Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, April 14, 2011)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's live discussion. I look forward to your questions. Let us get started.
Elizabeth from Silver Spring
What do you say to someone like me who is a county worker in DHHS, an immigrant who attained American citizenship -the hard way, live in the county, pay all the county's high taxes, but was forced and compelled to send my 2 children to private school because our schools and resources are geared for the undocumented immigrant-language barriers, no parent involvement, no sense of accountability to their children and for the most part, the same lack of committment and effort on the part of those same said students. I have attended MCPS and have lived in the county for a long time, and my immigrant parents have paid their taxes throughout for my public education in the county. Our family has never been a burden to the county. I payed for my college education and now I am a county worker and you want to cut my pay and I haven't received a cost of living raise in 3 years. Do you really understand what is going on in this county? It would be nice if the county could give back to my family a
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question – and for your service to the County.
On your comment on MCPS, I must disagree. I believe our school system is doing an admirable job of meeting the needs of all its students, regardless of background. That has been an emphasis of Dr. Weast and he has succeeded. Can we do better? Sure. I am committed to continuing to work with our Superintendent and School Board toward that end.
It is a mistake to assume that our financial challenges are a result of immigrants who are in this county and that they are causing the financial difficulties we are facing. The County's challenges have little if anything to do with undocumented people living in this county.
You don’t like the hard choices that this budget represents. Trust me, neither do I.
When I was first elected County Executive five years ago, County spending was unsustainable – averaging nearly 10 percent annual increases over each of the four years before I was sworn in. The combination of a growing workforce, expanding services, and sharply receding local revenues due to the economic downturn created a long-term structural deficit in the County budget.
I have worked hard to put the County’s fiscal house in order, while protecting critical County services and making government more responsive, effective, and efficient – both in the short term and in the long term.
In the past four years, I have closed $2.5 billion in budget shortfalls. And I have eliminated more than 10 percent of the County’s workforce with minimal layoffs due to careful position management and attrition.
The year before I took office, County government tax-supported spending increased by 14.1 percent in that single year. Over my five years, the increase is that same spending is zero percent, without even taking inflation into account.
Eighty percent of our County budget goes toward compensation – wages and benefits for County employees. There is no way to close our enormous budget shortfall without impacting County employees in some way.
To continue my efforts to create a sustainable budget for the long term, I am recommending the abolishment of an additional 216 positions in County Government in FY12. Nearly 140 of these positions are currently filled.
When I started my review of the FY12 budget, there were over 500 positions that could have been eliminated to close the $300 million shortfall caused by the lingering economic downturn. I didn’t want to go there -- and I knew, after four years of reducing the budget, that our options for the short and long-term savings we needed were very limited.
That’s why I am recommending changes in the cost sharing arrangements for County Government employees for our group insurance and retirement plans.
Andrew Brown from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
How come you don't adress the problems that the young and Middle aged Black Men have with the Montgomery County Police especially the 4th Distric Police
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We have a highly trained and experienced police department that has as its mission to work with our entire diverse community. This is not to suggest that there may not be valid complaints on occasion. If you have a specific complaint, I would urge you to direct it to the Police Department's Office of Internal Affairs. This office has as its mission investigating and resolving any concerns regarding the conduct of our police. The number for internal affairs is (240) 773-6000. Additionally, I will alert the commander of the 4th District to your concerns.
Allen from Up County
Mr. Leggett - no pun intended, but, like Councilmember Floreen, I agree that County residents would be nickel and dimed by this 5 cent bag tax that you recently proposed. I understand the motivation to clean up the environment, but isn't there a better way to raise revenue to address this issue?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
The legislation I propose for a tax on paper and plastic bags in the County is not about money. The $1 million or so we expect to take in in the first year is not included in my budget and will go toward public education and furnishing reusable bags to those who need them. If there are additional resources beyond these needs, they will go to the water quality protection fund to help clean up our streams and waterways. Currently, we pay approximately $3 million for such cleanup, which is a direct burden on our taxpayers. I believe that our citizens will quickly adapt to the reusable bags and that the amount collected will drop to next to nothing in the near future.
This policy is working in the District of Columbia with excellent results. Please keep in mind that it is 5 cents a bag, not a 5 percent increase. And – here’s the point – this is a charge that one can avoid entirely by simply using reusable bags that we will give to you free of charge.
Dave from Up County
Your efforts to reign in the unions and their runaway pay and benefits packages are a good initial step (Washington Post, March 22, 2011, “Legget and Unions Spar over Pensions”). However, what you are asking for doesn’t seem to be that much. Why not push for much more?
Pensions: increasing contributions to 10% or better yet moving to a defined contribution from defined benefit.
Length of service: Retirement after 20 years for firefighters? This is ridiculous, why are taxpayers paying for this?
Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining for government employees is wrong and Montgomery County should take Wisconsin’s lead and eliminate. In the private sector there is a somewhat healthy balance between ownership\management and the employee unions (i.e.-the need to be profitable and the need to earn a living). This balance does not exist in government unions. The unions sponsor and contribute funds to candidates who if elected are expected to approve generous pay and be
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Since taking office as County Executive four years ago, I have worked diligently to close fiscal gaps of more than $2 billion (the County's annual operating budget is 4.3 billion). I have accomplished this in a balanced and fair manner, always with attention to providing quality core services especially in public education, public safety and aid for the most vulnerable. My approach has been to balance the sacrifices made by our taxpayers, employees and the public who seek services such as libraries and recreation. All of these have felt much pain as a result of four years of lowered operating budgets. I have eliminated more than 1,250 positions and the total increase in my budgets over the past five years is zero -- compared to 14.1 percent increase in one single year prior to my taking office.
I believe in collective bargaining and I am grateful for the dedicated public service provided by our employees who have not received a cost of living increase for the past three years. I do believe that we can make further improvements to ensure greater efficiencies in our future budgets and I will work with all affected parties to achieve that end.
Without question more work needs to be done to achieve a fully sustainble County government. I will coninue to seek this goal by balancing the sacrifices our residents and employees must make.
zerea from Up County
Hi mr Leggett I am owner operator truck driver withe truck and trailer we have problem withe parking i live in Boyds we used parking in cloper rd and 118 they told us we can't park there any more .i live in montgomery county i don't have any parking when i came home to my family i don't know when i can park in the county i hope you will give me the answer.
thank you for your time
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
As you know, I proposed and the County Council approved legislation in 2009 that prohibited the parking of heavy commercial vehicles and recreational vehicles on residential streets. This was done both to protect the residential character of residential neighborhoods and for public safety reasons, as such vehicles adversely affect lines of sight for motorists and pedestrians (perhaps most especially for children).
Such vehicles can be parked in legally-allowed areas along County roadways where both sides of the road are zoned commercial or light industrial. Or, of course, you can arrange to park on privately-owned lots.
Tom from Up County
Mr. Leggett: I want to thank you for your frank and up front approach to the budget crisis. I have lived in the county for over 50 years and have seen dramatic changes in services and the attitude of local government to its long time citizens. I have noticed that there is more attention given to immigrants and pensioners that worked for MC living in other states, than for the senior citizens that built this county still living here. Since there is little flexibility in what can actually be cut out of operating costs (except for the senior centers that you closed), why can’t you cut the pensions of those who are under 65 (or whatever the current social security rule in affect) and that live out of the county? The pension I have has changed their plan without me having any vote on it, why can’t the county? This would save a considerable amount. Please remember those who still vote and pay county taxes.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I appreciate your concerns. Included in my proposed budget for the next fiscal year, I have recommended several structural changes in both health care insurance for our employees and changes to our retirement system. I believe that both will save considerable sums -- both in the short- as well as the long-terms. It is difficult to alter the pension for people who are already in the workforce, beyond the things we have already recommended. As it relates to new hires and others, I hope to see drastic changes in our pension obligations. With more than 80% of the operating budget allocated to personnel costs, we must continue to examine compensation issues in order to make the kinds of reductions that are necessary for a balanced budget.
Kathy from Up County
Why have you firewalled yourself away from County residents? You didn't have a problem getting out and meeting people during the campaign, but during the snow storm and subsequent power outages...you were no where to be found? And why aren't you more vocal about holding Pepco accountable for their incredibly poor service? Do you think you can really make us feel better by shipping out surveys that state the obvious?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am actually quite surprised that you believe I have "firewalled" myself "away from County residents". I have held more public meetings, including town halls and budget forums than probably all other County Executives combined in the history of the County. These meetings have been held throughout the four and a half years I have been in office, not just during campaigns or serious events. These events have been widely advertised and are open to any and all. I do not believe in grandstanding during significant events, but I assure you that I am in command of all of the County's resources and responses to all of the significant weather events we have experienced in recent years. Additionally, I have worked closely with our State legislators and the Governor to hold Pepco accountable for the poor service our residents receive. The survey you have dismissed as stating the obvious is an important piece of evidence that was used by our legislators to push through State legislation that will begin to hold Pepco more accountable. In addition, I appointed a major task force to fully examine all aspects of Pepco's operations, how we can hold them accountable, and what changes we need to make going forward. The survey that you reference was simply one small piece of the overall work that the commission is currently engaged in. Their final report will be released in the very near future. I don't believe that you saw much campaigning from me in the last campaign, because I was essentially uncontested.
Alice from Mid County
Code enforcement issues are just as bad today as five years ago when you ran for the position of County Executive. Now with your much touted legislation, dump trucks are allowed to be power washed in residential zones. Interpretation of code by DPS and DHCA is not neighborhood friendly. Supervision of inspectors is non-existent. Numbers are manipulated for County Stat with no meaningful results for neighborhoods which are challenged by deterioration and declining property values.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your comment.
One of the principal reasons people move to or stay in Montgomery County is our quality of life. That quality of life is being eroded today by the encroachment and expansion of commercial activities into our residential neighborhoods and by loopholes or flaws in our County code that do not address harmful practices or allow for timely resolution and enforcement of code violations.
That’s why I proposed, and the Council approved last October, Code Enforcement changes designed to address such areas as home-based businesses, on and off-street parking, and the paving of front yards.
These changes go into effect soon – April 24 – and we are spreading the word about the changes. Get all the information on montgomerycountymd.gov/goodneighbors.
We need to do a better job of protecting against commercial expansion into residential neighborhoods. This will help. My understanding is that we are working on the specific issue that you raise.
Howard from Silver Spring
Why do you believe it is necessary to subsidized two wealthy corporations (Westfield and Costco) to the tune of $4,000,000 to simply conduct their business in Wheaton when both corporations have refused to meet or negotiate in good faith (traffic patterns, idling car rates for their 16 pump gas station are laughable) with the residential community (Kensington Heights Civic Association) 50 feet from their gas station when Montgomery County has a $300,000,000+ deficit?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. While I understand your concerns, I believe that much of what you mentioned can be addressed through the special exception process. The Board of Appeals will consider Costco's request for a special exception in the fall of 2011. At the time, your community can testify and express your concerns to the Board.
In approving the $4 million for Westfield, I determined that this was a necessary investment in the future of Wheaton. Without this investment, there was a real possibility that the Wheaton Westfield mall would continue to struggle and further the economic vacuum that has stymied the economic viability of this area. To put this economic investment in perspective, during the 1990's and early 2000's, the County invested hundreds of millions of dollars in revitalizing Silver Spring. I believe this $4 million is money well-spent in creating hundreds of jobs and additional business opportunities and further enhancing the tax base in an area of the County that has had economic challenges. Based on all estimates we have seen, we will more than recoup our investments in a couple of years, while still enhancing future economic benefits for the entire area.
Cyrus from Rockville
You have committed to a once in generation reorganization of County government. One additional suggestion that I wish you would look at is consolidating the MCPS Department of Transportation into the county's DOT, or at minimum placing the school fleet and bus maintainence facilities under County control through the Division of Fleet Management. The school system runs a fleet of over 1200 school buses and even more light vehicles. Decaying MCPS vehicles sitting on school property in the Lincoln Park neighborhood demonstrates the school's poor management of its vehicle fleet. After all fleet managment is far from the school system's core mission and consolidation would result in cost efficiencies.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your suggestion. I have often been helped during these very hard fiscal times with good ideas coming from our citizens. Your idea has merit and, in fact, we are already looking at this as part of our restructuring efforts. In addition, I have proposed several significant restructurings in the FY12 budget, along with more than 100 other restructuring opportunites for further study. Your suggestion is a welcome addition to our on-going thinking. Thanks again.
Angie from Eastern Montgomery
The area around the ICC construction site on New Hampshire Ave and Bonifant Rd have caused much damage to those roads. Will these streets be repaved? The pot holes and uneven pavement are causing a lot of wear and tear on the resident's cars who drive these roads on a regular basis.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your comments and questions. I share your concern as I often travel those roads myself. I will be sure to pass your concern on to Maryland State Highway Administration and ask them to address the wear and tear to the roads that the ICC construction has created. Part of the plan is to ensure that once ICC construction is completed, necessary repairs will be made to the local roads.
Craig from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
It is my understanding that all MCPS employees that work a minimum of 20 hours receive full health benefits. Is this the case? If so, how many employees work between 20-32 hours/week? Next, what is the cost to support health benefits for those who work less than 32 hours? Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your questions. MCPS is not under the control of the County Executive. It has its own budget and human resources offices and keeps this data apart from the County Government's data base. I would urge you to contact the Board of Education for answers to your questions. You may contact MCPS at 301-279-3617.
Bharti from Rockville
I am desperate candidate in search of job since couple of months. I was working at a company called QIAGEN INC. an interim Payroll Manager from Nov. 09 to December'10. Due to my Indian accent, after testing me for one year, even confirmed an excellant candidate ended my assisgnment to hear a white fluent speaking candidate. There was no reason given but ended my assisgnment which was thru an agency. In spite I have over 25 years of working in this area, I am not even given any lower or entry level opportunities to work. I am discrinimated at many agencies as some of my coworker or past references may be provided wrong but of no knowledge. Agencies are controlling many jobs and my resume posted to all the website to my job search. I need to work as I am in the stage to become despress. I ask Mr. Leggett for help and hope I can get some help. I see many jobs posted to my skills but are denied do not know of any reason. QIAGEN INC. discrimated due to strong accent as they ended
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. I'm sorry that you lost your job and wish you success during your job search. Montgomery County sponsors an excellent employment program that may assist your search called Montgomery Works. It includes a "one stop" center that has helped thousands find jobs. Their web address is Montgomeryworks.com
If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you may contact the County's Human Rights Commission for information and assistance in seeking a remedy with your issue. Call 311 to be connected.
Kathy from Up County
So why no community pools in Darnestown, or North Potomac? There ARE kids that live in that area of the county, you know.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. While the County does not have a pool in Darnestown, there are pools in Germantown and Poolesville. Our Recreation Department is currently working on a masterplan for the locations of future pools. Please contact our Acquatics staff at the Department of Recreation at 240-777-6800.
Mr. Leggett: Unfortunately, we are out of time. Thank you for joining me today. Keep up with County news by subscribing to our e-newsletter, The Paperless Airplane at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/paperlessairplane.