Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, March 15, 2012)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Welcome to today's Online Discussion. Let's get started.
Girish from Up County
Will the County employees receive pay raises this year? thank you
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I appreciate the sacrifices County employees have made to help us create sustainable budgets and respond to the challenges caused by the economic downturn. For three years County employees have not received cost-of-living increases and for the past two there have been no steps or increments, as well. In FY11, all County Government employees were furloughed for between three and eight days, depending on income. Also, in FY12, the County changed the cost sharing arrangements for County Government employees for their group insurance and retirement plans, saving the County an estimated $14.5million.
For FY13, I am recommending – consistent with agreements reached with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #35; International Association of Fire Fighters, Local #1664; and the Municipal and County Government Employee Organization, Local 1994 -- a lump-sum payment of $2,000 per employee. This lump-sum payment would be in lieu of any cost-of-living or general steps and increments.
Until the County is on clearly more stable fiscal footings, I strongly recommend that all County employees – including those within MCPS, Montgomery College, Park and Planning and WSSC – be provided with compensation increases that do not add to our base compensation budget.
It is important that there be parity among all of the County agencies’ 30,000 plus employees.
Margarita from Rockville
Is there a law that allows the montgomery county police to stop you for only asking you to show them your papers(green card) and then search your car.
I though that montgomery county police is not immigration.. I be waiting for your answer.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
The answer is no.
It is a longstanding County policy that County Police do not inquire about a person’s legal status. I do not want our officers becoming federal immigration police or crossing the line into “profiling” individuals based on their race or ethnicity. I strongly believe that local jurisdictions such as Montgomery County should not substitute their law enforcement efforts for what can only be described as a failure of the federal government to achieve a workable immigration policy.
If a person is arrested or questioned by county police officers, the individual’s name is checked with the National Crime Information Center for any warrant. If there is an outstanding warrant, we detain that person and notify the appropriate law enforcement agency, including ICE.
In February 2009 I changed County policy to ensure that the names of all persons arrested and charged in Montgomery County for crimes of violence or for wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun would be forwarded to the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
As had been our practice, Montgomery County police did not conduct immigration status investigations. Montgomery County police’s role under these circumstances was simply notify ICE of arrestees charged with violent crimes and the specific handgun violation in our custody and allow ICE to perform their duty from that point forward.
Our police did not differentiate among the violent offenders falling into this new policy when charged. They reported the names of all those arrested and charged for these offenses to ICE.
Starting last month, federal ICE began their Secure Communities program in Montgomery County, which gives them automatic access to all arrest information from the County. I did not favor this because I believe our previous policy – which this superseded -- struck the right balance in helping to get “bad” guys off the street. Although I am exploring some options we might have to mitigate this policy, I believe we have no choice.
Even with Secure Communities, however, Montgomery County Police are doing nothing different. We do not inquire about legal status.
Let me also say that for some years Montgomery County has been the home of immigrants in considerable numbers.
I believe that our diversity is a strength – not a weakness. I value the contributions that New Americans have made to build this County.
Alyce from Up County
Dear Mr. Leggett,
It is absolutely shocking to see how many beggers/scammers continue to be active alongside our roadsides.....and, how many people keep rolling down their windows and passing out money.
Montgomery County has an abundance of services to offer and no legitimately needy person must be reduced to holding up a cardboard sign in public in order to receive assistance when times are tough.
What can non-politicians (like myself) do to ensure that legislation banning this activity is passed?....and soon.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. I agree with you. The status quo is not acceptable.
Montgomery County does have a law against aggressive panhandling, defined as persistent, threatening, physical contact, blocking someone’s path, etc. Here, however, is the dilemma: what can the County do when a panhandler is not being aggressive or not breaking the law and refuses assistance in changing his or her ways? Not much.
Additionally, it is not currently a violation of County law to solicit money along County right-of-ways. Past efforts to change the law have raised objections from charitable groups who regularly ask motorists to contribute to their worthy causes, such as the County Fire Fighters’ annual “Fill the Boot” effort.
I had proposed seeking State authority for a permitting system, the purpose of which was to significantly discourage panhandling and other solicitation in the roadway in the County, contributing to better roadside safety and an improvement in quality of life. It would have broadened current prohibitions and made these easier to enforce. The permits would have been for limited duration (24 hours), specific locations, and would have been limited to four a year.
For now, our County’s bid to get the authority to do this has not passed the Maryland General Assembly. In large part that failure was occasioned by advocates of a total ban. I argued that that was too big a step to win approval – and have been proven right. The path of least resistance means that the status quo remains.
I believe this proposal, the result of much study by a Roadside Solicitation Task Force, makes sense. I will continue to advocate for it.
Again, thanks for contacting me.
Patty from Up County
Why are you increasing the budget for Police and the number of Police officers if crime in the County has gone down?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. While crime has been decreasing slightly for the County as a whole, there are still pockets of crime that require a great deal of attention from our Police Department. Part of the reason crime has gone down is that we have invested funds in overtime and other increased costs that we cannot sustain through that process. The increases that I am recommending for the Police Department will allow the Chief to address these issues in a strategic and flexible way while maintaining an adequate level of service for the rest of the County. Additionally, not all work demanded of the Police Department relates directly to the actual crime rate. There are calls for service through 911 that require a police response but do not show up in our crime rate -- suspicious cars or people, false burglar alarms, and a number of incidents that do not result in an arrest. As our population grows, these calls for service will likely increase and require additional police in order to provide timely responses.
Even though crime has gone down during the last few years, the level that we continue to experience is still unacceptable.
Pace from Rockville
Libraries and recreation centers seem so much dirtier and in worse shape than I ever remember them being. Why is this?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We have noticed some deterioration in libraries and other County facilities due to the unprecedented budget shortfalls during the past few years. In order to address this problem, I have increased funds in the FY13 budget for both libraries and the maintenance and upkeep of County facilities. We should see visible improvements over the next few months.
Parker from Mid County
I keep reading about issues related to school funding that the State legislature is proposing. How is this going to affect Montgomery County – and specifically the budget you are recommending?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The State Legislature is considering legislation that will be very damaging to the County's fiscal stability and future. The first is a bill that would shift the cost of teacher's pensions from the State to the County -- a shift that would result in additional costs to the County of up to $70 million once it is fully implemented. Pension costs have been determined by State decisions and policies and have been paid by the State for over 80 years -- there is no reason why that should change -- especially as counties are struggling with the effects of the recession. Other legislation that would alter the structure of legal provisions requiring Counties to maintain current levels of per pupil spending, would impinge on the County's ability to allocate scarce resources. The proposed legislation would provide the State Board of Education with the unfettered ability to judge how dollars are distributed between school boards and other local government functions. This legislation is extraordinary in its usurpation of local government prerogatives and endangers our ability to fund other vital services such as public safety.
Cynthia Harvell from Rockville
WHO OR WHAT EXECUTIVE( NOT THE ADMINSTRORS OF A LOCAL WOMENS TRANSITIONAL SHELTER PROGRAM) SITED IN ROCKVILLE, MD. THAT I NEED TO SPEAK WITH AS AN ADVOCATOR, COMPLAINT RECIPIANT, CONFIDENT FOR A FEW RESIDENTS BASED ON THE STRUTURE OF THE PROGRAMS THE FAILURES, DISRESPECT OF ADULT WOMEN( A ITTLE AGED),30 TO 60 YEARS OLD, THE UNJUSTICE UNFAIRNESS AND UNRULY DISCIPLINARY ABUSIVE ACTIONS OF THEIR HOMELESSNESS PROGRAM IMPLEMENTS IMMATURITY ANGER TO THE DEGREE OF FIGHTING, LEGAL PREPOSITIONS, DISORDERLY CONDUCT FROM STAFF AND DISCRIMMINATION FORM STAFF IN THAT I AM A VICTIM OF SUCH AT THE DOROTH DAY WOMENS TRANSITIONAL SHELTER AND ACTS OF RETAILITATION BECAUSE OF ENTITY REPORTS THAT I HAVE MADE FORM THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO THE POLICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS AND NO REST AND MUCH DISAPPOINTMENTS AND AGGRAVATIONS. NEXT I WILL REPORT THIS POLITICALLY IF NOT HEARD OR ADVOCATED BECAUSE OF MY EXISTING SITUATION FO EVIL AND MISCHIEF. THE DOORS NEED TO BE CLOSED IF THE RIGHT ORGANIZED PLAN OD SUCH PROGRAM
Mr. Leggett: I am sorry to learn of your experience with the Women's Shelter. I urge you to contact the director of the County Department of Health and Human Services, Uma Ahluwalia, to discuss your concerns. She can be reached by calling 240-777-1266.
Thank you for contacting me.
Greg from Up County
President Obama picked the North Carolina Tar Heels to win the NCAA championship. Who's your pick?
Mr. Leggett: I pick Michigan State to win it all. I think the President already has Michigan, but he really needs the state of North Carolina if he is going to win it all in November!
Greg from Silver Spring
Are you willing to lead a more sensible approach to mass transit than the "purple line"? The cost of a dedicated trolley line is too costly for the transportation benefit it promises (compared to bus rapid transit), MTA has admitted (though not lately) that it won't reduce traffic congestion, and it is extremely disrupted to communities and the county's existing recreational resources.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The Purple Line is part of the County's master plan and we are seeking the funding to move forward, working with the state and federal government. Currently, the line is for light rail and this position is not likely to change until or unless this option has been found to be unacceptable financially. Our plans suggest that it is financially feasible and construction could start as early as 2015. Bus rapid transit is something I support and look forward to implementing in several sections of our County in the foreseeable future.
Victor from Rockville
When will the White Flint re-development start, how long will it take to complete, and how much additional tax revenue is projected for the County? what are the main features of the project? thanks you
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Some phases of the redevelopment process have already started and, within the next year, you should see major construction occur on some portions of the corridor. The coordinator for the White Flint project is Dee Metz, and she can be reached at 240-777-2500. The sector plan that describes this project can be found at www.montgomeryplanning.org/community/whiteflint/ .
George from Up County
In an earlier response, you noted the following: "I strongly recommend that all County employees – including those within MCPS, Montgomery College, Park and Planning and WSSC – be provided with compensation increases that do not add to our base compensation budget. It is important that there be parity among all of the County agencies’ 30,000 plus employees." Does your budget include lump-sum compensation adjustments for employees of these agencies or do their budgets include adjustments that add to their respective base budgets?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. My recommended budget assumes funding for MCPS, Montgomery College, Park and Planning and WSSC that meets their requests. I would like to be able to answer your question with a very direct "no." However, the details within these budgets are not within my control. In each of these other agencies, their own governing body (the Board of Education, the Board of Trustees for the College, the Planning Commission and the WSSC Commission, respectively)determines the particulars of employee compensation. However, I have made it clear in my budget message that I hope and expect that these bodies will follow my example and not add to the wage base. Until the County is on more solid fiscal footing, I believe it is prudent to provide lump sum payments rather than increases that add to our wage base.
Kim from Up County
Do you support the marriage equality law recently passed by the maryland legislature and do you believe it will be overturned if placed on the ballot in the fall?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I support the marriage equality legislation recently enacted and signed by the Governor. I hope that it will not be overturned if it is placed on the ballot in November.
Mike from Rockville
I applaud you and your colleagues for laying out a sound and responsible budget for the upcoming year. Yet, MoCo residents are being taxed out of existence. With declining private sector salaries and some of the highest tax burdens in the country (slated to increase further), how do you propose to make life in this area sustainable?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your comments. Since taking office, I have made restoring fiscal prudence a major priority of my Administration. In the face of extraordinary economic conditions, I have closed a gap of $2.6 billion over six years. We did this by establishing cost containment strategies and making productivity improvements that have slowed the rate of growth in the operating budget to zero over my first five years in office. These actions have saved County taxpayers millions of dollars.
This FY13 budget continues that work to establish a sustainable path forward. I have recommended property taxes below the Charter limit. The average homeowner will see just a $4 increase. Also, the restorations in this budget strategically focus on our highest priorities - public safety, our youth, education and our most vulnerable, including senior citizens. These restorations do not bring County spending even to the level it was five years ago.
I am optimistic about the future of our County and our ability to move forward in a sustainable way that will continue to meet the needs of our residents.
Paul from Silver Spring
Why doesn’t your capital budget include money for the new Bethesda Metro elevator or the trail for the Purple Line ?
Mr. Leggett: I support the Purple Line. However, I do not believe that providing the funds in our capital budget at this time is a wise decision. Neither the state nor the federal government have committed construction funds for the Purple Line. Without these commitments from these sources, this $2 billion project is not likely to move forward. Therefore, I chose to commit scarce County funds to other important projects that have a clear probability of moving forward now. I believe it is in the best interests of this County to commit County funds to the construction of Purple Line related projects only when there is a commitment from the state and federal government to fund the construction of the Purple Line.
Rosemary from Up County
How reliable are the Master Plans that the County sets forth; that is, can the residents of Montgomery County count on these Master Plans, when they are choosing where to live? Please try to be as complete, direct, and honest as you can be. I sincerely appreciate your time and attention to this question. Also, thanks so very much for your service to Montgomery County, a place I've called home for almost a half century!
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Land use planning is among the most important and fundamental functions of local government. Therefore I believe the process must be competent, transparent, and inclusive of stakeholders. I believe that Montgomery County has a tradition of planning that exemplifies these values. Master Plans are highly respected by the Executive and Legislative branches. While not completely perfect because they must contain the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, they certainly provide a reliable framework to those seeking to buy homes or establish businesses in particular planning areas. Thanks for your kind words.
Vincent from Mid County
With just a few years left in your administration, what are your top priorities before your term expires? Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I greatly enjoy my public service to the people of Montgomery County. My priorities during the next three years are the same as those that I brought to the office when elected in 2006. It is essential that the County's fiscal house be in order and that spending policies sustain our quality of life and promote economic growth. We will maintain a world class education system that includes MCPS, Montgomery College, other undergraduate and graduate opportunities. Our communites will be safe with adequate police and fire protection. We will continue to foster the growth and development of our already successful biomedical industry. Key to all of this is the ability to have a first-class transportation system and ensuring a healthy environment for all of us to live, work and play. Affordable housing remains among the most challenging of my priorities, nevertheless, working in close partnership with the developers, non- profit organizations, and other government agencies, I remain committed to preserving and increasing the number of units. And I strongly believe that a County that has as many assets as we have, must seek, in partnership with community agencies, to care for the most vulnerable people in our community.
Mihir from Rockville
Given that the recent explosion in the number of speed cameras, as well as more creative ways to catch citizens and make them pay a fine to the police state, how is there still a budget shortfall? Is it because the speed camera manufacturers are profiting instead of the county?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. I get this question each time I go online for a live chat. The truth is the County makes relatively little money from speed cameras. Our total County budget is $4.6 billion per year. The fines we collect from violators is not terribly significant in this equation. However, having safer roads, especially near public schools and pedestrian areas is a benefit that really makes a difference. I always remind people when they write me about speed cameras that they have the option not to speed.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining us today. Unfortunately, we are out of time, but I hope you will mark your calendar for the next online discussion on April 18 at 1 p.m.