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 (Thursday, September 15, 2011)

Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me for today's live discussion. I'm sure you have questions, so let us get started.

James from Up County
Hello - why does it take the County 12-18 months, or oftentimes much longer, to remove a tree stump after the tree has been cut down? I know you have to wait a little while, but this seems like an awful long time. Thank you.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Montgomery County is experiencing one of the most challenging fiscal periods in our history. As a result, some very difficult decisions have been made. It has been necessary to make deep reductions, and in some cases, a temporary freeze on some existing County programs and services. The Tree Maintenance Program of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation has been significantly cut, with the stump removal budget temporarily frozen so the County can focus on emergency tree removals. In doing so, this will help minimize tree related safety issues throughout the County. We hope to restore many of these reductions so that we can fully address tree removal.

Pat from Up County
Hello - I have called 311 a few times. Each time I call I have to wait 20 to 30 seconds to listen to a bunch of pre-recorded messages before my call is answered. This is irritating especially when I'm calling from my cell phone and am in a hurry. Can you fix this? At least give me the option of skipping the pre-recorded messages and allow me to connect directly to an agent without having to wait this long.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. There are about 30 seconds worth of pre-recorded messages before a 311 Customer Service Representative comes on the line. They urge people who are calling for an emergency to call 911, allow folks to put in a service request number to check on the progress of an existing service request, or allow people to prompt to speak to a Spanish-speaking representative. Sometimes an additional message about a holiday delay in recycling pickup or weather emergency info might be added. We deliberately try to keep these short so we can get a live person on the line as soon as possible and see these announcements as enhancing customer service. Customers can, however, push the “#” to get directly to a Customer Service Representative. Incidentally, 311 has already taken more than 500,000 calls in its first 15 months of operation and saved County government $10 million.

Jon from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Who are and were the major contributors to your campaign?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Dating from my service on the County Council (1986 to 2002) and my election as County Executive (2006 to the present), I have been honored to receive support from a broad array of Montgomery County residents. All contributions to my campaigns are a matter of public record and can be accessed on-line through the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Caroline from Up County
Will the County seek disaster relief funds for infrastructure damage sustained from recent and significant flooding? Farms and residents in the Ag Reserve would like assurance that repairs to bridges and roadways will be addressed and won't be encumbered by budget tightening. Thanks so much!

Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your excellent question. We are reviewing the losses from recent storms and flooding to see if the County might qualify for federal reimbursement for damage to public infrastructure. Three conditions must be met in order to qualify. First, the state has to declare an emergency. Second, the damage, on the statewide level, has to exceed $7 million and, third, the damage on the local level has to be at least $3.1 million. It is not clear that our losses would reach that third threshold. An example of when we met that threshold was the 2010 “Snowmageddon.” Then County expenses exceeded $50 million and we received $10 million in reimbursement.

Harry from Up County
I'm a county employee. Fairfax county employees are getting 2% raises this year. What about us? Our cost of living is going up just like theirs is. I haven't had a raise in 3 years.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and especially for your public service. First let me say I am grateful to the county workforce for their continuing excellent service to the people of our county. Our employees have sacrificed significantly to help me close a more than 2 Billion dollar fiscal gap. I have closed the gap by asking literally everyone in our county to sacrifice. In addition to our employees going without pay increases, our residents have seen reductions in services and an increase in the taxes they pay. I believe our economy is improving and the worst may be behind us. The sacrifices we have made, many of them permanent, cost saving measures, have positioned Montgomery County for a healthier and more sustainable fiscal future. It is my hope that we will be able to soon return to a point where the County can compensate our employees consistent with their excellent service and their increasing living costs.

Kimberly Kempa from Up County
Recently there has been Prolife demonstrators outside our schools with terribly graphic large posters. THe schools have not done anything to inform the parents when this has happened. What can the county do to require these types of protestors are there either after shool is out or several thousand feet from the school?

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. You are not the first to write me on the explicit “pro-life” picketing at Frost Middle School. I share with you and others the distaste you have for the “message” being imposed on middle school students because a child of the landlord of an office rented to an abortion provider goes to school there. I have instructed our police to monitor the situation but I’m afraid that free speech protects this expression of protest regardless of how you or I judge the tastefulness or appropriateness of the protest so long as the protest remains on public property.

Will from Silver Spring
Hey Mr. Leggett My dream has always been to work for Montgomery County Police Department. I just would like to know how soon will the department start hiring again? Thanks

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question – and your interest in becoming a Montgomery County police officer. The department is currently hiring for an approximately 30-member recruit class to begin in July of 2012. An open recruitment period began this month on September 1 and closes at midnight tonight, September 15. There is expected to be another open recruitment period at the beginning of October. The competition for this next recruit class will be very stiff as the department has already received 500 applications. The application is done on-line on the County’s website under “OHR Careers.” If you have other questions about becoming a police officer, you can speak directly to a police recruiter by calling the department’s Personnel Division at 240-773-5310.

John from Eastern Montgomery
Mr. Leggett, Please let us know why it was OK for you and the county to use paid firefighters/EMS to campaign for the ambulance tax last year? Shouldn't they have been out fighting fires, saving lives, or maintaining equipment instead of campaigning? Terrible waste of time, resources and money. John

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Nobody knew what was at stake with the EMS reimbursement more than the firefighters and emergency medical personnel. Remember, Montgomery County had approved a law to allow the County to collect reimbursements from health insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid for EMS transports. It would not have cost residents a dime, but it would have brought in $14 million to our emergency medical services every year, and more than $180 million over ten years. There was no money lost in having County fire/rescue staff assist in supporting County law and policy. In fact, all of these personnel were on call, even while speaking to voters, and left the polls to answer calls. The only money lost was the $14 million every year that the County now cannot receive from insurance companies through premiums that residents are already paying to those companies. Nearly every other jurisdiction in this region has this reimbursement program with no adverse effects and are collecting tens of millions of dollars every year to strengthen their public safety services. We should be doing the same.

Carrie from Mid County
What is the status of the Edison Park Drive Soccer Fields? The project status on the website has not been changed from "Pending negotiation with land owner" since February 2011. Why is MSI Soccer interested in the Brickyard parcel instead of Edison Park Drive?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The County has not yet issued a “Request for Proposal” for one soccer field to be built at Edison Park Drive. There is a huge need for soccer fields throughout Montgomery County. Neither the Brickyard parcel nor Edison Park are sufficient to meet the demand. Therefore, MSI and others can see a need in not only looking at both Edison and Brickyard, but other locations in the County, as well.

Paul from Mid County
Aren't there much better ways to deal with crime than a youth curfew, which attacks all members of a group rather than only those who are engaged in criminal activities?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I feel that the curfew is an important -- but not the only tool to address criminal activities involving youth. There are a number of other tools that we are already using through our gang prevention efforts, our positive youth programs and additional police staffing. This will also help protect our young people from becoming victims of crime. Our current laws are not adequate to manage large groups of teens that gather for the purpose of causing trouble. But those youth who are out after curfew hours for legitimate reasons will not be subject to a curfew violation. I included a number of exemptions in the proposed law to allow youth to be out after curfew hours when going home from work, attending or returning from an official school, religious, or other recreation activity sponsored by a County, civic or other similar organization, or if they are running an errand with permission from an adult, or if they are returning from a movie or other entertainment event. There are several additional exemptions. I've spoken with the police chiefs from Prince George's County and the District of Columbia, and they feel that their youth curfews have been quite useful in giving police additional tools to address criminal activities involving young people. I know that the vast majority of our teens are responsible members of our community. The curfew is designed to have a minimum impact on those teens.

John from Eastern Montgomery
Mr. Leggett, I have a question that pertains to housing assistance that is given out to low income families. Why does the county give housing assistance for families that are living in luxury neighborhoods? I am mainly talking about section 8 type assistance. The county is pay rent on properties that have swimming pools, clubhouses, and tennis courts. I hardly believe that tax dollars should be spent on such lavish conditions. Is this a known issue in the county and if so, what is being done to stop it?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The Section 8 housing voucher program is a federal program over which the County has no jurisdiction. It intends to help low income people afford permanent housing. The program uses vouchers to provide people the opportunity to choose a rental home from a list approved by the federal government. The rent paid to the property owner by the voucher is consistent with federal standards. The standard does not pay extra for amenities such as a swimming pool. If community amenities are available to the residents of the community, any resident living there may choose to participate. Very importantly, the voucher program enables our county to provide housing for people with a variety of incomes in a "scattered manner" as opposed to the older model of "tenement" housing. I agree with this objective and believe that this public policy is good for the entire community. In the end, I believe it is a more efficient and fair policy. If there is any additional question about the abuse of these policies, please direct them to the Housing Opportunities Commission, which administers public housing for Montgomery County.

Tina from Up County
My question concerns residential rat infestation in the County caused by a long-term condemned house. I live in the Fountain Hills Community in Germantown, MD. My townhouse is located just a few feet from another townhouse -- 13533 Hamlet Square Court. The owner of the Hamlet Square house was found by the County to be a hoarder, which resulted in the County condemning that house in January 2009. The house has been uninhabited for over 2 ½ years. I understand that live and dead animals were removed from the house in 2009. There is recent evidence of rat infestation in our community. I personally have killed 4 rats on my property in the past two weeks. The condemned house is affecting our community and our property values, as it is both an eyesore and a health hazard. This situation has been going on over 3 years with no apparent improvement or County intervention. I would like to know when the condemned house will be cleaned and gutted.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. After you sent in your email, I had my staff check on this property. My understanding is that our Department of Housing and Community Affairs, acting on another complaint, inspected the unoccupied property this week. They found no evidence of rats and no food sources or access points for rats. Our department has an abatement order, given since the owner has abandoned the property, to remove debris from inside the property, which should happen in the next several weeks. At the point when the property was condemned, our Animal Control did remove one dog and nine cats from the property – all alive. This is a problem property and we have been working through the Courts to either get the owner to deal with it or give us the authority. I hope this information is helpful.

Maria from Mid County
I attended a meeting last night with Westfield/Costco , my community and Mr Silverman. With all due respect sir why are you and the council willing to pay 4 million dollars to a company who is going to pollute our county ( my backyard) with another 16 gas pump gas station? We have 15 ( Gas stations) within a mile radius. Why are you so intent on giving them (Costco) it all at our(the voters) expense. This will be an issue come voting time. You will surely not get any support in our neighborhood after this fiasco.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. As you heard at the meeting with Mr. Silverman, there is much more at stake with the Costco location at Westfield than gas pumps. I assure you that should the gas station portion of the Costco proposal move forward, the gas pumps will comply with all federal and state environmental requirements. The greater question is how will Costco benefit the people of Wheaton and the County in general. The answer is the store will provide 400 meaningful jobs in a portion of the County where jobs matter very much. These jobs will lead to more economic success in the Wheaton area, an outcome I very much desire. As you indicate, Westfield Mall is in your backyard and you are a resident of Wheaton. You know, then, that the mall is struggling financially. We all want the mall to succeed. This will be good for Wheaton and good for the County. I believe that adding Costco to the line up of stores at the mall will do much to assure the mall's lasting financial success and help attract many desirable businesses to your neighborhood such as restaurants.

Diane Johnson from Up County
VIQ: My elderly parents were removed from the rental assistance approx. 6 months ago. The rent was increased and put my parents approx. $100 over the limit to receive rental assistance. I want to know how to get them back on rental assistance. They are 82 and 86 years old. They have not received a COL increase in two years. They have medical issues as well. My parents are only surviving with my help. I am a single woman making a modest salary in this time of recession. The $200 assistance was what helped push them through the month. What can you do for my parents?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I would like to help if we can. Please contact Nadim Khan in the County's Department of Health and Human Services for assistance with this. He can be reached at 240-777-1179.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining me today. We've run out of time, but I hope you will join me again when we hold our next online discussion. For those who still have questions, I will be hosting a Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Westland Middle School in Bethesda and encourage you to attend.