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, May 12, 2010)

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.

Lynn Weiland from Rockville
Instead of causing employees to become unemployed in this difficult economy by layoffs, why haven't you used furloughs as a cost and job saving measure? County employees would rather be furloughed than see co-workers lose their jobs.

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. My Recommended Operating Budget, now before the County Council for final approval, does include 10 days (or 80 hours) of furloughs for County government workers. We've also eliminated cost-of-living increases, as well as merit increases. These measures, taken in totality, have significantly reduced the number of people who otherwise would have lost their jobs. I know these actions will cause pain but they are among the hard choices I have made in order to close a nearly $1 billion gap in the coming fiscal year caused by the economic downturn. I will share in the sacrifice – the first person furloughed will be me. And all my senior managers and directors will follow suit. Last year, I gave back my legally mandated salary increase because County employees did not receive a cost-of-living adjustment. I will continue to exhaust every option to reduce actual employee layoffs.

Mbuyi S. Tuambilangana from Up County
Why do you propose again the increase of energy tax in our county in order to balance your budget while we are struggling baddly with Pepco bills already very high ? Why you do not think about exploring other good avenues that can lead you to the same objective such as the increase of tax for the consumption of luxury goods and services? Please, understand that we are already living under foreclosure threat and do not aggravate again our poor situation of permanent unemployment.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I proposed an increase in the County energy tax as a last resort. Of the nearly $1 billion gap I have closed for the coming fiscal year’s budget, only 16 percent of the solution has come from new revenue, such as the energy tax. Eighty-four percent has involved spending reductions, including employee compensation, job abolishments, and other actions. According to present County figures, the average residential County energy tax would increase the average bill by $8 a month, or about $95 a year. The non-residential impact would be about $290 more a month – or $3,500 a year. Some businesses and institutions would pay more, others less – but that’s the average. On Thursday, April 29, the Finance Department presented the Council with several options to possibly redistribute the relative burdens. For nearly all residential customers, decreases in current market electricity rates coupled with usage of even two percent less energy, would offset the increase in total. These factors would also significantly mitigate increases in the non-residential portion of the energy tax. Barring an increase in the County energy tax – and an extra dollar per month on cell phones -- County government will be required to make even further reductions in County services, including more layoffs, furloughs, and the possible elimination of some important services and programs. I do not want to increase property taxes above the Charter limit – and this budget reflects that position.

jim from Silver Spring
When reading what you stated to "MARKUS" in the last discussion, you stated "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." I understand times are tough with Montgomery Counties budget.. but to cut vulnerable assets such as public safety (police) ..even for just a short time..will only make matters worse. More time for crime to flourish, leaving us to play catch up. For instance, I have watched your broadcast that we may postpone the new recruits from the current class that was due in Jan 2010, till April and now we may be thinking about pushing them further in the future? We need police office

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Protecting lives and property in the County is a top priority. Due to the budgetary restraints, we have moved the next recruit class by just a few months to July 2010. The latest crime statistics for the year 2009 show serious crime down 7 percent. Our Police are using state-of-the-art technology and crime analysis to help keep our neighborhoods safe. In necessary budget reductions, I have sought to protect front-line police presence. The reductions in my budget for public safety (Fire and Rescue, Police, and Corrections) are far less than any other department or agency in County government.

LeRoy from Up County
When will the EMS fee legislation be acted on?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. It is my expectation that the Emergency Medical Services Transport fee will be acted on later this month. This fee is billed only to insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid, and not to County residents. Nearly all of our neighboring jurisdictions currently collect this fee. Absent this fee, or an increase in taxes, it would be difficult to provide the personnel, equipment and facilities required to further enhance public safety for our residents. Such a fee would provide an additional $14 million a year for public safety utilization. Other jurisdictions that collect this fee are using the funds to save lives -- with no adverse affects.

For from Mid County
Why does MoCo allow illegal aliens? My parents and silblings all immigrated to the US *legally* many years ago and LOVE immigrants. Illegal immigration, however, is ILLEGAL, and should be stopped. Please explain why MoCo does not actively pursue the capture and deportation of illegal immigrants but instead, allows and promotes illegal immigration. Thank you.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. There is no doubt that the immigration issue is complex. The immigration system is broken, and we need common-sense solutions from Congress that are fair and realistic. Until that happens, communities like Montgomery County find themselves in a difficult situation on a range of issues. I oppose illegal immigration into the United States. I do not believe, however, that local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County can substitute their efforts for what can only be described as failures by the federal government to achieve a workable immigration policy. Montgomery County provides the names of any and all persons arrested for crimes of violence or certain firearms–related offenses with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). No distinction by name, race, whatever – everyone. Montgomery County police officers also consult their in-car computers to determine if a party who has been stopped for an infraction is listed on the National Crime Information Center database. If that person's name shows up on the database, be it for a child support rap in another state or an ICE detainer, they are detained and the proper authorities contacted. In addition, our Department of Corrections faxes to ICE each week a computer list of foreign-born inmates in custody. Our relationship with ICE and all other federal law enforcement agencies remains strong. We continue to provide assistance to them on a daily basis with regard to criminal activity occurring in Montgomery County, including recent work with federal authorities on a major operation designed to dismantle the infrastructure of a major gang operating in the DC metro area.

James from Up County
Does your FY11 budget fully address the structural problems or will there be further dramatic budget cuts for the next several years?

Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your question. I would like to believe that this is the last “bad” budget year and that recovery is well on the way. However, I suspect that we will see a considerable lag time in receiving increased revenues, even if the recovery arrives sooner rather than later. Assuming approval of my budget by the Council, we are projecting a more than $200 million budget gap for Fiscal Year 2012. That’s why resorting to one-time solutions, quick fixes, and adding continuing costs back into the budget will only exacerbate the structural budget gaps well into the future rather than addressing them now through real, long-term solutions. Over the past four years, I have closed budget shortfalls adding up to $2.2 billion. Much, however, remains to be done. That’s why it is important to restore our County reserve to 6 percent, given the new revenue shortfalls in this year and next. And I have advanced a timetable to bolster our reserves further beyond next year. Eighty percent of County spending goes for wages and benefits. Over the past two years, I have eliminated more than 1,000 positions in County government – a 10 percent reduction. For example, I am proposing a consolidation of the County and Park Police to eliminate duplication of services and to accompany reorganizations already underway in such departments as libraries, general services, transportation, and others. Very shortly, I will forward to the Council an additional list of options designed to continue the restructuring efforts already in progress, which can provide even further cost-savings. We cannot go back to “business as usual.” We need to restructure the way County agencies do business to realize all possible efficiencies – including initiatives that some might find politically difficult to do, or those requiring changes in local or state law.

Lisa from Mid County
One house on our cul de sac has ten vehicles associated with it, eight of which are light trucks. Why can’t something be done to protect residential neighborhoods from people who turn their properties into parking lots?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Quality of life in our residential neighborhoods is very important to me. My legislation limiting heavy commercial and recreational vehicles in residential areas has been approved by the County Council and is law – and is making a difference. Last October, the County Council approved my Bill 23-09 which would limit the storage of inoperable, unused and unregistered vehicles in residential neighborhoods to 30 days. But progress has stalled on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 09-03, which is designed to further restrict the encroachment and expansion of home occupations into residential neighborhoods, as well as limiting the paving of front yards and limiting heavy commercial vehicles in residential zones. The Council's Planning, Housing & Economic Development Committee is recommending approval of the ZTA but with one unacceptable change. Their amended version would specifically allow small tow trucks to park in residential neighborhoods. I oppose this change. Still pending before the Council committee are bills to limit permits on unfinished residential construction to 18 months (currently there is no deadline), and speed up the process for resolving code violations. We need to pass the legislation without this change, which should address the concerns you and others have raised on this matter.

Patricia from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I would like to know why building lights and interior electronics such as computers are not turned off over night in all county facilities to save energy.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We do turn off all County building lighting at night except as needed for public safety reasons. All computers are turned off over weekends but not during the week since many employees may access them after-hours. All newer computers, however, go into "power save" mode after being turned off for the day. We have also installed sensor detectors to turn off office lights when the offices are unoccupied. We are aggressively pursuing other methods to conserve energy and save even more money.

Amanda from Up County
Why is there such a drastic shortfall in revenue from property and other taxes now, if Montgomery County continues to have low unemployment and new housing starts, like it did BEFORE you took office? Something's wrong here, and it cannot be blamed on the "economy" in general.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. It IS the economy, and unsustainable County spending that occurred prior to my arrival. In the four years before I assumed office, County government spending increased by 41 percent. Under the budgets that I proposed over the past four years, the total County government budget decreased by 8 percent from when I took office. Because of the economy, income tax revenues are down 14 percent this year. The unemployment rate for the County has nearly doubled, and housing starts and construction, overall, are lower. Due to the economy, property tax assessments are down, and state aid to the County is also lower. We have aggressively addressed reductions in spending by closing more than $2 billion in budgetary gaps over the past three years. We have eliminated more than 1,000 positions, furloughed employees and eliminated wage increases. We've also initiated restructurings to enhance efficiencies and save costs. Furthermore, we have been aggressive in trying to expand our employment base by attracting newer and better-paying jobs. Due to the economy, job retention and attraction is challenging, which results in significantly lower income tax revenue --a major cause of our current budgetary crisis. Despite all of these challenges, I am quite optimistic that we will come through this crisis in outstanding shape. The most recent budget that I presented to the County Council is well balanced. It also restores our reserves to our traditional levels and protects the most important elements in County government -- education, public safety, and support for the most vulnerable.

silas from Eastern Montgomery
Hello. What is your position on the school systems threat of a lawsuit against the county if the council reduces the schools budget?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am hopeful that the school system and the County Council can work together to find a solution that is in the best interests of the County's students. I do not believe that litigation among County entities is in anyone's best interests. I forwarded my budget to the County Council that is balanced and maintains our top priorities in education, public safety and help for the most vulnerable. I believe that if both parties (County Council and the Board of Education) are prepared to make reasonable adjustments to their current positions regarding spending and furloughs, we could have a negotiated resolution.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining us today for the live discussion. Keep up with County news by subscribing to our new e-newsletter, The Paperless Airplane (