Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, June 13, 2012)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's Live Discussion. Thank you for joining me. I am looking forward to answering your questions, so let us get started.
James from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
There are an ever increasing number of panhandlers in the Bethesda area. Many of them have fake injuires and use crutches to wander through the traffic, then when the traffic clears they walk back to corner normally. From my observations they make quite bit of money. There must be some way to discourage this activity. I would like see some of this activity documented with the video cameras that are on every corner and made make public service video telling people not to support this type of acitvity.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. Almost every time I do one of these on-line chats, I hear about panhandling. I agree that the status quo is not working.
Montgomery County has responded to the panhandling issue in a number of different ways. The County has increased its funding for homeless shelters. Our Department of Health & Human Services engages panhandlers with mental health and substance abuse problems, to help them to address those problems and get them off the street. When it comes to abusive or law-breaking individuals, our Police Department is involved.
Montgomery County does have a law against aggressive panhandling, defined as persistence, threatening, physical contact, and blocking someone’s path. But if a panhandler is not being aggressive or not breaking the law and refuses assistance in changing his or her ways, Police may just ask panhandlers to “move along.”
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 make 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.
Just this past April, the Maryland General Assembly finally passed legislation to let us do just that. I will be shortly sending a bill to the County Council for their approval.
Thank you for writing.
James from Rockville
I recently read in the Washington Post or Gaithersburg Gazette that you have proposed increasing the real estate taxes of home owners who live with 1/2 mile of the ICC. Is that true and if so, why would you target those home owners? Haven't we been "punished" enough with the pollution and noise from the increased traffic near the ICC? We live in an older development that is bordered by Midcounty, Shady Grove Road and Muncaster Mill Road and is a very short distance from an overpass of the ICC. Traffic is very heavy at all times of the day.
I agree that the ICC isn't being utilized as much as was expected. Just recently I traveled to White Flint via Muncaster Mill Road and Connecticut Avenue. The traffic was backed up all along those roads, and this was on a Sunday afternoon.
On another note--why does the county buy houses in very expensive neighborhoods and pay the bulk of the mortgage for low income residents?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to. There are no plans to increase property taxes for communities just because they lie along the ICC. Perhaps you are referring to a report I’ve just received from the County’s Transit Task Force concerning a future 160-mile Bus Rapid Transit system in the County.
I am interested in ways that a comprehensive Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system could help relieve traffic congestion in the County and foster economic development that could result in good jobs and an even stronger County tax base. The “Devil” is indeed in the details – most especially the financing.
I believe that any property tax increase tied to BRT development must be very carefully weighed, given the state of the economy and the already existing tax burden. The project is worthwhile and can be done in pieces over a period of years to mitigate the fiscal impact.
On your last question, your assertion is not correct. The County does not purchase homes in very expensive neighborhoods and pay the bulk of the mortgage for low income residents.
Mike from Up County
County Executive Leggett,
I am an MCPS employee and have found affordable housing limited in Montgomery County. Many of my colleagues, and other essential county employees, have no choice but to seek housing elsewhere. In many cases over an hour from work. This puts a strain on individuals and does much to minimize ones effectiveness and also their quality of life. I would hope that there is an aggressive initiative for the county to house its workforce.
My question to you is, what is being done by you and the Council to encourage more affordable housing?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
During the past several years, notwithstanding the fiscal challenges, I have maintained a focus on creating and preserving affordable housing in the County.
We have increased our affordable housing investment by providing $166 million to the Housing Initiative Fund over the past five years, enabling us to take on more and more projects, partnering with for-profit and non-profit entities.
We have added more than 2,800 affordable units over the past five years and preserved through acquisition and rehabilitation 3,600 more. Just this month, we will break ground on hundreds of additional units of affordable housing operated by Victory Housing in Rockville – all seniors’ housing – and at Bowie Mill in Olney – both in partnership with the County. In addition, my Smart Growth Initiative will shift County facilities from around the Shady Grove Metro to make room for thousands of units of affordable, transit-oriented housing units, right next to Metro.
Last year, I was awarded by the Regional Housing Association of the Metropolitan Area for my leadership in advancing affordable housing during one of the most difficult economic times in our area's history.
There’s much more we can and should do. I will continue to make affordable housing a priority.
Lana from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Why are the people who have alarm systems in their homes or businesses singled out to pay a FEE a.k.a. tax for having an alarm. Although the fee is minimal,($10) every other year, it is really a tax in disguise. People who have false alarms are charged for them on an increasing basis..So why is it necessary to tax them for having an alarm? The explanation for this fee is lame. It is really a tax and should be called by the name it is. It is just another way for the county to tax wealthier citizens. Now the State wants to tax us more, especially Montgomery County. What does Mr. Leggett think about this alarm tax? It cannot possibly be as stated that the fee is because they need more officers to answer alarms? If there is a true alarm, then the police should come for the emergency. It is part of their job to protect the citizens. Again, if it was false, the county charges us for it. It is NOT a fee, it is a TAX on certain individuals with money to get alarm systems.
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your question.
The $10 biennial alarm fee is used to cover part of administrative duties involved with alarms - duties such as the licensing of alarm companies to help ensure that qualified individuals are installing alarm systems, registration and renewal of alarm users to help speed up the dispatch of police officers to alarm activations, and outreach to major false alarm offenders to free up police officers to respond to other types of citizen calls for help.
The fees paid by people who repeatedly have false alarms go toward the patrol costs for response to false alarms. Ninety-eight percent of all requests for dispatch to burglar alarm activations, after investigation, were false alarms. In 1994, the year just prior to enforcement of a completely revamped alarm law, police responded to almost 43,000 false alarms. The officers responding to those false alarms were not otherwise available for calls for service, which puts the entire community at greater risk.
Montgomery County has a model alarm law that has been emulated by many jurisdictions because we have been successful in reducing the number of false alarms. We have reduced false alarms by about 62% even while the number of alarm users has gone up more than 150% since 1994.
You express concern about the biennial cost being called a fee, instead of a tax. A tax is commonly a charge imposed by a government on a service, product, or activity in order to raise revenue. That is definitely not the case with the alarm fee. We are looking to protect public safety by creating a disincentive for repeated false alarms.
Jim from Silver Spring
I hate to say it, but all the scammy "$300 for junk cars" signs plastered on every telephone pole is making our county look like a third world country. Can the county do anything about this blight?
Mr. Leggett: I agree with you. It is illegal to place signs in the County right-of-way, on utility poles, and in medians. The Department of Permitting Services enforces this law. You can help by reporting violations to 311 or by going to the web portal at www.mc311.com. We will try to address these violations as quickly as possible.
Martha from Up County
I am writing to express my opinion concerning the proposed road widening on Wightman Road. I have owned the property at 9333 Sparrow Valley Dr since April of 1990 and until family circumstances intervened, I lived there until November of 2008. The entire north end of the Village has been sought after for years as a very desirable place to live. It has always lived up to its reputation as a quiet, family oriented area of greater Gaithersburg. That will all change if developers and political interests are put ahead of the best interests of the city and it's constituents. I am absolutely opposed to ruining the natural environment of Wightman Road and altering the character of the area from suburban residential to urban.
Martha Morris , owner 9333 Sparrow Valley Dr
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The Wightman Road option is one of six options being considered for the Mid-County Highway project. The study of that option is one that is required by federal authorities. If this option were selected, we recognize that it would have a great impact on the community – and this is certainly one of the factors we take very seriously in determining which option to select. We welcome your input. It is very important and we will be carefully considering all the community input we receive on this project before moving forward. I encourage you to continue to monitor the progress of the Mid-County study and provide further comments.
Carol from Eastern Montgomery
Mr. Leggett, regarding Route 29 at New Hampshire Ave. - This is a bottleneck that I have to endure every morning. Will the State/County ever widen Rt 29 to three lanes there to relieve the daily traffic jam which occurs because the through-lanes go from 3 to 2 and then back to 3 again over the bridge? Also, why is the grass 2 feet tall along Rt. 29? It is embarrassing!
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question. Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650) are both State highways, so these are State rather than County issues.
With respect to the width of US 29 as it overpasses New Hampshire Avenue., it does have three through lanes in the northbound direction. However, it only has two through lanes in the southbound direction. The third (rightmost) lane in the southbound direction must exit at the loop ramp to New Hampshire Ave. This was done for a specific reason, at the request of commuters in the neighborhoods along New Hampshire, so that in the morning peak traffic period commuters coming from southbound New Hampshire to southbound US 29 would have an uninterrupted merge to US 29. Since this was directly requested by a substantial segment of the commuting public, and since the right-of-way is limited in this area, the State is unlikely to add a third through lane in the southbound direction.
I understand your frustration with tall grass. As earlier stated, the road is owned by State Highway Administration (SHA), and they do the maintenance. I am forwarding your request to them. In the future, you can contact SHA using the form at this link:
or by phoning the District Engineer’s Office in Greenbelt at 301-513-7300.
Karl from Up County
I would like some clarification on who is running the vast majority of employees of the County? If it is not you, shouldn’t we the citizens be electing the School Superintendent since he is in charge of over half the budget? If you and the Council cannot get a hold of our largest expenditure and curb their appetite for raises, increased demands by retirement funds and additional days off. Then the employees of other unions in the County that actually run it will also demand the same attention. We are tired of our taxes and fees increasing to appease those who have kids in the system. Your comments, please.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system is overseen by an elected seven-member Board of Education. The operation and authority granted to the Board of Education is determined by State law and not County law. This Board selects the Superintendent of Schools. Based on State law, the County Executive has a limited role with regard to the school system. I review the Board of Education's recommended operating and capital budgets and make a recommendation for funding the school system to the County Council. Even though I may disagree with some of the decisions that the Board regarding expenditures, I do not control or set the pay for MCPS employees. That is the purview of the Board of Education.
I understand your concerns about the pay raises that the Board of Education awarded to teachers for the upcoming fiscal year. Because I felt that after three years with no pay increases, and because we are still facing an uncertain fiscal future, I recommended a flat $2,000 increase for our employees in County government, including police and firefighters. This $2,000 increase will not be added to their base salary. I asked our Board of Education and School Superintendent to consider the same pay increase for school employees. However, as you know, the Board of Education chose to give their employees both Cost of Living and increment increases for those employees who are eligible. I disagreed with this decision, but I do not have the authority to reverse it.
Fred from Silver Spring
I’m from down county but I am very concerned about what is planned for the County’s brickyard property in Potomac. I was a soccer dad, coached soccer for more than 10 years and both my kids were avid soccer players. But the organic farm that has been developed over 30 years on this county land is potentially a huge asset to all of us who live in Montgomery County. It’s proposed use as a learning center would be a great benefit for the entire county. Isn’t there something that can be done to stop the senseless plans to destroy this asset in the name of yet more soccer fields?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
As you may know, the 20 acres leased by a private commercial farmer for the past 30 years for $1,500 a year are publicly-owned land that under the Potomac Master Plan is specifically designated to be used for ball fields 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 youth to meet growing demand. There are only a little over 100 rectangular regulation fields in the entire County for soccer, football, lacrosse, and other such sports.
I agree that organic farming is important. My objective was to increase the amount of organic farming in the County and provide additional fields for soccer. In this regard, I met with the private commercial farmer and walked the land with him. The County offered to relocate him on other properties in the 90,000 acre County agriculture reserve. This not only would have maintained organic farming, but could have substantially increased the number of acres far and above what he currently farms. He declined that offer.
From the time the County rented the tract from the County Board of Education in the spring of 2011, the County engaged the community on uses for the land and followed its standard open process. The County held two large public meetings to garner feedback and ideas from the community. These meetings resulted in ideas being incorporated into the Request for Qualifications later issued.
In the Request for Qualifications issued by our Department of General Services to seek private entities to “partner” with the County in a public-private partnership, the County included a preference for “dual use” proposals that included soccer fields and left open the possibility for other community amenities, including agriculture. The process was wide open to all potential bidders and there were no “deals” of any kind.
We received one qualified proposal in response to our Request for Qualifications, from Montgomery Soccer Inc., a non-profit youth soccer organization. Their proposal actually included a space for an Organic Agricultural Education Center.
The project will go before the County Planning Commission under the Mandatory Referral process. The commercial farmer has a licensing agreement with the County that allows him to use the land until August. I remain open to helping the farmer find alternative locations in the County for organic farming.
angie milano from Up County
The roads in my colesville neighborhood are in rough condition. How can I find out when the county will resurface these roads and what technique will be used?
In general East County roads need attention. What is the county doing to maintain our roadways?
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question.
The County Department of Transportation has developed a pavement condition assessment and associated ratings of all 5,100 lane miles of county maintained pavements beginning with a 2008 condition survey followed by a 2010 condition survey.
You are right that road resurfacing is needed in many areas throughout our residential communities. The challenge over the past five years has been the sagging economy and its effect on many county programs including the Residential Resurfacing Program. In the recently approved six-year Capital Program, the county government is committing more funding to the residential resurfacing program than ever before.
The complete list of repaving projects for the upcoming season may be found on the County’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcdot. Go to “Highway” and go to Paving Projects, Concrete Work and Roadway and Related Maintenance for more information about these specific projects.
In the meantime, I invite you and your neighbors to report pavement issues such as potholes to our 311 Call Center or by going to www.mc311.com.
Suhasini from Silver Spring
My question is why is to so difficult to get job with the Montgomery county. I have an MBA and a number of years of experience. I am unemployed right now and I would love to use my experience and skills very much. But hiring is so difficult. I have three kids and a husband who is physically challenged. I need to take care of my family, instead of giving us welfare why not employ us. I struggled hard to put myself through University and now my kids who are in college are wondering why should they be in College, instead they can start small and climb up the ladder, which is the norm nowadays.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, over the past three years, we have eliminated more than 1,200 positions and are hiring very few employees outside of public safety, transit and libraries. I encourage you to continue to monitor our job openings on the County website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/careers.
Phyllis from Up County
The discussion of the new bus system/network is happening without any MoCo public input. It is like we are being told "don't worry, we politicians know better and since this is such a priority, we'll get your opinion later when we might have some time." This will be much later when it is all set in concrete! Why did you support Mark Winston's decision to short change the citizens of Montgomery County and eliminate the public comment step specified in the Task Force's work plan? Why are the preliminary, yet very illustrative, detailed route aerials done by The Traffic Group not publi available?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am pleased that you are interested in commenting on the report of my Rapid Transit Vehicle (RTV) Task Force. We are planning to hold a public hearing on the report in mid-July. A date for the hearing will be announced shortly.
I am looking forward to hearing from both our residents and business owners about the RTV proposal, including the planned routes and methods for financing the system. In addition to our public hearing, there will be many other opportunities for public input, both at the County Council when it considers the report, and at the Planning Board when it takes up the more detailed aspects of the RTV system.
As for the availability of the detailed route aerials, they were not included in the report because of their extremely large size. However, we will make these documents available to anyone who makes a request. Please contact our Public Information Officer, Patrick Lacefield at 240-777-6507.
Fred from Rockville
My name is Fred Begosh and I live at 6700 Heatherford Ct. Derwood MD 20855.
The I.C.C. is in my back yard and the traffic flows through a tunnel.
There is something wrong with the road.
The trucks are very loud anyway and when they run over a bump in the road it vibrates even louder.
I shudder when a large truck or vehicle comes near and I brace myself for the loud noise.
I honestly feel as though I am going to have a heart attack or a nervous breakdown.
I have spoken with the local newspapers in prior years and they have published some negative articles and I feel as though I will have to contact them again if nothing is done.
This is by no means a threat, just a fact.
PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE have someone work with me before this gets out of hand.
I am also thinking about hiring a lawyer. My thoughts are that there are some laws being broken because of the noise.
I am quite sure that there are some lawyers that would love this case.
There appears to be some violation with
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am sorry for all of the challenges you are experiencing. This is a State road, and I will pass along your concerns to the appropriate State officials. Let's see what can be done.
Mr. Leggett: We are out of time, unfortunately. I hope you will join me for the next Live Discussion on Wednesday, September 19 at 1 p.m. I hope everyone has a good summer.