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Live Discussion with Ike Leggett

Portrait of County Executive Ike Leggett

Welcome to the Live Discussion with County Executive Isiah Leggett. This online interactive forum allows residents in Montgomery County to send questions directly to County Executive Isiah Leggett. You may submit questions anytime, and questions will be answered during the scheduled discussion time.


Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, January 20, 2010)

Mr. Leggett: Hello, and welcome to today's live discussion. I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone that Haiti still needs our help. Montgomery County has sent two disaster specialists and 1,700 pounds of food and water, and our Volunteer Center website (http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/volunteer)links to a wide variety of organizations that can funnel your individual contributions to where they are most needed. In the meantime, our Urban Search and Rescue Team is on standby and our thoughts remain with our neighbors in Haiti. Now, let us get started with your questions.


Markus from Up County
80% of the county's budget is dedicated to your priority areas of schools public safety and human services. but, you keep cutting all other government departments and programs at much higher rates. your structural budget problem can only be fixed if deeper cuts are made to your priority areas. this is where the majority of the money is. thanks you

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. You are right that in reducing County government spending during the downturn I have worked to protect schools, public safety, and help for the most vulnerable. Those are my priorities. Still, with a $608 million budget gap for next year, even those areas will have to see reductions, as well. I am hopeful that any shortfalls in these areas will be temporary and, with a change in the economy, we’ll be able to fund them at a more reasonable and sustainable level.


Tim from Rockville
Hello - with the new County ERP system, will employes be given the option of receiving their pay checks weekly instead of bi-weekly? thank you.

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. No, the new ERP technology will not affect the frequency of County paychecks. They will still be every two weeks.


Tom Pruski from Mid County
Mr. Leggett Is Costco coming to Wheaton, MD a real possibility? I am a resident of Wheaton, MD for over 10 years and I would welcome Costco to our neighborhood. I think this would jump start the revitalization of Wheaton and create good jobs. Costco has a good track record in other parts of the county of being a good community business and respected employer by its employees. I travel to the Gaithersburg and Beltsville Costco locations. I like the idea of not having to drive to these other locations. I think that Wheaton revitalization has been neglected for far too long. I have participated in the revitalization process and I have seen little results. I have seen other parts of the county revitalized like Silver Spring and Rockville. I hope this makes Wheaton a location for people to come to and create foot traffic. With increased traffic, I think that small businesses could benefit. The Safeway project and Costco could be the start of good things for Wheaton.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. My proposal to invest in bringing Costco to fill the now four-year-long hole left at Westfield Mall when Hecht’s went out of business is first and foremost about jobs. The initiative would produce 475 permanent jobs, at a time when the County has lost jobs due to the economic downturn. It would create an additional 250 to 300 construction jobs. And it would leverage more than $50 million more in private investment. Additionally, the County would receive property taxes, income taxes, and impact fees – and the State of Maryland would receive sales tax – from the Costco operation. Right now the empty Hecht’s is generating zero. As with all investments from the County Economic Development Fund, this is a “money-maker,” not a money-taker. Concerns about Wheaton’s central business district are legitimate. This development would strengthen the County’s vision for Wheaton. This is part of an overall, ongoing effort to improve Wheaton, while retaining its unique character. Last week I announced a “Request for Qualifications” to search for and choose a development partner to redevelop a number of sites owned by the County and Metro in downtown Wheaton. In addition, my recommended Capital Budget includes more than $7 million additional in Wheaton infrastructure. But the success of that revitalization vision – and private investment in that vision -- rests on the mall being successful. Westfield businesses and many other businesses in Wheaton are already supportive of the Costco possibility. And, in central Montgomery County alone, Costco has more than 12,000 business members. Small businesses shop at Costco for supplies the same way contractors depend on Home Depot for the materials they need. In fact 92 percent of businesses in Central Montgomery have Costco memberships. Again, the investment by the County in a successful company such as Costco would create jobs, strengthen Wheaton revitalization, and provide individuals and small businesses with increased consumer choices. And Montgomery County needs all kinds of jobs at this time of economic downturn, including retail jobs, in order to meet the varying employment needs of our residents. It would, again, be a money-maker that would strengthen the County’s tax base and, thus, help maintain critical County services.


Tom from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I'm a rider on bus route 36. and I'm concerned that you have proposed terminating this route, which is packed with taxpaying county residents at rush hour. Won't it be counterproductive to eliminate this route, given the damaging impact on metro commutes and traffic congestion?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I share your concern. I am – and always have been – a huge supporter of our Ride On bus system, which accounts for about 30 million trips a year. It is important to preserve transportation options to the greatest extent possible. The reductions I’ve proposed in my Savings Plan would save $1.2 million for the remainder of this fiscal year and $4.3 million if extended to the fiscal year that begins July 1. The cuts would shave one million trips from our current 30 million. I don’t like this cut any more than you do. However, closing a $608 million budget gap for next year will require hard choices. This is one of them. If we can close that gap by making other changes to save more money, fine. But we must keep in mind that, after three years of cutting budgets, every route, every program, every reduction has someone who believes it is important and should not be cut. They may be right, but the County is required by law to have a balanced budget. There is a public hearing regarding the proposed cuts to the Ride-on routes. I would encourage you to provide testimony at that public hearing which is Monday, February 1st at 6:30 p.m. at the Executive Office Building (101 Monroe Street in Rockville). I will continue to evaluate other options, but you should recognize that many difficult decisions must be made. This is one of them.


Mark from Rockville
Currently property assessments have fallen drastically which will result in lower tax bills for county residents unless the tax rate is adjusted. With the county budget in such dire shape, is this really a good time to reduce tax bills? What are you doing to maintain funding levels for the county government?

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. As you may know, Montgomery County has nothing to do with property tax assessments or reassessments. That falls exclusively to the State of Maryland, which reassesses one-third of properties in the county each year as part of a three-year cycle. The County limited any property tax increases under the Homestead Tax Credit to no more than a 10 percent annual increase. When assessments are rising rapidly, this provides a cushion against even higher increases. Conversely, even when assessments go down, some County residents’ home values may still be high enough that they would continue to see increases. I have always believed that County government must keep faith with taxpayers, consistent with protecting critically important services in education, public safety, and help for the most vulnerable. For that reason I did not recommend increasing property taxes beyond the County Charter limit for the current year – and the Council followed my lead. I do not intend to increase taxes above the Charter limit for the coming year either, despite our projected $608 million budget gap. Under the Charter limit, property taxes collected by the County can only increase over the previous year’s level by the amount of inflation, plus new construction – unless the Council votes to override the limit. I believe County residents are hard-pressed enough with the current economic downturn and I do not intend to add to that burden. The operating budget I plan to recommend on March 15 for the coming year will include hard choices to reduce spending. That is necessary to put our financial house in order, something I have worked on since I took office three years ago. I have closed budget gaps of $1.2 billion over the past three years and reduced County government spending from a 14 percent increase in the year before I took office to an actual nearly three percent decrease for the current year.


Peter from Rockville
How do you assess the job the County did on clearing our record snowfall in December?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I was proud of the way our County employees and County contractors worked to swiftly address the impacts of the December record 24-inch snowfall. The storm started on Friday, December 18, at 10 pm. Originally forecast for 10-12 inches, the storm track changed and the forecast was updated to more than 18-inches expected. By the time the snow stopped falling Saturday night at 11 pm, we had more than 22-inches recorded countywide, with up to 28 inches recorded in the Upcounty. County crews and contract crews deployed 400 pieces of snow removal equipment to fight the storm. Primary roads were cleared first. Secondary roads were cleared after primary roads. Neighborhood plowing commenced immediately after primary and secondary roads were clear and residential clean up continued into Tuesday, December 22, with crews continuing to “dress up” residential streets through the week of December 21. This compares favorably with past history with similar snowfalls and very favorably with how neighboring jurisdictions in the region dealt with the very same storm. We targeted clearing of transit routes and areas near senior housing. In addition, we brought in an additional 100 pieces of equipment to help clear our central business districts of mountains of plowed snow in the last few shopping days before Christmas. During a similar 1996 snowfall, many residents could not get out of their streets for almost a week and the County received 20,000 “service requests” from residents. During this storm, nearly all plowing operations had ceased 55 hours after the snow ended, with about 1,300 County “service requests.” That being said, “good” isn’t good enough for me. We can always improve for the next time.


Pat from Up County
Your capital budget had a big increase for Schools. Can we afford to do that when we have a $600 million gap in our operating budget?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your important and thoughtful question. It is difficult to understand how in such fiscally difficult times, we can continue to invest so heavily in our school building program. The irony is that our school construction program is paid for through the use of long-term bond financing -- which means borrowing from investors, generally over a 20-year period. Therefore, this has only a very small impact on our annual operating budget. This payment method allows us to grow this program at this difficult time since we are paying historically low interest rates, coupled with exceptionally low construction prices -- in many areas, that's a 20-30 percent savings on the cost of constructing facilities that we need to build anyway. As our school population continues to grow and our facilities grow older the need to construct and modernize school buildings is at an all-time high. For example, one of the schools that has been waiting for a long time for a modernization is Paint Branch High School, built in the 1940's. The need must be met, sooner or later and the current economic times allow this need to be met now.


Pete from Silver Spring
What effect will the cuts that the Governor announced yesterday have on the County programs?

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. We are currently evaluating the Governor’s budget. On the face of it, it does not seem to include any significant reductions we hadn’t already factored in. But, as with much else, the Devil is in the details. And, of course, the General Assembly still has to weigh in and must approve the budget.


Sarah from Mid County
Do you intend to furlough any County employees this year? Why or why not?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I previously announced that I will not furlough County employees as part of the FY10 budget, which ends on June 30, 2010. I am currently in the process of evaluating options for the FY11 budget, which commences on July 1, 2010. The question of furloughs, as well as many other options, is being reviewed and an announcement, one way or another, will be made on March 15.


Frederick from Up County
Today's washington post reports that Governor O'Malley's budget will protect state jobs by utilizing several creative budget management techniques. With the county facing a $600million budget gap and the prospect of a significant number of layoffs, what wil your administration do to prevent massive layoffs of county workers? putting people out of work only makes the economic situation worse than it already is.thank you

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I don’t want to eliminate the jobs of any County employees, especially when the downturn makes it tough to find another job. Though we have reduced the budget by $1.2 billion over the past three years, we have managed to keep actual layoffs to a minimum. In the $70 million Savings Plan I forwarded to the Council earlier this month, there are 44 positions identified for elimination that are currently filled. If we can find ways to avoid losing jobs and still meet our $70 million savings plan for our current year, I would certainly reevaluate this option. Unfortunately, it is likely that some layoffs will be inevitable in closing our $608 million gap for the next fiscal year, starting July 1, 2010. The fact is that 80 percent of County government’s costs are wages and benefits. Again, I am committed to doing all that I can to minimize the possibility of any layoffs.


Grant from Up County
Mr. Leggett, I have lived in Montgomery for 6 years and it seems that significant job growth Metro DC happens in Northern Virginia (Fairfax/Arlington), with Montgomery bleeding jobs at the same time. I am gravely concerned that Montgomery will become a bedroom community much like PG/PW/Loudoun. 1. What are you actively constructing to bring jobs to Montgomery? 2. Also, what are you doing to work with Governor O'Malley to ensure that MD is attractive to prospective employers? To clarify, I'm referring to high-paying government and government contracting jobs? We have the Federal Government in our backyard and should leverage the hell out of it. There is no reason why we shouldn't be securing major job wins for entire agencies in MoCo. Metro goes all the way to Gaithersburg, 270 North is open in the morning, we'll have the Purple Line soon and the ICC is already in progress. VA's Silver Line really scares me because once that's up and running, MoCo and the rest o

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have been working hard to continue to increase jobs in Montgomery County that are high quality and meet the needs of our workers. My economic development strategy is multi-pronged and addresses both the short term and long term economic health of Montgomery County. In the short term, we continue to attract high quality jobs here, even with the limited resources we have available. For example, just recently, Microsoft announced it will bring 500 new jobs to Montgomery County. Another example is the growth of Aeras, a non-profit research company in Rockville, that is at the forefront of developing tuberculosis vaccines. There are many other examples, but it should be kept in mind that the Virginia communities work with significant local and State resources, and their vacancy rate is approximately 20 percent higher than ours. Montgomery County is provided with more limited State support. In addition to our strong biotech sector and success of a number of large corporations in the County, the federal sector expansion planned for NIH, FDA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Walter Reed/Bethesda Naval Hospital and National Institutes of Standards and Technology are creating significant job growth. Certainly, we want to improve in this area and we are working aggressively with our economic development team to make Montgomery County even more competitive. For the longer term, I have been working hard to plan for the future growth of the County through my Smart Growth Initiative. This initiative which is more fully described on the County's website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov, will position the County to remain at the forefront of the biomedical and biotech industries.


Lynne from Up County
I am stunned to learn that you are suggesting cutting funding from the bicycle action group meetings for the rest of 2010. Our meetings are very productive and informative. We recently had presentations on Cedar Street, Oak drive, and Clarksburg by-pass. Were it not for these meetings we would not have attending the local public planning meetings in the community and commented on these projects. These meetings give the bicycling community a chance to understand how the DOT plans road and trail facilities and give us a chance to provide feedback. McBAG has grown in size and has a number of members who do not attend the meetings but do attend the local community meetings and have spoken out in favor of bicycling as transportation. With our sister organization, Montgomery bike advocates (MOBIKE) we have been able to expand in various bike projects through out the community such as requesting bike facilities in Clarksburg historic district, the Clarksburg greenway in Little Bennett P

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I appreciate and share your concern. These meetings were productive, but also very staff time intensive. As I work to close a budget gap of at least $100 million, many difficult decisions are being made. The Department is still doing less formal outreach and will continue to seek input from the bicycle community. The Department of Transportation believes that the limited staff time needed to be spent on ensuring that number of bicycle facilities in Montgomery County continue to grow. I will reevaluate your concerns with the Department to see if we can find other ways to meet the financial objective while still continuing these meetings.


Alex from Eastern Montgomery
What’s the latest on Walter Reed coming to Bethesda? Are we going to be ready for all that traffic?

Mr. Leggett: Along with our leaders at the Federal and State level, I am racing against the clock to ensure that we are as ready as we can be for the influx of patients and workers at the Navy Medical facility. Our Federal team was able to pass an appropriation of $300 million for this BRAC, along with the Fort Belvoir BRAC in Virginia -- a phenomenal accomplishment for our region. These dollars will go a long way toward funding projects that we have identified for transit, bicycle, pedestrian and vehicular traffic improvement.


Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining us today for the live discussion. Please join me again on March 17 at noon when we will have another opportunity to discuss your questions and concerns. In the meantime, keep up with County news by subscribing to our new e-newsletter, The Paperless Airplane, at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/paperlessairplane .


 

Last edited: 4/11/2011