Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Tuesday, September 21, 2010)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's live discussion. I look forward to answering your questions. Let's get started.
Kevin(Tao) Wang from Up County
Dear Mr. Leggett:
First, I'm very much appreciate this opportunity to directly contact you.
My question to you is that if I have some idea of how to bring more revenue to the County in the face of our current difficult fiscal situation, is that possible I can meet either with you or your assistant?
I'm a County resident and orignated from main land China over 13 years ago, and things have changed so much since then, and today, there is huge demand for higher education, high quality of merchandieses and oversea tourist travel. Montgomery county has all of them--for example, our high rank school will not only bring in Dr., Master and college international students, but students looking for specific education like art, nurse, language etc. This is impossible if we're talking about 5 or 10 years ago because it's so hard to get entry-visa and financially, few can afford to get educated here, but not this day, especially in main land China.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your comment.
Having traveled to China several times, as early as 1981 and again two years ago on an economic development trip with County business people, I know well how dynamic China is and how the County has opportunities to both sell to China and attract investment from there to our County. We are following up on those opportunities. I would be happy to meet with you and explore other opportunities.
Adam from Up County
Good day Mr. Leggett:
Do you foresee a scenario, perhaps in a future fiscal year, where, in the event of a furlough, employees would be given the option to "trade in" earned annual leave hours rather than see their pay reduced by a furlough? If this is not a viable option, can you please explain why.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your comment.
I welcome all viable ideas to help reduce our budget deficits. Of course, using accumulated leave in lieu of furlough hours would not save the County any money right now, which would be the point of furloughs.
Keep those ideas coming.
Catherine from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
If the school system constitutes so much of the budget, how can you cut the budget enough without cutting into it more significantly, such as cutting the gold-plated pension and health care benefits of teachers and high salaries for 9 months of work? Plus snow days, 2 weeks at Christmas, more than a week at Easter, etc. You seem to be eager to raise taxes--so much for "community input." The unions and developers run the county.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I would not characterize their pay and benefits as "gold plated." I believe that our educators provide a valuable benefit to our community and should be compensated fairly. Even though I have some differences with some of the decisions the elected Board of Education has made, you need to understand how the process works. The Board of Education and the Superintendent of Schools are responsible for negotiating the pay and benefits for all school system employees. The Council can then choose to fund or not fund what has been negotiated and requested. My role is to recommend an overall budget level for the schools and to try to work with both of these other bodies to ensure that the budgets are fiscally responsible. In fact, one of my first steps as County Executive was to try to work with the Board to ensure that the labor contracts they approved were fiscally realistic and did not set a difficult precedent for the labor contracts I would be negotiating. That first year proved difficult. Because the economic downturn was not clearly evident at that time, it was hard to convince either the Council or the Board that expensive labor contracts were not sustainable. In subsequent years, even as County Government unions went without general wage adjustments and had their wages frozen, the Board of Education could legally make different fiscal choices. I will continue to work with the Board of Education to try to ensure that the fiscal decisions they make are in the County’s best long term interests. However, they are a separately elected Board that under state law has the ability to make fiscal decisions such as the pay and benefit structure of their employees.
Stephen from Eastern Montgomery
In Burtonsville, there is a side-path along the south side of route 198, that continues from US-29 eastbound and currently dead-ends about 300 ft before reaching Dino Dr. This path, if extended to Cedar Tree Dr, would connect a large Burtonsville community via side-paths/sidewalks the Burtonsville town center now being developed, as well as give pedestrians and bicyclists a safe connection between the public library (only 3 miles away and easily within bike distance).
Could you please comment on any plans to extend this side-path and it would be greatly appreciated if the extension could be expedited, as it's long overdue.
Mr. Leggett: Steve, Thanks for the question. I am not familiar with the exact path you are referring to but I believe it makes sense to pursue cost effective means of extending bike paths and walking trails whenever possible. Although this is a state road, and the responsibility for making the adjustment rests with the state, I will ask our Department of Transportation to work with the state in order to address this issue. Thank you again.
Ron from Rockville
The Board of Elections has recently thrown out two petitions, one of which was for the Ambulance fee which you have pushed for, based on new rules for signatures. I signed the ambulance fee petition and am shocked that apparently 50,000 people have just been disenfranchised because the same signature many people use for checks or contracts is not considered acceptable to the BOE. I suspect your own legal signature on county documents would have been tossed since it has no middle initial and some of the letters in your name are not legible. But instead of calling for action to protect our right to petion the government, the county government put out a web page defending ambulance fees.
Are you prepared to call on the courts and the BOE to change their decision, and for the General Assembly to pass legislation to permanently correct this and require that a person's legal signature be accepted? I would also like to know exactly how many of our tax dollars are being spent defending
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Montgomery County’s Ambulance Reimbursement program will save lives by dedicating 100 percent of revenues raised to providing critically-needed resources to our Fire & Rescue Service – at no cost to County residents.
That’s why it was approved by the County Council and signed into law by myself. A petition to put the issue on the November ballot by some volunteers did not garner the number of valid signatures needed, as judged by the Montgomery County Board of Elections. The standards established for valid signatures were well-known by the petitioners before they began their effort, which included paying out-of-state workers to gather signatures.
I have no hesitation in asking our County Attorney to intervene in support of the Board of Elections. At present, we do not have the actual costs of our intervention. I am clearly certain that it is resources well spent to help insure that we have the funding needed to protect lives and property throughout the County.
At stake is $14 million in this year’s budget and $170 million over the next ten years.
Without our Ambulance Reimbursement program, Montgomery County will be less safe.
Without our Ambulance Reimbursement program, we would have to slash $14 million from this year’s Fire & Rescue budget and from other critically-needed County programs which have already been substantially reduced over the past four years. Or we would have to raise taxes.
I think it makes more sense to do what our neighboring jurisdictions are doing: access revenues already being collected by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies.
Toni Bush from Not from Montgomery County
I am looking for my family from Ohio,are you related to Arelius Legget, Booker T Leggett or Andrew Leggett?
Please respond either way.
Mr. Leggett: I am not aware of any family members from Ohio. My family originates from Mississippi and Louisiana. Please provide me with any additional information so that I may explore any connection to the aforementioned Leggetts from Ohio. Thanks.
John from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Dear Mr. Legett:
I recently viewed a youtube video in which you strongly endorsed Duchy Trachtenberg for re-election to the council. As you now know, she was defeated in her re-election bid. Can you offer any preliminary thoughts on how her defeat may impact your adminstration's policy agenda both in the short term and in the long term.
Mr. Leggett: Duchy Trachtenberg is a good friend and I will miss her presence on the Council. She's done a terrific job in helping to resolve the difficult budgetary challenges that we've faced over the past four years. Her expertise on issues related to health and human services has proven to be invaluable. However, I have great faith that I will have a productive and constructive relationship with all members of the next Council.
Steve from Up County
Do you share school board member Mike Durso's concern that only 9 School Resource Officers (SROs) are insufficient to adequately protect our school communities? Will you work to reverse the cuts to our school police officer program implemented last year and to restore the program to its full compliment of officers this year?
Concerned about safety in our schools
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The fiscal situation that we are currently experiencing has resulted in many program reductions that I would not have made had I had better choices. If our revenue picture changes, this program would be one of the first that I would restore. However, the Police Department and the school security officers will continue to work closely together to ensure the safety of our students and school staff. The Police Department will use the tools it has to track any issues and concerns with school safety and respond appropriately. While this approach may not provide the full level of service provided by School Resource Officers, I believe that working together, the school system and the Police can and will keep our students safe.
Michael from Not from Montgomery County
Why is it that the county feels it appropriate to furlough it's employess but then spend several million for a brand new music facility. From the website it states that the Fillmore will be furnished with crystal chandeliers.....???? Does this county not have a budget crisis?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
We are very excited that Live Nation, a highly successful company that programs many local events and is a national and international leader in the provision of live concerts, music venues, and festivals, has agreed to locate a Fillmore Music Hall in the County. This will help bolster economic development in Silver Spring.
You mention other difficult choices the County has made in adjusting to the effects of the current national recession, including, in the current year, furloughs for County employees, including myself.
I have reduced County tax-supported spending from a 14 percent increase in the year before I took office to a reduction of minus seven percent in the current year.
I am putting the County’s fiscal house in order and investing in creating jobs and increasing our tax base. It is important that we do both.
What you perhaps do not understand is that the Fillmore makes money for the County (and the State). For a $7.2 million County investment we will own a $9 million property. We will not have to maintain the venue for the duration of the lease.
The County and State will net nearly $2 million in public benefit a year from the start --over and above construction costs, and bring many more visitors to downtown Silver Spring. The Lee Development Group has donated the land to the County, valued at $4.1 million. Not one penny of this money goes to Live Nation. Live Nation would pay all utilities and all maintenance and upkeep, including structural maintenance, on the County-owned building.
By generating revenues, such as what the Fillmore project will provide, the County will strengthen its tax base and help local businesses. In essence, this investment in the Fillmore project will help us to avoid furloughs in the future.
Qingsheng from Rockville
Is there anything we can do with Pepco, who always had the largest number of outages during any storm, big or small, and who always had the slowest response? Our neighborhood had about a week of power outage druing winter 2010 and now had 2 days of outage as of 7/27/2010. Any small wind, storm will easily take power out. It is so unreliable it makes me think we are living in a developing country, not USA. Something needs to be done and Pepco needs to be penalized for its non reponse to any kind of weather.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your comment. I totally share your frustration with Pepco’s perfoprmance vis-ŕ-vis the storms of February and July.
Even as clean-up was still ongoing from the July storms, I met with Pepco CEO Rigby and other Pepco officials in my office in Rockville I continue to communicate regularly with the Governor on this issue. I testified at the second Public Service Commission hearing into Pepco’s performance held in July. I will be announcing this week the names of my County residents’ work group to engage Pepco on a range of issues.
Based on my discussions, I believe that – on paper – Pepco has detailed plans to improve their performance on vegetation management, needed infrastructure improvements (including “hardening” of facilities and undergrounding where necessary), and communications with customers. Despite developing a detailed plan, I believe we must continue to hold Pepco accountable by translating what is on paper into reality. But even so, some of this will take time to make a qualitative difference.
What they can – and must – improve in order to make a difference now is their ability to respond to storms and restore power far more quickly than Pepco’s past performance. That change can happen now. I have urged Pepco to ratchet up the quantity – and the quality -- of their mutual aid agreements with other jurisdictions to improve significantly the number of crews and trucks on the ground in the aftermath of outages.
Of course, Pepco is regulated by the Maryland Public Service Commission. Nevertheless, as a County, we simply can’t have a repeat of what has happened this year.
While Pepco may be focused on these individual storms, we can’t afford to stop there. We have to figure out why Pepco power outages occur regularly, on even the nicest of days, threatening life, inconveniencing families, and costing our businesses millions.
Rest assured that I will continue to push for meaningful improvements in the delivery of services by Pepco to our residents and businesses.
SOL from Silver Spring
i dont think you are giving enough attention to seniors.
news letter needs a senior category listed.
what are you doing specifically for seniors?
1. so far i have seen nothing in the press.
2. i have experienced at least one serious fault with the counties policy.
lets get more action.
show us what u are doing to support seniors.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. When I took office four years ago, I felt that the County government needed to improve its services to seniors in three important areas. First, County services needed to be better coordinated and administered. Second, County government needed to improve access to services and information about services for seniors. Finaly,certain services to seniors needed to be enhanced. In responding to these issues, I began by convening a Senior Summit in 2008. Several hundred seniors attended this all day event and provided me with valuable advice. As a result I created the County's first Sub-cabinet for Senior Services to assure better coordiantion and effectivness in service delivery. Major county agencies participate in the sub-cabinet. To improve access to services and information, I have expanded the County's web page to include senior issues; created a 311 telephone number to assist all our residents to more easily find services they require, and continue to support the monthly Cable TV program "Seniors Today." Because of our fiscal crisis, I have been unable to expand public services to seniors as much as is needed or as I would have wished. However, there have been improvements in public transportation, recreation, housing and health and human services -- which specifically will benefit our County's senior population, which I officially joined this year.
Thanks again for your comments.
Ray from Rockville
You, Dr Weist, and Montgomery County Public Schools can take pride in the accomplishments and growth of the students of Montgomery County. What can YOU do, in these difficult economic and budget times, to support and encourage MCPS to meet its commitment to these students, for the classrooms and resources that are so long overdue and so desparately needed?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your comment and question. Maintaining a world class public school system is my highest priority. By doing so we not only provide our children with the best opportunities for personal success but our highly respected public schools help us to support and attract new businesses for our County. I have worked closely with the School Board and Superintendent Weast to maintain our highly effective schools. This has been a great challenge for us as our revenues have decreased dramatically and the number of students has grown by more than 5,000 since I took office. I have continued to recommend 97% or more of the Schools budget request to the County Council for funding. I have significantly increased the capital budget for public schools, and I have fostered teamwork among MCPS, the County Council and our dedicated teachers and administrators to enhance efficiency. I have also used our triple A bond rating to invest in building needed new school space and to renovate older facilities. We will continue to work together for the good of our school children and preserve our academic excellence.
Thanks again for your question.
Frank from Eastern Montgomery
What feedback are you receiving about the drastic cuts in library services and materials? Are you hearing the patron's complaints?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I deeply value public libraries. I get a great deal of feedback about most of my budget decisions, libraries included. I tell our residents that I have done the very best I can to make decisions that are fair, that preserve our public school system, keep our communites safe, and protect our most vulnerable residents. These decisions have been the most difficult of my career in public service. As you know, the County's revenues have dramatically decreased. I have closed budget gaps by more than $2.4 billion over four years. There is simply no way I could have done this without significant reductions in almost every area of County service. However, I have always believed that these difficult times will pass and better times will return. For that reason, I have kept important programs in the public libraries alive, although temporarilly reduced. I look forward to continuing the development of our library system as our finances permit.
Thanks again for your question.
lee from Mid County
in montgomery county.if you have unsupervsied visits with two minor children and have a history of substance abuse mainly alcohol.you got so drunk the police took the children away from you saying you were not capable of taking care of them. would this not be child endangerment
Mr. Leggett: Unfortunately, your question regarding child endangerment seems to have "broken up" in transmission and was not complete. If you have a concern about the safety of a child, I urge you to immediately contact our Child Welfare agency at 240-777-4417.
Fred from Up County
What was the total incremental cost impact of the storm that ripped through the region on July 25th? Will the county's be able to absorb these unplanned costs in its budget? thank you
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
Our estimate of the cost of the July 25 storm is about $2.4 million. Due to the lingering economic downturn, our next fiscal year’s budget is likely to be extremely challenging. The current year's budget is a 7 percent decrease in County tax-supported spending over the previous year. While we budget a reserve fund for storm-related expenditures, using the above amount in the first month of the new fiscal year doesn’t bode well when we have yet to encounter winter.
What we need to spend to protect public safety and put households and businesses back to normal after storms, I will spend.
I will continue to monitor revenue projections from the state as well as County expenditures as part of my continuing efforts to put the County’s fiscal house in order.
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 (http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/paperlessairplane).