Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, November 21, 2012)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me today for another Live Discussion. I apologize for starting a few minutes late, so let us get started.
Andrea from Silver Spring
I live in Silver Spring near Wheaton Plaza and find your support of the proposed Costco gas station to be a complete contradiction to smart growth. If approved, Costco's gas station will be Montgomery County's largest gas station (dispensing more than 12 million gallons per year. An avg gas station dispenses a mere 1.3 million gallons in comparison), sitting less than .5 miles from a metro, 150 feet from homes and next to a school for children with special needs and a community pool, as well as adding congestion on the streets and reducing parking at the mall.
Given this example, can you speak to how you are incorporating green development and other conservation issues into your agenda?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
My proposal to invest in bringing Costco to fill the now four-year-long hole left at Westfield Mall when Hecht’s went out of business is first and foremost about jobs.
The initiative would produce 475 permanent jobs. It would create an additional 250 to 300 construction jobs and it would leverage more than $50 million more in private investment.
Additionally, the County would receive property taxes, income taxes, and impact fees – and the State of Maryland would receive sales tax – from the Costco operation. Right now the empty Hecht’s is generating zero.
As with all investments from the County Economic Development Fund, this is a “money-maker,” not a money-taker.
The success of Wheaton revitalization – and private investment in that vision -- rests on the mall being successful.
The investment by the County in a successful company such as Costco would create jobs, strengthen Wheaton revitalization, and provide individuals and small businesses with increased consumer choices.
This project regarding the gas station is going through the special exception process at the County Board of Appeals. All of the relevant factors regarding environmental impact, traffic, parking, etc. will be considered in that review.
Cheryl Hudson from Rockville
I have a Minority Owned Small Healthcare Business interested in immediate expansions to Montgomery County MD. How can you assist in this endeavor?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
If you are interested in expansion of your business into Montgomery County, we are interested in you. I will have our Economic Development director Steve Silverman reach out to you via email right after this chat to arrange a conversation about what we can do to help.
Elaine from Silver Spring
Are you going to run for another term as County Executive?
Mr. Leggett: I have expressed in the past that I would only serve two terms. As of now, I have not changed my position. Most recently, however, I have agreed to discuss the matter further with various community, civic and business leaders who have urged me to reconsider. We will see what the future will bring.
patty from Up County
What did you think about the election results?
Mr. Leggett: I do not believe that this is the appropriate forum to discuss partisan election results. However, there were several County and State initiatives on the November 6 ballot that were approved that I fully supported. I believe that the voters made the right choice in approving them.
John from Mid County
When can we expect the Silver Spring Transit Center to be finished?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am disappointed that we have not been able to open the center in the original time frame. I am, however, concerned that we not move forward without fully evaluating, testing, and resolving any and all safety issues related to the construction. Public safety trumps our desire to open the center without appropriate resolution on these matters. It is expected that a final report regarding the causes for the delay and a schedule for remediation will be announced in the next 30 days.
Susan from Up County
You have been very critical of Pepco for its past performance in dealing with storms. Did Hurricane Sandy change your opinion?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We were all thankful that Hurricane Sandy did not cause severe damage in our County, and that we escaped the brunt of the storm. That said, I think that Pepco did a better job preparing for Hurricane Sandy than it has for previous storms. They had a huge number of outside maintenance crews pre-positioned in the County prior to the arrival of the storm. In addition, they had added personnel and had enhanced their communication system to communicate with the public. Their preparation and performance, however, was not fully tested because the storm did not have the anticipated impact to our area. With the upcoming winter, a more realistic test, unfortunately, may be ahead of us. As you may know, the task force that I convened to review Pepco's performance pressed for major improvements in this utility's reliability. I do believe that Pepco is making progress and I am hopeful that we will continue to see evidence of this in the future.
Christopher from Mid County
What's the current thinking about all the panhandlers along our streets?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. This is a problem, and I believe that the status quo is not acceptable. I have pushed for enabling state legislation that would allow the County to pass a law to institute a permit process that could have a major impact on the number of panhandlers, their location, and the impact on traffic and safety. That enabling legislation has passed, and we are now working on the next steps within the County.
Pat from Up County
Is there more we can do in Montgomery County to curb smoking in public places?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. As you may know, in the early 1990s, I pushed for legislation to protect restaurant customers and employees from the dangers of second hand smoke. In 2002, Montgomery County became one of the first jurisdictions to pass this legislation. We have now seen similar efforts all over the globe. Is there more we can do? I think so. Currently, we have legislation before the County Council that will severely restrict smoking on County property. In addition, I am advocating an increase of $1 per pack for cigarette purchases throughout the State of Maryland. This should significantly curtail smoking among young people, as well as provide additional resources to address some of the negative impacts of smoking. I am not certain that we have the authority in the County to curtail smoking in all public places that are not County owned.
Nicolle from Silver Spring
I would like to know what is happening to calm traffic on roads like Georgia Ave, Arcola Ave, and University Ave. I recently moved to Wheaton and cross these roads often as a pedestrian and bicyclist. There is too much traffic and it moves too fast. Can you please add more traffic cameras or police to ticket speeders? People speed way too much on these roads creating an unsafe environment for everybody. Other traffic calming measures could also potentially work and I'd like to hear what has been done and what is planned.
Thanks for having the chat!
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We will continue to evaluate the traffic flow, speed and safety factors along these roads to determine if they are eligible under our standards and authority to place traffic calming measures. For example, we are severely restricted by State law for the location of speed cameras throughout the County. It is my intent to continue our pedestrian safety measures throughout the County related to better engineering, education, and enforcement to address the concerns you raise. We have had some success in this area, but more needs to be done. I will forward your concerns about these particular roads to our traffic safety staff.
John Rowley from Up County
You may have heard Governor Martin O’Malley’s Secretary for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Gary D. Maynard, speak regarding the use of inmate labor community projects through our Public Safety Works program. In 2011, we had over 722,000 inmate community work hours performing everything from general cleanups to building homes for Habitat. I recently read a newspaper article about the problem your county faces with stump removal. If you are interested in hearing how low security inmate labor may be able to help your county solve this problem at a great savings, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks, John Rowley
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your comment.
Through our County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, we already have an active program of community service by low-security individuals in custody or under our control. And, yes, we have a significant backlog of thousands of stumps on waiting lists awaiting removal. While I’m not sure how we match those two things, your email raises the possibility and I will explore it. Thank you for contacting us. I will direct our Corrections Director to contact you to see how we can work together on this issue.
Terri P Miller from Up County
How much county money was spent on the Vote for question B advertizing? How can you justify spending the money on Question B when your employees have not had a raise in 4 years? How can the county violate there own ethics policies about political activity without any recourse?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your email concerning Montgomery County efforts to educate, inform, and advocate on Question B, which would have repealed Bill 18-11, passed unanimously by the County Council and signed into law by the County Executive.
We do not have the final figures, but anticipate the total to be approximately $150,000. Once all costs have been tallied, we will make the final figures public. Keep in mind, this reform is anticipated to save the County far more than the $150,000 spent defending the County law.
The $150,000 cost is a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of dollars it would have taken to provide cost of living increases foregone by County employees. In addition, I provided a $2,000 lump sum payment this year for all County employees. I would certainly like to do more for our many deserving County employees, and as the economy improves, it is anticipated that we would provide a more permanent cost of living increase.
As you may know, Question B was approved in a landslide by County voters on November 6, with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
This County law repeals “effects bargaining” which required the Police Department to bargain every issue with Police Union leaders, hampering accountability, innovation, and efficiency.
The County Attorney confirmed that it was altogether legal and appropriate for the County government to use County resources to provide factual information and advocate for keeping the law. Just as County lawyers may use County resources to answer court challenges to County measures, so too can the County government exercise its free speech rights to defend such a measure in the court of public opinion.
The County is entitled to engage in speech supporting and explaining its policies, including speech that advocates support of a ballot measure.
There was – and is -- no obligation for County government to remain silent in defense of critically important County law or policy – enacted unanimously.
As you may know, the passage of Question B did not affect in any way the continued rights of the Fraternal Order of Police to bargain collectively with the County over wages, hours, benefits, working conditions, and safety issues. Post-Question B, the FOP has the very same collective bargaining rights as every other Police union in the State -- and every other County employees union.
Kandi from Eastern Montgomery
Mr. Leggett, I recently read a report that the Montgomery County Council is "challenged" with improving affordable housing. Is the county considering instituting rent controls? Although the state does not have rent controls, there does not seem to be anything preventing the county from instituting such regulation. It is difficult to save for the purchase of a home when you're paying a mortgage in rent each month. Thank you for taking my question.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Montgomery County has long been challenged with regard to increasing the number of affordable housing options for our residents. As you may know, increasing affordable housing has been one of the top priorities of my administration, and we have constructed and preserved more than 6,000 affordable housing units. Imposing rent controls presents its own set of challenges, and as a result, this approach currently has very little support.
The County does set voluntary rent guidelines each year that landlords are encouraged to follow. We have a task force now that is currently evaluating changes to improve the rent guideline process. In addition, I continue to advocate for a variety of affordable housing options, including utilizing County-owned land to create both affordable and workforce housing, supporting streamlining our accessory apartment process, and funding our housing initiative fund. I recently attended the groundbreaking of Olney Springs, our first private-public effort utilizing County-owned land that will provide workforce and affordale housing development in Olney.
Because I know that affordable housing is vitally important to you and many others who either live or work in our County, I will continue to advocate for this as a top priority.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you to all who participated in today's Live Discussion. Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!