!
Montgomery County is committed to welcoming newcomers to our community. There are many avenues for you to lean more about these and to become active in civic affairs.
I suggest that you begin with our web page www.montgomerycountymd.gov and search the programs in our community for newcomers.
In particular, I direct you to the Office of Community Partnerships at 240 777 2570. Thanks again for your question.
Robyn Quinter from Mid County
I am a member of the Citizens Advisory Board of JLG-RICA in Rockville, a state-run residential treatment facility and county-run special school for ED children, and I'm concerned about the fate of this 29-year old program. The cuts announced by the Board of Public Works on Wednesday will result in the discharge of 24 of the 56 children currently in the (already reduced after the summer's budget cuts) program and layoffs of 21 staff, effective Jan. 1. It's disheartening to see a highly successful, model program decimated in this manner. RICA students often have been rejected or unsuccessful in other treatment facilities, and while privately funded RTCs may have available space for these children, it's unrealistic to expect that these programs will be successful for these kids. Without investing in treatment for these children, our county will end up paying more in the future for services from our social, judicial and correctional agencies. My question is, can the community at JLG-RICA c
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and for your service on the JLG-RICA advisory board. I have long admired the work of RICA and am disappointed that funding for portions of its program may be reduced by the State. These are very difficult financial times and I believe the Governor is doing the very best he can to make wise budget reductions. I have instructed the County Dept. of Health and Human Services to provide me with an analysis of the impact of the RICA reductions. While I can assure RICA of my support, I cannot commit to allocating scarce county funds to replace State reductions should they occur. I will, however, do what I can to preserve this important service to our children with special needs. Thanks again for your advocacy.
Christina from Eastern Montgomery
My husband and I own a local small business in Kensington, MD. Our business is called Interactions Learn & Play. This business was made for children, parents and the community. The business provides educational material, Montessori material and many fun physically challenging items for children 4 and under. We have been in business for about a year. We now require financial help in order to advertise and expand and add new employment opportunities. I have been back and forth with the SBDC and SBA and have received absolutely no help (their a joke). My husband and I are both minorities and have visited many government sites claiming to help no wiser. This business will not make us rich but the benefit our place brings children is worth much more. No one wants to give us a micro-loan because we only have one year of business. We need exposure. This business is very unique to our county. Parents travel from as far as Fairfax, VA. We contribute to Montgomery County’s economy. What help is
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. It is people such as you and your husband that help to make Montgomery County a wonderful place. The County's Department of Economic Development has resources to help grow small businesses in Montgomery County. Katie Knowlin is the head of our Business Empowerment Division. She can be reached at (240) 777-2000. She will connect you with the appropriate person in her department to provide you with information and guidance.
Monika from Up County
What can we do to continue to be sure that MCPS delivers top-notch education to our County’s children?
Mr. Leggett: As a teacher myself and a grandfather with kids in the public school system, I know how critical education is to everything we do as a County. In my capital and operating budgets I have reduced expenditures in other areas of the budget -- in these tough fiscal times -- to ensure that MCPS has the resources it needs. Given the economic downturn and state budget cuts, that's been a challenge. To me, education is a big priority, and that view is reflected in my budget recommendations. However, in addition to the County providing as much funding as possible, I think it is critically important that parents and the community become involved in their local schools. Attending PTA meetings, knowing your Board of Education members and volunteering with our schools are important ways to ensure that we continue to have the best school system for our children.
Bennie from Up County
Why doesn't the County allow an employee to draw a hardship loan on his or her 401k plan? The loans are paid back on biweekly basis.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Loans and withdrawals are not available under the County’s Retirement Savings Plan. However, withdrawals – not loans – are possible from the Deferred Compensation Program, subject to IRS regulations. Individuals can contact their Deferred Compensation provider to explore details.
Jack from Up County
Some time ago, you touted the success of your CountyStat program because it had identified opportunities for the County to significantly reduce overtime expenses. In the past fiscal year, however, overtime expenses have risen dramatically in several departments. Why has the CountyStat program failed to keep OT expenses in check? Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Reducing overtime costs, especially in certain County departments, was a challenge long before I assumed office as County Executive three years ago.
As you indicate, our CountyStat initiative has been a useful tool in targeting overtime costs and advancing alternatives designed to reduce those costs. For example, last year, savings identified by CountyStat ran into the millions of dollars -- $3.6 million in Fire & Rescue alone.
Recently, County Stat did its quarterly update on overtime. Fire & Rescue overtime hours were down five percent over the same quarter compared to the previous year. More importantly, cost per overtime hour declined for the first time.
I do not think that it is advisable to totally eliminate overtime because, in many cases, it is less expensive than hiring additional staff to perform certain functions, given the costs of employee benefits. Additionally, some of the overtime increases to which you refer are the result of the fiscal pressures created by the elimination of more than 600 full-time County positions over the past two years.
The answer to overtime is to manage it more effectively, and I believe that the CountyStat program is helpful to the progress we are making in reducing unnecessary overtime.
Boris Pallominy from Rockville
I like you very much. Good work running the county!
Mr. Leggett: Boris, thank you for your kind words! Your check is in the mail. (smile).
Antony from Mid County
Hi Mr Leggett, I was wondering if spending so much money towards ERP in the county at this time when the economy is bad a good idea?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) effort is a major reform of the County's core technology operating systems. Once complete, these systems will save taxpayer money, be easier to access, and provide better information to County managers. Thanks for your patience as we upgrade our efficiency. The recent traffic signal computer breakdown is a good example of the failure to adequately invest in technology.
Until I assumed office, there was no plan or funding to modernize the system. In 2007, I made the decision to initiate a $35 million replacement plan. We now see the consequences of not properly investing in technology. I believe that failing to invest in the ERP would result in inefficiencies and higher costs in the future.
Fred from Up County
Will you include COLAs for County employees in your FY11 budget reccomendation to the County Council?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. At this very moment negotiations are occurring with various labor unions among County agencies so it would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail. Let me make a couple of points, however. First, I am very proud of the County government workforce and becoming more appreciative each day as I witness their committed service under difficult financial circumstances. The people of our county are receiving the quality services they deserve as a result of county employee commitment. I regret that the County was unable to provide COLAs last year. As this current recession lingers and many remain jobless in the county and state, I anticipate continuing financial hard times next year. As we face a nearly $400 million deficit for next year with huge reductions to be made in county services, it will be a challenge to do all that I want to do for County employees.
Thanks again for your question.
Antony from Up County
The State of Maryland has cut nearly all the money to Montgomery County in the current budget. How is this affecting your ability to make transportation better?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I understand the fiscal constraints facing the State, since all government entities are confronting enormous fiscal challenges. However, I am very concerned about the State reductions in funding for roads in Montgomery County since it will clearly result in difficulty meeting our own growing transportation challenges. The County will continue to do the best we can with the funds we do have available. For example, the Montrose Parkway underpass at Rockville Pike will provide needed relief at one of the busiest intersections in the County. We are seeking and expect additional State and Federal funds for intersection and transit improvements near Betheda Naval Medical Center in order to address the additional traffic resulting from the move of Walter Reed to that facility. It is clear that the State cuts have a significant impact and must be restored as soon as possible in order for the State and County to address our transportation needs.
Diana Carpenter from Up County
My husband is a retiree of Montgomery County Gov. my question is are going to take more money from the retirees and if so how much do you think they an do with out. My wish list is I wish the county taxes were not so high we had to leave MD and go to North Carolina so we could not have as much stress with the paying property taxes and utlites, will that ever change.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I sympathize with the situation you and your husband face. Your situation is one of the reasons that even before the current economic downturn I worked to bring County spending down from the unsustainable levels of growth occuring prior to my becoming County Executive. In the year prior to my assuming office, the County government budget grew by over 14%. My first budget reflected a 6% growth and the last budget I submitted to the County Council reflected an actual decline in the budget to 0.4%, which is the lowest increase in 18 years. I have instituted a number of other efficiencies in County Government so that as we recover from the current economic crisis, we emerge a more efficient and effective government. My expectation is that this new approach to running County Government will result in more sustainable and reasonable budgets well into the future. I've already said that I am not increasing property taxes over the charter limit in the coming year.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for joining me today for this online chat. I look forward to more questions next time. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!