Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, March 20, 2008)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's Live Discussion with County Executive Ike Leggett.
Rita from Silver Spring
Why are you planning to take away the free bus services for kids that depend on it to get home after school? Do you realize how many of our children in this county use this service? Why don't you raise the sales tax or real property tax. Our children don't deserve this cut!!
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. My recommendation does not include a reduction in this program. It will continue as currently funded.
CABRENA TURNER from Up County
WHEN IS AFFORDABLE HOUSING GOING TO BE ADDRESSED, I AM A MOTHER WITH FOUR KIDS AND CAN'T AFFORD HOUSING AND I MAKE 14.00 AN HOUR, NEITHER AFFORD AN APARTMENT...WENT TO SOCIAL SERVICES AND TOLD THERE IS NO PLACE FOR ME TO LIVE NOR SHELTERS FOR ME TO GO
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We've already started to address the problem. In last year's budget, I increased the Housing Initiative Fund by 50 percent to assist in the acquisition and expansion of programs for affordable housing. In my recommendation for next year, I've increased the amount to $54 million, which is more than double the amount in the fund when I first assumed office. I anticipate that by fiscal year 2011, we expect to increase the fund to more than $100 million. In addition, we will be unveiling our Affordable Housing Task Force recommendation on April 4, with a series of recommendations to further address affordable housing.
In the meantime, please contact Jennifer Hughes in my office at 240-777-2500.
Carol from Silver Spring
We are new to Maryland and to Montgomery County. I recognize and acknowledge constraints on fiscal planning and budgeting. However, would you please describe where you feel children's mental health falls within your priorities. Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and welcome to Montgomery County. This is among my top priorities. We have devoted considerable funds through Montgomery Cares program and other initiatives, and I am recommending additional funds in the next year's budget to address this important issue. You can link to my budget recommendations from our home page for more details.
Fred from Up County
There seems to be alot of press lately about the proposed Montgomery County property tax increases along with all of the Maryland State tax increases that Maryland citizens face.
What reassusrances can you offer MoCO residents that we will not see any more tax increases in the forseeable future?
It is a real drain to our personal finances, as almost that everything we consume (food and gas prices, car registration fees, metro fares, utilities, taxes) have increased, while our paychecks remain flat.
Thanks, Fred, a concerned Montgomery County citizen for over 37 years.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you, Fred, for your question. I am the sponsor of the measures in our legislation that restrict the County's ability to increase property taxes. It was very challenging and difficult for me, given my record of restraint on the issue of taxes, to recommend an increase. My recommendation came after I reduced the FY07 budget increase from 14.1 percent to 6.7 percent last year. Today, I am recommending that the budget increase be dropped further to 1.6 percent of the County's tax-supported budget. This is the lowest rate of increase in 12 years. In addition, we have made significant reductions in the size of the workforce and taken a variety of other cost-saving measures that closed an unprecedented $400 million deficit. Despite all of this, we face the prospect of a $200 million shortfall next year. We expect the economy and conditions to change, and we will make even further reductions in order to avoid further increases in taxes in the future.
Juan from Up County
Mr. Leggett -- What specific measures are you taking to reduce gang activity/violence in Montgomery County. I understand that you decided to focus attention on Germantown, Wheaton, and Silver Spring. That concerns me with the obvious gang activity, especially near and at Lakeforrest Mall. Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. In response to an increase in gang activity here and throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, I initiated a comprehensive initiative focusing on prevention, intervention and enforcement. While the three areas you mentioned are part of this initiative, the Police Department has been working hard to address the problems at Lake Forest Mall and other areas of the County. I understand the need to address this problem wherever it is manifested and will continue to do so. If you have specific concerns, please call your local district station. Thank you again.
Charles from Rockville
It is my understanding that the County only get a small percentage of the fees collected from the recently installed speeding cameras. Is that true and what is the percentage that the county receives. If it is less than 60 % is the county planning to renegotiate their percentage of funds received. I hate to think that i am putting money onto private companies pockets for big salaries for management rather than county services. Why didn't the county purchase the cameras, install and operate them themselves rather than pay what amounts to a rental fee from a private contractor?????
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Based on our analysis, it is more cost effective to provide this service through a private contractor. Under the contract, we pay a flat fee, and the County receives significantly more than 60 percent.
Gary from Up County
Dear Mr. Leggett,
The Washington Post recently reported that county police officers who were caught speeding by the speed cameras refused to pay the fines, on advice of the police union. Some of them were even shown giving a vulgar sign on camera. I found this quite outrageous and arrogant. No one is above the law, even if he or she is wearing the badge! Those officers demonstrated bad attitudes and should be fired! We don't need people like them in Montgomery County when there are a lot of people applying for positions in the police department.
Mr. Leggett: I agree with you that these officers need to be held accountable for their illegal speeding. The Police Chief is working hard to enforce that accountability. You have my commitment that we will continue to pursue our efforts to hold all County employees accountable for their activities when they are using County property.
Chuck from Up County
Many of the historically black communities have been making do with run-down dilapidated community centers for decades. It appears anyone who sits in the County Executive's chair has told these communities: "not this time.....you'll have to wait."
These communities have been waiting for decades. You had an opportunity to address this problem by fulfilling a campaign promise you made. While you state there is no money in the budget to address this in the CIP, spending in the CIP has increased, not decreased for FY 2009-10.
Additionally, you have told these communities to again "wait", without giving any specifics to how long and when. In doing so, these communities have been made to feel, not only will do they get snubbed again, but it apparently does not matter who sits in the County Executive's chair, all politicians are the same.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Your assessment is incorrect. We have provided huge sums of revenues to historically black communities for recreation centers. The Coffield Community Center is a NEW center in Laytonsville that cost a considerable amount of money and serves a very large African American community. In addition, the NEW Eastern County Community Center off of Briggs Chaney Road serves one of the largest African American communities in the entire County. There is also another center in Fairland that serves a large number of predominantly African American residents. I promised to address additional centers such as Ross Boddy, Scotland, Good Hope and Plum Gar. I've included monies to start the design for a completely new center at Plum Gar in the current six-year CIP and will look next year to include Ross Boddy, Scotland and Good Hope, as well. In the meantime, we've already allocated funds to do interim repairs to keep these centers operational until they can be replaced. The entire CIP for the County increased by only 1.1 percent. This includes funds for libraries, community centers, fire stations, health clinics and police stations, which directly serve the communities you are concerned about. It will be helpful in the future to more accurately reflect what I am doing and have done in this budget, as well as past budgets, to address challenges the County faces in some historically underserved communities.
Nate from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
I am worried that your recently proposed budget cuts will have a negative impact on public safety. Particularly concerning are the changes within the police department. The elimination of community policing officers, as well as the entire Community Services Division - responsible for volunteer/internship programs and many other initiatives to connect police with the public, is simply unacceptable. Even more outrageous are the cuts in the hiring and training of new officers, which will result in fewer officers on our streets. How can public safety be a priority when not properly funded?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I share your concern that public safety in Montgomery County be preserved. Please understand that with a $400 million shortfall, no department or function could be held harmless from the need to work harder with fewer resources. The Police Department's budget is already increasing by 10%, while County Government as a whole is increasing by 1.6%. Clearly, the police department is a priority for me. My police chief will ensure that community concerns continue to be fully addressed by his police officers. Every police officer should be reaching out to the community and working with the community to better perform his or her job. I have every confidence in their ability to do so.
Harry from Not from Montgomery County
Mr. Legett. I understand that the county is in a deep budget crunch, but in the new proposal you are trying to take away time for a roll call in Corrections. Just three months ago when you toured the jail, it was pointed out that roll call is a VITAL time where officer are brought up to speed with any issues or security concerns. Also this time is used for training. Is it your position that this is the only way to trim the budget. There are numerous other expenses that could be eliminated or reduced that would not directly affect officers.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The proposal is to reduce Roll Call from 30 to 15 minutes as a cost-saving measure. In addition to significant tax increases and major cuts in other departments, it is impossible to hold every department harmless. We are facing an unprecedented $400 million shortfall, with a looming recession that has to be addressed now with cost-saving measures. Despite these challenges, I was required by law to include funds to support negotiated salary increases of 4.5 percent and step increases of 3.5 percent for members of the Depatment of Correction and Rehabilitation and other County employees. This makes it difficult not to avoid reductions like the shorter Roll Call.
Paul from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
No question, come on Ike, let's live within our budget... you guys were happy to raise spending when housing was rising, now you can't seem to economize and cut back like the rest of us have to .... get real, this is not a bottomless pit,, stop these stupid proprerty tax hikes
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I was not happy to raise spending and have stated, since I've been in office, that the cost increases in our recent budgets prior to taking office, were unsustainable. I have attempted to reduce expenditures and live within our budget. For example, prior to my arrival, the budget increased by 14.1 percent, I reduced this increase in my first year to 6.7 percent. My current recommendation is to reduce the 6.7 percent to 1.6 percent of the tax-supported budget. I've initiated hiring freezes and a variety of other measures to contain costs. Nontheless, we have to increase taxes to ensure a continuation of many essential programs and services.
Jill from Up County
If the problem is that homeowners can no longer afford to pay their monthly house payments, why would increasing those payments thru higher property taxes help-out. I would think that raising property taxes would just cause more foreclosures. Further more, Montgomery County has raised property taxes by increasing our assements to the point that we can barely afford our house already. My husband and I are retired federal employees who have to work full time in other jobs to cover our house payment. How is forcing us to sell our home and moving out of the county going to help.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Before I even considered raising property taxes, I reduced the size of County Government by eliminating 225 jobs, I instituted a hiring freeze, I recommended eliminating a number of programs and I have been looking for other revenue sources other than the taxpayers. Raising property taxes was an absolute last resort that I have only done after exhausting all other responsible and reasonable options. I have struggled with how to close a $400 million budget gap in a way that continues the vital and essential services performed by County Government, fulfill my legal obligations and not unduly burden taxpayers. Through the use of a property tax credit over of $1000, I have made the property tax more progressive with those in more valuable homes paying more than those in less valuable homes.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your questions. I look forward to our next Live Chat.