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 (Wednesday, April 18, 2012)

Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me for today's live discussion. Let's get started.

John from Eastern Montgomery
Mr. Leggett, I understand that there are no term limits for the position of Montgomery County executive. Are you planning on seeking a third term?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have said before that I would serve only two terms as Montgomery County Executive. I was elected to my second four-year term about 18 months ago. I will not be a candidate for any office in the next election.

jhon from Silver Spring
I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed but, sometimes I think politicians are not the sharpest tool neither. Tell me why ( and I understand the plastic bag issue) if I recycle paper products why am I charge for paper bags at stores. Why aren't you charging for boxes, newspapers and the like. I fail to see the logic in this other than it is a pure money grab. At least be consistent- charge for all recyclable paper products just not bags !!

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question on the bag law. Actually, this is an instance where we would actually consider declining revenues from this legislation a win, because it means fewer bags in circulation and less government dollars spent on litter clean-up. The anticipated revenue from this is less than $1 million and will continue to go down. This is very small in comparison to a $4.6 billion budget. The purpose of this law is environmental and to save the County on the $3 million in trash cleanup annually. As our neighbors in the District have found over the past year, a bag law such as ours is an effective way to help the environment and businesses have found that it helps them save money, as well, as they can order smaller quantities of plastic and paper bags. They have not found it to be any detriment to business or found that consumers are going to Virginia, Montgomery County or elsewhere because of a nickel. The number of plastic bags removed from District of Columbia waterways has declined 65 percent since the bag law there went into effect. Bags comprise one-third of the litter found in County streams and stormwater ponds. In 2009, the County spent approximately $3 million for litter prevention and clean-up programs, alone. The bag law can help reduce these costs. After administrative costs, all remaining revenue would go to the Water Quality Protection Fund which programs resources to help maintain our rivers and streams throughout the County. This law will cost nothing if you use non-disposable bags, which we are making available in the tens of thousands free of charge, with distribution focusing on the low-income and seniors communities. We have already distributed 70,000 bags. The law includes both plastic and paper bags. Paper bags use wood products, require printing, consume vast amounts of energy, and are more expensive to retailers than plastic bags. Statistics indicate that each year, Americans use about 10 billion paper bags and some 14 million trees are cut down annually for paper bag production. In addition, chemicals are used to process wood pulp to paper, and paper that isn’t recycled and ends up in landfills cannot completely degrade due to the lack of water, light and oxygen. I hope this information is helpful.

Gene A. Saxman from Mid County
Why can't you balance a budget? Instead of raising taxes,fees (i.e., ambulance fees). Reduce unnecessary spending! Stop being a supporter of illegals and a sanctuary County. Cut those funds and stop asking legal and hard working residents to protect your voting base.

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for sending in your question. I understand your concern about taxes. In the recommended budget I have sent to the County Council for the coming year, I am actually recommending that property tax revenue collected by the County be $26 million LESS than that allowed under the County Charter. That means essentially no increase in property taxes for County homeowners. In fact, including all County taxes, the average household tax burden is $114 less this year than last, when adjusted for inflation, and $530 less than in 2009. In addition, the percentage of County taxes as a share of personal income is at its lowest percentage since 2003. 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 created a long-term structural deficit in the County budget. For my five years in office, the total increase in County government tax-supported spending has been – in real terms – zero. 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 five years, I have closed $2.6 billion in budget shortfalls. I have eliminated more than 10 percent of the County’s workforce. This hasn’t been easy. It has meant hard choices. And it has meant sacrifices, both from residents who have had to make do with reduced services and pay increased taxes -- and from employees. Of course, since you mention the proposed Emergency Medical Services reimbursement program I should remind you that, by law, County residents will not even receive a bill and will not pay one dime. Revenue will come from premiums already collected from County residents by insurance companies and the federal government, just as in all of our neighboring jurisdictions, where there have been no negative impacts of any kind. Absent the revenues from the EMS, it would certainly mean an increase in taxes -- which is what we are trying to avoid. As for being “a supporter of illegals” and not “cracking down on my voting base,” my voting base is the entire County, and I won nearly two-thirds of the vote in each of my County Executive races. If you study the numbers carefully, you will see that the Latino vote is a relatively small percentage of the overall voters in the County. I value our diversity in Montgomery County and I support our longstanding policy of serving all of our residents. Immigration is, of course, a sticky issue and local jurisdictions are caught in the middle due to the continuing inability of the federal government to tackle meaningful immigration reform. I hope that changes. Thank you for your question.

cherie from Silver Spring
I am disabled, and applied for section 8 housing, four years ago, and still I have not received no response from the housing opportunities commission.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your message. I’m sorry about your situation. If you call Richard Nelson, director of the County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs at 240-777-1136, he will contact the Housing Opportunities Commission to review your case.

Beemnet Kebede from Silver Spring
Mr. Leggett: Why will you not work to save Nick's farm? This is a concern of my entire school, Montgomery Blair High School.

Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. As you may know, the 20 acres leased by a private commercial farm for the past 30 years for $1,500 a year is publicly-owned land that, under the Potomac Master Plan, should be used for ballfields if it is not used for a school. The County leased the land last year from the Board of Education for the purpose of constructing desperately-needed soccer fields for kids to meet growing demand. I met with the private commercial farmer and walked the County’s land with him. The County offered to relocate him on other properties in the 90,000 acre County agriculture reserve. He declined that possibility. In the Request for Qualifications issued by our Department of General Services to seek private entities to “partner” with the County, the County included a preference for “dual use” proposals that included soccer fields and left open the possibility for other community amenities, including farming. We received one qualified proposal in response to our Request for Qualifications, from Montgomery Soccer Inc. Their proposal actually included a space for an Organic Agricultural Education Center. Our Department of General Services concluded negotiations with MSI, advertised the sublease as required by law, and gathered comments. The majority of comments submitted that included some address were in favor of the sublease. You can go to soccer.asp to see the sublease. The sublease incorporates legally (section 6a, page 5) items outlined in the proposal and amendments that prohibit artificial turf, lighting, and public address systems on the property The sublease was signed by the Chief Administrative Officer on April 13 and notice sent to the selectee to begin work. The commercial farmer has a licensing agreement with the County that allows him to use the land until August. I value organic farming and still believe that we can accommodate far more than the current 20 acres in other locations of the County. I hope this information is helpful.

Arnold from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
In 2005 —the UN designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27, the anniversary date of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to commemorate the victims of the Nazi era especially the brutal murder of 1.5 million innocent children. It is being honored worldwide including North America. Subsequently the 3rd week of April was added in the USA as the Days of Remembrance. As a survivor of the Nazi occupation of France and former concentration camp inmate , I personally heard President Obama’s moving speech at the Capitol, the year when this commemorative event was established by him, I believe. In most USA communities the Days of Remembrance are commemorated – Montgomery County is not one them. My Question: Why are you, as County Executive, disregarding these unforgettable tragic events as you are, for that matter, omitting anything of interest relating to Jews or Judaism in your county ? Is this compatible with your vaunted emphasis on ethnic d

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The tragic events and the victims of the Holocaust must nver be forgotten. My administration works very closely with the Jewish community in Montgomery county on many fronts. In fact, I will be attending an annual event sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council this Sunday at Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase. I am open to even further commemorative recognitions, and we will consider the suggestion you made. Montgomery County has a long history of working closely with our significant and active Jewish community. The school system honors some Jewish holidays; the county government provides substantial funding for Jewish social service organizations; our police regularly provide security for major Jewish events and religious holidays. I have made three visits to Israel, the last in 2007 to help strengthen economic and cultural ties. I recently hosted a reception for the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. at a concert at Strathmore Music Center at which Itzak Perlman performed. Montgomery County maintains a very special bond with the Jewish community, and I will continue my efforts to strengthen them even further.

John from Eastern Montgomery
Mr. Leggett, I am interested to know why you are resubmitting the EMS fee legislation. We all understand that you think its a good idea, and you think its needed. so I am not really asking why you think we should have an EMS fee. I am wanting to know why you are reintroducing legislation that voters shot down. It wasn't even close, there was a pretty large margin, so clearly the people of Montgomery County have no interest in an EMS fee. Why are you completely disregarding the referendum?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Since the referendum of 2010, there have been unprecedented changes on the state level that have adversely affected Montgomery County revenue. Unfortunately, the State of Maryland recently decided to shift over $400 million over ten years in state teacher pension costs to Montgomery County. In addition, they passed a new Maintenance of Effort law that may force us to have to set aside an additional $20 to $30 million more that could adversely affect our Triple-A bond rating. These are changed circumstances of monumental importance. These changes were not before the voters in 2010 when they rejected EMS reimbursement. By the way, the result was so close – despite the scare campaign by opponents -- that if even only 4 voters out of every 100 had voted the other way, the law would have passed. Either you allow the County to request reimbursement from insurance companies and the federal government from premiums already paid to them -- just as nearly everybody else in the region does – or you raise taxes even further or cut services that have already been reduced while closing budget shortfalls of $2.6 billion over the past five years. The $180 million we would collect from insurance companies and the federal government would go a long way toward offsetting a significant portion of that $400 million cost shift. It would be irresponsible not to take $18 million every year that’s sitting on the table to be collected – without costing County residents one dime. Sure, we could raise taxes and cut services – a lot – to meet the $400 million cost shift from the State but – really – why should we? That is the choice that needs to be made under today's changed circumstances, not what was decided in 2010.

Deborah Walker from Up County
Why is it that I see families put on to the street, and them state have to put them in a shelter and pay for them to stay there and when they find a new program you pay for them to get a new place and then have to replace everything for there new place I have a better way for everyone, tax payers to stop having our tax money going to waste.

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. One of the most important functions of government is to ensure that there is a safety net in place for people who are vulnerable. Montgomery County works closely with the state and many non-profit and faith-based organizations to maintain an efficient safety net system. The aim of the program is to help individuals and families achieve self suficiency. This can be challenging for people with multiple problems. I believe we use taxpayer funds very wisely and efficiently in our partnerships with non-profit groups in addressing the community's most vulnerable.

Pamela from Silver Spring
Are any plans being made to manage traffic on Georgia Avenue once the new COSTCO and the new Safeway with additional living quarters are completed? Thanks!

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Yes, we are reviewing the traffic plans with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the state to ensure that traffic continues to move in a safe and efficient manner in the Wheaton area. Following the opening, we will re-evaluate the situation and make any adjustments that are necessary.

Rose from Up County
Does your FY 13 budget include the $260k in costs to establish and implement the panhandling permit system in DPS which you advocated for in the just ended legislative session?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The status quo on panhandling in the County is not acceptable. I recommended and very much hoped that the Maryland General Assembly would have enacted enabling legislation in order for the County to implement a permitting system. This legislation was not enacted. I look forward to working with our local representatives to the Assembly in the coming months to prepare for the 2013 session.

Benson from Rockville
Are enough resources allocated for traffic control including manpower, funding and priority for timely road sensor installation/repair/replacement/upgrade? Are traffic patterns monitored and studied sufficiently to generate and maintain efficient traffic flow? What effect/authority does Maryland SHA have on traffic flow controls?

Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have devoted significant resources to our Transportation Management Center in my proposed Fiscal Year 13 Operating Budget so that the County is able to continue the upgrade of our computerized traffic signal system, and improve traffic flow by coordinating traffic signals throughout the County. Also, traffic patterns are monitored 24/7 by transportation staff in our state-of-the-art Transportation Management Center, especially during rush hour or when there are traffic incidents. Our County Department of Transportation (DOT) works closely with the State Highway Administration (SHA) on all issues related to State roads, however, our DOT has the authority to control traffic signalization in the County on all State roads. We will continue to evaluate our resources and the need for even greater improvements in DOT.

Mr. Leggett: Unfortunately, that's all we have time for today. I hope you will mark your calendar for our next live discussion, scheduled for May 23 at 1 p.m. I am also holding a Town Hall Meeting on May 3 at 7 p.m. in the Friendship Heights Village Center in Chevy Chase. I hope to see you there.