Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, October 24, 2012)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's Live Discussion. Sorry we are starting a little late. Thank you for joining me. I am looking forward to answering your questions, so let us begin.
James from Mid County
Mr Leggett - will your recommended fiscal year 2014 budget include a cost of living adjustment for County workers? direct answer please. thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I would like to be able to include a cost-of-living adjustment for all County employees in the 2014 operating budget I will release next March 15. I am well aware of the sacrifices that County workers have made to help put the County’s fiscal house in order as I worked to reverse unsustainable spending trends and to respond to the impact of the Recession.
I cannot, however, commit to this at this time. I have to assess many factors – the strength of the recovery, possible mandated cuts in federal spending and their impact on the County, and any new challenges coming from Annapolis. Let’s see what the picture looks like early next year.
Sinan Robert Wolf-Gazo from Silver Spring
I invested $20,000 into solar energy on my house in Glenmont. I was able to get the $1,000 state grant, will get $8,000 federal tax credit, but was promised $5,000 grant from the county. When i wanted to apply for the grant there was no more funding. (http://www.mcenergyfunding.com/). Also I don't qualify for the $250 property Tax, since I got the Solar Panels built after November 8, 2011. The county government were the only ones that failed in their promises to help residence into pushing to Solar/Renewable. My decision to invest into Solar was based on all 3 grants/tax breaks. When will there be funding again? An estimated Date/Time would help. Also what other programs will you provide (education), to improve incentives into American green technology? All equipment used to build the Solar Panel System was Made in the US. Thank You.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Several years ago, Montgomery County passed a law creating a renewable energy property tax credit that eligible taxpayers could apply for and receive -- subject to an annual funding limit. That annual funding was increased from $250,000 to $400,000 but was still insufficient to meet demand for the credit. Due to a continued rise in applications that created a five-year backlog , the County Council suspended the tax credit last year. Since you signed a contract after the tax credit was suspended, you are not eligible to apply at this time. At present it is uncertain when (or if) the County Council will re-open the program at some time in the future when the backlog is resolved, which will take at least 5 to 6 years. I believe that the program should be expanded if we can find the resources to meet the current and future demands.
The $250 energy efficiency property tax credit you referred to is for insulation, windows, etc. and not for renewable energy devices.
Finally, the Residential Rebate Program, administered through www.mcenergyfunding.com, was designed to provide incentives for energy efficiency improvements to homes that received a comprehensive energy audit. The program funded a variety of measures including air sealing, insulation, and heating and cooling system improvements. The program, funded by a federal grant. The funding from the Department of Energy explicitly prohibited using the funds for photovoltaic solar for private uses. We retrofitted over 930 homes in our community using this program, but sadly the funding is now exhausted.
I hope this answers your question.
Jewel from Up County
I live near the corner of Running Brook and route 355 in Clarksburg, MD between Clarksburg High School and Rocky Hill Middle School. In addition to the traffic caused by students, parents, and teachers commuting to these schools, I must contend with heavy morning and evening rush hour traffic caused by commuters further upcounty using 355 as a means to get to 270. Recently, it appears at least two more housing developments along 355 have broken ground but there doesn't seem to be any improvements to infrastructure to accomodate the anticipated increase traffic flows. I would like to know how the County plans to address what will soon become an untenable situaton. In addition to grid locked traffic, there is a narrow curved bridge near New Cut Road that needs to be widen and side walks need to be installed for the kids that walk to and from the two schools, This a dangerous situaton. I look forward to your response to my concerns. Thank You.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. It is because of the traffic issues that you highlight that I included $15 million in the recent Capital Improvement Project budget for new road construction in Clarksburg. These road projects are specifically meant to provide congestion relief to the area and will provide residents better access to Route 27, which will ultimately result in improved access to I-270. The County Council approved these roads and we expect construction to begin as soon as possible.
Anne Maie from Silver Spring
Why are you supporting Question 7? Don't you realize how dangerous gambling is to all of our communities in the State of Maryland? It breaks up famiilies, it causes homelessness and hunger and often kids cannot go to school...because they do not have proper clothing to wear. It increases crimes, and causes domestic violence. The entire gambleing issue was brought on by lies, lies lies. We were told we had to get gambling in (slots only) to save the race tracks! We do not have slots any one race track in Maryland as of yet. But, we have casinos in shopping centers?? Arundel Mall. We have them in Perryville,and they are going bust. Why would you even want to put yourself and the people of Montgomery County in the company of such horrible people?? Shame on you. Greedy
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Earlier, I was a strong opponent of any form of gambling in the State of Maryland. It is important to recognize that the issue before us today is not whether there is gambling in Maryland, since gambling is already in Maryland... the question is how do we effectively manage what is already here and provide a system that makes Maryland more competitive with our neighboring jurisdictions. I appreciate the opportunity to address this very important issue. As County Executive during these very difficult financial times, I have had to balance many legitimate perspectives, but ultimately make a decision that I believe is in the best interests of the residents of Montgomery County. The issue of allowing gambling in Maryland was decided years ago. The current Question 7 will permit the Prince George's County government to allow a casino within their jurisdiction. I do not believe that we should have gambling in Montgomery County and I would never advocate such a position. I balanced the reality of existing casinos in Maryland with the reality that the anticipated revenue -- revenue that by law would be allocated to education -- and would almost certainly go to other jurisdictions outside Maryland. As an elected official that has had to make extremely painful reductions in a variety of government services, foregoing significant revenues for education does not make sense. Unfortunately, many Montgomery County residents already gamble on lotteries, go to slot parlors in other Maryland counties and many go outside of the State of Maryland to West Virginia to play a wide array of gaming options. By the way, the people paying for all of the commercials to stop us from having more options in Maryland are the casino operators in West Virginia who hypocritically want you to go to their jurisdiction. Supporting Question 7 is not greed, under these circumstances, it is common sense.
Alejandro Roberts from Silver Spring
Mr. Leggett, with the end of your term just around the corner, and your announcement of not seeking another term, what does the future hold for your political future. Also what do you see as your significant achievement in Montgomery County under your watch. I along with my family, have personally benefited from the strong and positive leadership and growth you have provided during your terms. We wish you continued success in your future endeavors, i.e, Governor Leggett, HInt Hint.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your question and for your kind words.
While I appreciate your support for making me Governor, I think I hold the best job in the world right now – leading Montgomery County. If I were to run for anything – and I haven’t changed my mind on not seeking reelection to a third term – it would be to stay right where I am and finish the work I’ve done in the first two terms to put the County’s finances in order and lay the foundations for making a good County even better.
Sara from Silver Spring
Street crime is increasing in our Woodside neighborhood. Most of the crime involves property but there have been physical attacks as well. Turning on our house lights at night (always recc'd by the police) is not detering vandalism, break-ins or physical threats. How can we get the MOCO police to patrol more visibly and more often?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I appreciate that you are concerned about a possible increase in crime in your neighborhood. We need our residents to take an active role in keeping our communities safe.
In this year's budget, I increased the number of sworn officers by 40. This is part of a multi-year plan to increase our force by a total of 145 officers over the next two fiscal years.
We checked with the 3rd Police District. In the past six months, there was one aggravated assault and that was between two people known to one another and the suspect was arrested. There were two residential burglaries, one commercial burglary, and one drug-related crime. The most common crime reported in your community was theft from auto, with seven reports of that occurring during this time. Given these numbers, I am fully committed to reducing crimes to even lower levels, and this is why I added the additional police officers to our force.
Of course everyone wants to feel safe in their communities and any crime can be upsetting to residents, but no community is immune from crime.
Each police district's command staff regularly does an assessment of where the most crimes are occurring in their districts and deploys more resources to those areas.
It is important that community members report crimes to police. Some crimes such as vandalisms may go unreported. Each of our police districts has a Community Outreach Officer. That officer in the 3rd District is Officer Joy Patil. Please contact her through the 3rd District Station at 301-565-7744 if you want to discuss your concerns further.
Again, thank you for your interest in keeping your neighborhood safe.
John Q. Public from Mid County
When are you going to allow and support Montgomery Co. and ALL MARYLAND residents,. to NOT JUST OBSERVE, but
PARTICIPATE! in their government, by allowing reasonable time for speeches at ALL and ANY County Council meetings not in cloed session? Citizens around the world, in the USA demand openness, responsibility, accountability from their public servants. The archaic, 35+ year old Open Meetings Law needs amending, since MD remains a "closed" government state, though it misleadingly touts itself as "open." Mr. Leggett, You're from TEXAS--a throughly "open" government state, and despite its conservative politics, that state allows ALL citizens time to evenhandedly speak at ANY city, county, state or representative body meeting in the Lone Star State. Mr. Leggett, Where is your NATIVE TEXAN PRIDE and sense of Texas Justice in changing this archaic, racist, "Old Segregated South," pre-1963 closed government system that you, County and Maryland officials embrace and brag to America about
Mr. Leggett: Thank you, my fellow Texan, for your question.
We made significant progress in Montgomery County, one of the leading communities in promoting open government. Next month, we will announce additional measures and procedures that will further demonstrate our commitment to open government by allowing anyone additional access to a broad range of information and raw data. We will continue to evaluate other measures that would make it easier for residents to communicate and participate in local government.
I hope that at some point, we can rise to the high standards of Texas.
Debra from Silver Spring
Hi Mr. Leggett, I have been on Ride On buses when customers have refused to pay bus fare and have literally spit on a driver or are so aggressive that police have to be called. You also have passengers that ride the bus who have some type of mental illness or are inebriated. The police can never arrive fast enough when violence occurs. This has become a common occurrence on various routes in Silver Spring/Wheaton/Glenmont within the past few years. I asked Chief Biggins and Mr. Wells a few years ago how are they going to protect drivers and passengers when situations like these occur. I've never received a response other than we're aware and working on it, waiting over 2 years and counting for that response. Does Ride On have an official mission statement? If not one needs to be created and we the public need to know what it is. Also, can we start having public forums where customers can address concerns/issues for all routes and just not ones that are going to downsized or termin
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and the thoughtful suggestions you have provided. I will follow up with the Director of Transportation, Ms. Biggins and the Police Department to determine how we can best address your concerns. I am sorry that you haven't received a more specific response prior to this.
Your suggestion about a public forum is a good one, and we will look into it.
Ash from Mid County
Small businesses are a key driver of Montgomery County's economy. What steps will you take to fund the County's new Small Business Assistance Program, also known as Bill 6-12, in your FY14 budget to help businesses adversely impacted by County-subsidized redevelopment projects?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I agree that our small businesses are the bedrock of our local economy. As you likely know, I fully supported Bill 6-12 because I know how small businesses can be adversely impacted during redevelopment projects. Currently, we are developing plans for the Wheaton redevelopment and I am committed to assisting the small businesses community there. Bill 6-12 provides a variety of ways to help, including grants, loans or training assistance.
I will review where we are in our plans for the Wheaton Redevelopment as I develop recommendations for the FY14 Operating Budget to assure that the County provides the appropriate financial assistance at the right time.
Dave from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Illegal advertising signs are peppered in public right of ways by roads and in the median strips of roads, on utility and traffic sign and signal poles. These signs have long caused visual blight and distracted motorists. They are illegal and Department of Permitting Services will enforce it, but they are not able to keep up with the number of signs. I think we need some creative idea for a county system that would be more effective without costing much for the county. These signs are apparently often posted by sign companies paid by the business being advertised. These sign companies are essentially operating an illegal business. If the sign-posting service companies were tracked down and faced serious penalties I think the problem would be greatly reduced. Perhaps there should be a county website where citizens could report the illegal signs and name the business that is being advertised and its telephone number or email address as advertised on the sign. Then DPS could call
Mr. Leggett: I agree that illegal signs in our County right-of-ways is an ongoing problem. The County's Department of Permitting Services (DPS)has begun a program to coordinate and train other County departments that have crews working around the County to help remove these signs. DPS has coordinated with Highway Services, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (which deploys community service work crews), and an inspection team from the Department of Housing and Community Affairs to help remove illegal signs.
Permitting Services and Consumer Affairs are also working on approaches to track down those who are posting illegal and predatory signs. It is not always an easy task. Many of the numbers listed on these signs often are for non-working numbers or mobile phones. Your suggestions on how to investigate are certainly worth looking into. DPS already has an on-line complaint system where residents can lodge complaints about illegal signs as you describe.
DPS investigates all the complaints it receives. Please see http://permittingservices.montgomerycountymd.gov/DPS/online/eComplaint.aspx for filing of complaints.
Lilian from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
There is a lot of development happening in the county and especially in the downtown Bethesda area. Do you think that all residents in the immediate areas of these developments should be allowed to participate in planning changes to vehicle and pedestrian traffic during and post construction? If so, when and how would you make that happen?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I agree that abutting or nearby residents and businesses should have some notification of changes to pedestrian or vehicular traffic that will significantly affect them. I will have my departments evaluate how this can be done efficiently and effective.
Harold from Rockville
did you know or do you now know that the overall cost (next year) of collecting $1 of ambulance (EMS) fees is a dime?
I would rather pay more income tax or property tax since there is no incremental collection cost and I then know how much I am paying.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
First of all, I do not believe we have finalized an outside vendor to work with the County on the program that will allow the County to begin to bill insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid for Emergency Medical Services transports come January 1.
I do know that the “administrative costs” will be very low -- and will be covered by the $18 million annually we expect to collect – so there will be no negative impact to the County budget. And, of course, collecting $18 million from insurance companies in reimbursements is better than raising taxes by that amount to meet critical future needs for our Fire and Rescue Service.
Each year, we will post all costs associated with the EMS Reimbursement Program and you can judge the reasonableness of the costs for yourself.
The $18 million we collect annually will allow us to buy more ambulances, add staffing and training, and improve response times – at no cost to County residents. You won’t even get a bill.
Mr. Leggett: Thanks for your questions. Unfortunately, that's all the questions we have time for today. I hope you will join me again Wednesday, November 21 for the next Live Discussion.
Don’t forget Montgomery County's Community Service Day on Saturday, October 27. Projects are available for the whole week of October 22-28! Please visit www.montgomeryserves.org for more information.