Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Tuesday, January 22, 2013)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me for today's live discussion. Let's get started.
Esther from Eastern Montgomery
Can County employees hope to get a raise this year after four years of no cost-of-living or steps?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am very proud of the excellent professional services our employees provide the citizens of the County. I am also grateful for their sacrifices over recent years as they have gone without pay raises and even experienced lost pay through furloughs. While the County continues to face substantial fiscal challenges resulting from the lingering effectts of the recession and new costs to the County resulting from changes made by the General Assembly, our revenues are better. This year we were able to provide a one-time, two thousand dollar payment to each of our employees. While I cannot say for sure at this moment since I am not prepared to make a final recommendation at this time. It is my hope that, if we do not have any major challenges to our resource expectations, we may be able to afford a general pay increase in FY14. We are currently in negotiations with our bargaining units to address a myriad of work-related and pay and benefit issues. Thanks again for your question.
Harold from Up County
What is Open Montgomery and what benefits will it bring to the county citizens?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Our new openMontgomery program is a major advance in the County’s accountability and responsiveness efforts that will significantly improve government transparency, accessibility and efficiency. OpenMontgomery establishes our County one of the leaders in Open Government in the entire nation. Our digital roadmap will guide the County’s efforts to deliver better services using modern tools and technologies; a new open data website that will provide constituents with convenient access to a growing variety of information; a new social media platform to encourage public participation on key County issues; and, new mobile versions of the County’s award-winning web portal, MC311 website, and Storm Operations website.
openMontgomery includes four separate parts:
accessMontgomery (http://montgomerycountymd.gov/access) provides convenient links to existing digital services related to accountability, accessibility and transparency, such as MC311 as well as CountyStat performance tracking. It also includes direct links to internal audits, spending disclosures, contracts, open solicitations, budgets, and free WiFi locations in the County.
dataMontgomery (https://data.montgomerycountymd.gov) provides direct access to data sets, which include employee salaries, cable inspections and complaints, residential and commercial building permits, hospitals, schools, fire stations, post offices, real property taxes and MC311 requests. The data is available for viewing, and can be sorted and consumed in various ways.
engageMontgomery (http://engage.montgomerycountymd.gov) is the new social media platform that will serve as an informal online Town Hall Meeting.
mobileMontgomery (http://montgomerycountymd.gov/mobile) offers a listing of the County’s mobile sites such as MC311 and Transportation’s Storm Operations with directions on how to bookmark them, as well as apps such as Library BookMyne, Crime Reports and RideOn Real Time that can be used anytime and anywhere.
Thank you for your question. If you have any other questions or suggestions about how we can improve efficiency and transparency, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Terry from Rockville
I'd like to know what the process is to get a traffic signal on a County road. I've got an intersection near my home that is truly dangerous.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Residents who think an intersection needs a stop sign or a traffic signal can email email@example.com with their request. First, the Division of Traffic Engineering (DTS) will review collision data at that location and do a site visit. After this preliminary look, if DTS believes further study is warranted, they will conduct a traffic study that includes monitoring speeds, traffic counts and other relevant information.
Paul from Mid County
Have you decided if you will run for reelection in 2014 as County Executive?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am seriously considering whether to seek a third term as County Executive. Many residents have contacted me and asked that I run. I am in the process of speaking with residents, friends and advisors and will make a decision in the Spring. Right now I am very much focused on preparing my FY14 budget recommendations to the County Council and in advocating and working closely with the members of the Maryland General Assembly during this 90-day session on behalf of Montgomery County. As time permits, I hope to give a more definitive response regarding my future plans.
Sam from Up County
What is happening on construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. No one wants this Center to open more than I do. Unfortunately, we are awaiting the analysis by a private consultant that the County commissioned regarding construction flaws at the Center. Although I am disappointed that we have not opened the Center, I believe that is important for us to ensure the public's safety on this facility before it is opened. We anticipate having the final report in the next few weeks that should outline the challenges and necessary remediation efforts. I will immediately initiate the remediation process while we determine the responsibility between the contractor and sub-contractors for the issues associated with the delay. Due to the high anticipated use and safety concerns, I would not urge opening the Center until the remediation matters have been fully addressed. We hope to make an announcement regarding the Center in the next couple of weeks.
Lily from Up County
Will you be increasing the libraries budget in the next year? They have taken lots of reductions.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Indeed we have had to make reductions to the libraries and other county departments during the recent recession. This was essential in the difficult work of closing a two-and-one-half billion dollar fiscal shortfall. Last year, we began the process, with my recommendation and the County Council approval, a substantial increase in the Libraries budget. As our revenues improve, I hope to restore more of the cuts we have had to make to essential county services, including Libraries. The process of restoration will not be possible in one year. My goal is to fully restore our Libraries budget.
Paul from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
What do you think about the gun control proposals from President Obama and Governor O'Malley?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I very much support the proposals for reasonable gun legislation offered by President Obama and Govenor O'Malley. I will do all in my power as County Executive to support these proposals. We must act to reduce the availability of assault-type weapons and ammunition and keep guns out of the hands of those who may use them to harm others. Registration and background checks and greater support for people who are mentally challenged should also be addressed as well. I served in the military in the war in Vietnam and many of the weapons that are readily available with little or no safeguards are weapons of war and should not be so readily available to the general public. The weapons and the ammunition that they use are not for hunting or sport, but are designed to cause the maximum destruction of life. I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment but I believe that these measures are constitutionally sound and should be adopted.
Kathy from Rockville
There is a tremendous amount of litter along the roads in Montgomery County. A lot of this litter appears to be commerical trash or beer and liquor bottles. These were clearly thrown from moving cars also indicating that people are not just drunk driving but driving while drinking. Does the County have any plans to deal with this issue besides Adopt a Road plans or to enforce anti-litter laws? The trash is blighting our roads, towns and wooded areas.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and your concern for the appearnce of our roadways. Besides Adopt-A-Road, we use County road crews and court-sentenced individuals to collect litter along county roadways. Both the State and City of Rockville have similar programs. I will pass along your concerns to our Transportaion Department and ask them to work with State and municipal agencies to explore more options to improve litter preventions and collection. I would also note that one of the reasons I support a bag law is to reduce the number of disposable bags which too often end up along our roads and in our streams. We need greater enforcement and stiffer penalties in order to discourage litter on our roadways by passengers and others who have violated the law by their discharge of trash throughout the County.
Sim from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
What steps could Montgomery county that might prevent maccares like the one that killed 20 kids in Connicutte?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I was deeply saddened by the massacre in Connecticut. One of the most important actions we need to take to protect children and all our residents from gun violence is to adopt stricter gun ownership measures like the those proposed by Gov. O'Malley and the President. Our public schools have acted to keep our schools safe. School access is limited and closely monitored; all staff in schools are trained to react in dangerous situations; and there are very close ties between the County police and each of our schools. Yet the recent tragedy reminds us that we must continuously review our procedures and responses. We have recently recommended accelerating the schools' budget for enhanced technology, monitoring and other security measures to better safeguard our students and staff.
Jeff from Mid County
Can County taxpayers get a break this year after four years of high unemployment, slow growth, higher pay for county employees and teachers, and continuing tax increases?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am optimistic that our economy has turned the corner. We are seeing modest improvements in job growth, home building and an upturn in other business sectors. However, given the continuing uncertainties at the Federal level, I will maintain a cautious approach as I develop the operating budget for the coming year.
As you may know, over the last several years, we have closed more than $2.7 billion in budgetary gaps. I've furloughed our employees, I've reduced the workforce by 10 percent, I denied cost-of-living and merit increases for County employees for the last three years, made major reductions in County services, and reduced the County's contributions for employee health and retirement costs. The County did all of this while providing for essential services and maintained our AAA bond rating. I will continue to examine the budget and make sure it is sustainable and evaluate any cost via taxes or fees that our residents may have to pay. The level of County taxes paid by our residents as a percentage of their income is the lowest it has been since before I was County Executive.
Please be assured that in developing the Fiscal Year 2014 operating budget, I will consider the County's economic environment and resources, and fully evaluate any potential increases for taxes and fees. In addition, I will continue my efforts to make government more efficient and effective, and where feasible, further reduce costs to our residents.
Mr. Leggett: That's all the time we have for today. Thank you for your questions.
Please join me at 7:30 p.m. on February 20 for my 2013 State of the County Address which will be broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (Comcast/RCN 6 - Verizon 30).