Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, December 20, 2007)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us today for the Online Live Discussion. Let's go right to our first question.
Matt from Up County
What is the total dollar amount of county funds budgeted to Casa of Maryland in the next fiscal year?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. The total dollar amount for FY08 is $2.3 million for a variety of services that the County provides. For example, assistance in housing, language skills, job training, and health care. CASA has been one of several vendors to provide these services on our behalf for well over a decade.
Zelinda from Rockville
PG County and the federal government have both declared Dec 24th a holiday? Will MCG follow suit?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, we will not declare a holiday for December 24. I am very appreciative of the outstanding work that our County employees provide. However, we are facing a potential $400 million budget gap. If we were to extend this day as a holiday, it would cost an additional $3 - $4 million in holiday pay for a variety of employees who would be required to work on this day. Currently, we provide our employees with three personal leave days in addition to their vacation time to enable them to make choices regarding time off.
gabriela from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Traffic situation on Rockville Pike is already chaos, now the county is welcoming the BRAC, but they are not taking care of their own citizens, traffic will be one of the worst in the area, with double the visitors, what measures are going to be taken ?
Mr. Leggett: It is not our determination to expand the Bethesda Naval Hospital. This was a federally mandated decision. I've established a BRAC Task Force to work with the state and our Congressional delegation, the military and residents in the area to address the transportation and other related challenges impacting the community. We've received some state and federal assistance to address these concerns, but I believe it is insufficient, given the amount of growth in the number of patient visits to the institution. We will continue to work to find resources to more adequately resolve these challenges.
Scott from Rockville
Anyone who has driven on Rt. 355 passed NIH and Navy Med, on Shady Grove Rd between 355 and Key West, and other similar areas of the county that traffic moves sporadically because the traffic signals are not in sync. This causes significant traffic backups, the waste of gas for idling vehicles, and the extra emission of pollution into the environment. When will the county adjust the signals to facilitate a better flow of traffic in these areas?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for the question. The real challenge is the huge volume of traffic and growth that has occurred in the Rockville corridor. We need to more comprehensively address the need to better coordinate growth and provide the needed infrastructure to help reduce traffic congestion. In the meantime, our traffic engineers are working to improve the timing on our traffic lights. I'll have them take another look at this situation to see if additional improvements can be made.
John from Rockville
What is your administration doing to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate 911 outage this past weekend? I urge you to establish an alternate telephone number for citizens to call in the event of another system failure. Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I find this outage to be totally unacceptable. We are working aggressively with our contract provider, Verizon, to determine the actual cause of the outage to ensure that it doesn't happen again. We are looking at potential system changes and our legal options to better protect the investment the County has made in our current 911 system. In the meantime, we are providing backup and other communication enhancements to ensure that emergency services are readily available to our residents. We have widely circulated an alternate number, which is 301-279-8000.
Steve from Up County
Is it true that Motgomery County will be housing a large number of people displaced by the building of stadium in DC? If so will be provided free or discount housing?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The answer is no.
Jim from Up County
The police are responsible for public safety, yet they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy raising funds through speed traps on roads where the speed limits are rated as unreasonably low (in orter to permit successful speed traps). Are you open to a review of the propriety of speed limits on county roads to enhance public safety and reduce the unnecessary harassment of our citizens?
Mr. Leggett: Speeding is a deadly public safety problem, and we must devote sufficient resources to address this concern. We are always open to reviewing our traffic regulations to ensure that they are consistent with proper safety enforcement and are fair to our residents. We have moved to include a number of speed cameras, which reduce the need for direct enforcement by patrol officers and have been found to be quite effective in reducing the level of speeding on our roads.
Carol from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
What has changed since the Duffy/Eig case about the County defending decisions of the Board of Appeals if they are appealed to Circuit Court?
Specifically, when a citizen finds that the zoning law has not been enforced against a commercial developer, brings and wins an administrative appeal at the Board of Appeals, and the developer appeals to Circuit Court, will the County defend the decision of the Board of Appeals in Circuit Court?
To not do so undermines the effectiveness of the Board of Appeals and also many consumer protection and safety laws that are tied to zoning and building permit classifications.
Of particular concern is the lack of clarity and controls over gutting and reconstruction of homes executed under an addition permit instead of a new construction permit. Appeals to Circuit Court regarding similar zoning issues are now pending, and have implications for whether fire sprinkler and other important consumer protection requirements of County law are invoked.
Mr. Leggett: My decision is to support the determination of the Board of Appeals, which we have done in this case.
Bill from Silver Spring
I am considering becoming active in the political process. Where is help needed?
Mr. Leggett: First, make certain that you are registered to vote and that you actively do so in every election. Depending on your party affiliation, there are a number of organizations and clubs that you can participate in. More importantly, stay involved in your community on issues that matter to you and your neighbors.
Carrie Burke from Silver Spring
My neighbor at 907 Balmoral Dr, SS, 20903 is running a tow truck business out of their home. They park the tow truck in the street sometimes and sometimes in their driveway. They just recently started officially running the business out of their home (Oct 2007), but we have been dealing with the tow truck issue since Jan 2007! When they are parked on the street we call the police, when they are parked on their driveway, I alert James Martin (Zoning). Jim has given them a citation and numerous warnings and visits. The police have come out many times, but they are STILL parking the flatbed tow truck here. What can we do to finally resolve this issue for good? If I wanted to look out my window and feel like I live in the ghetto, then I would have moved there. These people clearly know that they shold not be parking that flatbed truck here (at one time this summer they had a flatbed truck AND a dumptruck). It is a constant battle.
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your question. I am working hard to make County government more responsive to the concerns of our residents. I can understand your frustration and will ask the Department of Permitting Services to explore what options there may be in finding a more permanent solution to this issue.
Bruce from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I am concerned about the challenges our community faces with so many residents who do not speak English. What are your plans for increasing the availability of classes for non-English speakers, so that they can get better jobs, participate more fully in civic life, advocate for their children’s education, etc.?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for the question. I believe that learning to read and write English is the most effective step one can do to enhance their ability to succeed in our county. We currently support many private non profit agencies who provide English as a second language education. Through our newly estalished Office of Community Partnerships we hope to forge new partnerships that will result in increaed ESL programs avaialbe in the County
Mike from Eastern Montgomery
The Purple Line concept for a cross-county rail line is often urged running inside the Beltway from Silver Spring to Bethesda. Wouldn't that be a big mistake to drive more traffic into the more congested parts of the county? Wouldn't it make for better sense from a traffic flow perspective to connect the terminal stations, and run the line from Glenmont to Shady Grove? What are your thoughts on this? Thanks.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Running the line from Glenmont to Shady Grove has been considered, and based on some of the preliminary analyses, it would have less impact on traffic than the current alignment. In addition, the County owns the right of way between Bethesda and Silver Spring, but would have to purchase at an enormous cost the property between Glenmont and Shady Grove. The cost of the overall Purple Line is a huge issue that has not been properly resolved.
Mike from Rockville
Mr. Leggett - can you please explain why the police changed their uniforms? The new uniform makes the officers look very intimidating and unapproachable.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I understand your concern, but these uniforms are considerably more comfortable and functional. A committee of police officers also concluded that these uniforms improve police officer safety. Many of our special police units have been wearing black uniforms for a number of years.
Jack from Eastern Montgomery
Why does Montgomery County fund three day labor sites for illegal immigrants, when so many legal county residents are homeless and/or in desparate need of social services?
Mr. Leggett: We've had day labor centers for well over 10 years, serving any resident seeking employment. Our day labor sites seek to manage and structure the problem of day laborers who previously gathered in inappropriate residential and commercial areas. This practical approach has proven to be successful, both for employers and for those seeking work. The problem of immigration is a national issue that requires action on the federal level. In the meantime, local jurisdictions must deal with the consequences.
Linda from Mid County
Since the county government is seeking avenues to trim the budget, why not consider offering county employees an incentive for early retirement!
Mr. Leggett: While early retirement incentives can be a useful tool in some instances, County Government is already dealing with a significant loss of much expertise due to an aging workforce that is already retiring at significant rates. I must balance the need to maintain a knowledgeable and experienced workforce with the need to reduce costs.
Derron from Silver Spring
I am a young single professional who bought a condo in the county almost 3 years ago. With increases in my condo fees (due to energey costs), state taxes, and probably be an increase in county taxes, I may be forced to move. I tell all of my friends how wonderful Montgomery is, but the response is always, its too expensive! What specifc plans do you have to help?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and for the good words you offer your friends on behalf of our County. Affordable housing is one of the most urgnet and challenging issues we face. Shortly after I took office, I establshed an Affordable Housing Task Force which I charged to report back to me with new and creative ways that we can preserve existing affordable housing and develop more. I will receive the task force report in a few days. I will act on the recommendations immediately. Already we have provided a 50% increase in the Housing Initiative Fund and changed several county laws to preserve and increase affordable units and expand eligibility. I understand your frustration with increased taxes and will work to keep public spending at a sustainable level.
Inas from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
There is a hazardous condition at the Friendship Heights metro station. The walk signal, located at the intersection of Wisconsin Circle and Willard Avenue, is facing the wrong way.
It is dangerous because the pedestrians who cross Wisconsin Circle to get to Clyde's restaurant are unable to see when the walk signal is a "go" so that they can cross the street.
It has been like this for many weeks now. Please do something to fix this potentially hazardous situation, so that pedestrians are not killed.
Thank you very much for your time and attention to this critical matter.
Mr. Leggett: Pedestrian safety is very important to us, and I recently announced a new initiative in that area. I will forward your concern to our Department of Public Works and Transportation for further review.
Gael from Rockville
Like a number of other governmental organizations (federal, state, and local), could Montgomery County consider providing day care for its employees' children?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The County provides a range of child care services for all of our residents, including County employees. I will look at the feasibility of such a center in order to provide more family-friendly options for our employees.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your participation. Please have a safe and happy holiday season. I look forward to seeing you at our next Online Live Discussion next year. Thanks again! -- Ike