Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, May 15, 2008)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's Live Discussion. I look forward to answering your questions, so let's get started.
Susan from Rockville
Is an interchange planned for east gude drive?
Mr. Leggett: The State is looking into an interchange at Route 355 at that location. However, the design and plans and appropriations have not been approved.
The County is planning to rehabilitate the existing bridge that is located about 600 feet east of MD Route 355 at East Gude Drive. Construction will begin in mid-2009 to replace the deck of the bridge.
John from Up County
Several local news outlets have reported that the county is paying the contractor for the county's speed camera program a per-ticket fee, despite a provision in Transportation Article 21-809 intended to forbid contractors from being paid based on the number of citations. This fact apparently slipped under the radar, so to speak, for some time. In fact in the live discussion dated March 20th you stated "Under the contract, we pay a flat fee" in response to a question about speed cameras.
It undercuts trust in local authorities if the county is perceived as trying to circumvent the law. So my question is, does the county intend to renegotiate its contract with ACS to bring it into compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the law?
Mr. Leggett: The County Attorney, 6th District Court and the Attorney General have reviewed Montgomery County's speed camera payment policies and practices and agree that the County is within both the letter and spirit of the law.
The intent of this portion of the law is to ensure that vendors do not control the program and are monetarily rewarded for increasing the number of citations.
In Montgomery County, the vendor does not operate the speed monitoring system. The Police Department (MCPD) identifies areas of enforcement, level of enforcement, operates the cameras, and authorizes the issuance of all citations. The vendor operates the back office portion of this program. Their actions are reviewed and approved by the police department.
The contract is currently up for renewal and MCPD is investigating an alternative way of paying the vendor to eliminate even the appearance of a problem with the payment system.
Linda from Silver Spring
My question concerns the Silver Spring Library. The current library is outdated and much too small for our growing population . We need a new Silver Spring Library as soon as possible. There is now as reported in blogs and the press, a conflict between your office and the County Council around Fenton Village zoning and the planning of the new library.
I am very disappointed as an long term supporter of library services that the community is not informed at all of these conflicts.
My question :When will we finally have a new library in Silver Spring? How will the Council and Park and Planning's review affect the opening of the new library?.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have been working diligently to ensure that the Silver Spring Library is constructed in the most expeditious time frame possible. My timeframe would result in the library being on-line by 2010, with significant community input and oversight by the Planning Board through the state-mandated mandatory referral process. We have acquired the land, have a general design concept that ensures that both the Library and the Purple Line station are accommodated on the site. We will continue to work with the Council, the Planning Board and the community to ensure the best outcome for all of our residents. There is no conflict from our perspective regarding the construction of the library. There have been questions regarding how this facility would be included into the proposed Fenton Village development project. We believe that we can move forward with our design and still accommodate an exciting vision for Fenton Village without delaying the library and the public's participation in its design.
Ed from Up County
I keep reading about the problems the expansion of the Naval Hospital will cause for local traffic. I notice that the Naval Hospital grounds extend to the beltway. Why can't an exchange for the Naval Hospital be built there, thus cutting down on Wisconsin Avenue traffic?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your very good question. We have been working diligently with the Federal Government to mitigate the traffic impact of the planned expansion of the Bethesda Naval Hospital. In 2007, I appointed a community-based Task Force to advise me regarding positions that the County should take regarding this expansion. This Task Force asked the Maryland State Highway Administration to conduct a feasibility study of an exchange that would place an off ramp on the grounds of the Hospital. We are hopeful that with community support, this option will be carefully reviewed by the state and federal authorities. Again, thank you for your interest and question.
Mike from Up County
Hello Mr. Leggett -
What is the County government doing to reduce carbon emissions in our community? Are there any specific programs dedicated to this specific environmental initiative, and if so, what are the specific outcome measures?
Mr. Leggett: The County is currently purchasing 10 percent of its electricity needs from wind power with a goal to increase that to 20 percent in the next few years. We have established a program that provides incentives to County residents who purchase clean energy. Since 1995, the County has purchased 100 natural gas transit buses and 14 hybrid transit buses, as well as 140 other County vehicles. All future County public buildings will be required to achieve a "green building" rating. In addition, there is a series of proposed Council and Executive initiatives that will place Montgomery County in a favorable position regarding carbon emissions and environmental stewardship.
Linda from Mid County
How can we raise taxes and spend more money in the country budget when gas prices have doubled, state sales taxes have increased 1%, electricity rates have almost doubled and food prices are zooming up?
Can you also respond to the recent Montgomery Gazette article which laid out:
* How compensation and the number of employees in Montgomery county have been growing faster (NEARLY 2X AS FAST, from 2004-2007, than their private sector counterparts.
* Huge increase in the county budget in the last 10 years. Much greater than inflation OR the increase in the number of county residents.
* If two individuals are working for the county and being paid median salaries their total compensation is greater than total household median salary in the county.
Please explain how everyone can afford the proposed increases THIS YEAR especially. We should not violate the county charter limits to revenue growth this year.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I agree that the growth in the budget prior to my taking office as County Executive was unsustainable. That is why I have worked to bring the rate of growth down to a more sustainable level. The budget that I proposed and that was approved last year reduced the rate of growth in County government from 14% prior to my taking office to 6.9%. This year, in the face of the economic slowdown, I have brought that rate of growth even lower to 1.9%. This is the lowest rate of growth in the operating budget in many years and indicates the seriousness with which I am working to get the County's fiscal house in order. The negotiated increases I have supported have been to bring our employees -- particularly in public safety -- to a level consistent with those in neighboring jurisdictions and other Montgomery County agencies, such as the school system. These factors are the driving forces in the collective bargaining process, which includes binding arbitration -- an important consideration for determining salaries and benefits for which we are obligated to follow. We've initiated a hiring freeze, reduced the overall size of our workforce, and substantially lowered the overall level of growth in the County's budget. My proposed budget includes $150 million in reductions and the abolishment of at least 225 positions. Despite all of these measures and others, unfortunately, we have to raise property taxes. My proposal would also provide a $1,025 credit to principal homeowners as a way to provide relief from rising costs.
Alex from Silver Spring
What kindof impact will the state's and county's current budget woes have on the development of the Purple Line?
Mr. Leggett: We are continuing to work with the State to ensure that the Purple Line project stays on track. As is true of all rapid transit systems, we are dependent on the Federal Government for most of the funding. We and the State are working to ensure that the project is designed to be as competitive as possible in the federal funding process. Within the State of Maryland, there are several other transit projects that are under consideration, including the Red Line extension in Baltimore and the Corridor Cities Transit project along I-270. All of these projects will be under consideration for state and federal funding.
Beth from Up County
I live in Lakelands in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Why are you trying to put a helipad, liquor warehouse,
Montgomery County school food warehouse and other county facilities in the midst of my quiet residential neighborhood? Would you want to have the sound of helicopters disturbing your sleep at night? Would you want trucks constantly rumbling through your neighborhood? This plan will destroy the character of Lakelands and Kentlands.
Mr. Leggett: There are no plans to construct a helipad or locate the school food warehouse on the current GE Tech site adjoining the Lakelands. I have proposed bringing together our public safety agencies' administrative offices in the GE Tech building to provide greater efficiency and cost savings as part of my property use initiative. The existing Peapod warehouse would be utilized by the Department of Liquor Control. The relocation of this warehouse will actually reduce community impact from what the current use allows and what is also possible in approved land use plans for this site. We are reaching out early to the community to ensure that my proposal is clear and that we understand the concerns and needs of the entire community. Unfortunately, there is some misinformation about the future usage of this site, and what the County plans entail. If you have any questions about the process and our plans for this site, please contact Diane Jones at 240-777-2500.
Leslie from Up County
I am a business owner in Woodmont Triangle on Norfolk Avenue. We have suffered a serious disruption to our business due to parking meters being bagged well in advance of roadwork actually being done. On Monday, it rained all day, no road work was performed and yet the meters remained bagged ALL DAY. On Tuesday, the meters along the entire block where my store is located were bagged and yet the work was performed three blocks away. In these difficult economic times for businesses, shouldn't the county direct contractors to be more considerate of local businesses? Is there anything you can do immediately to help us?
The Posh Pooch
8009 Norfolk Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your email, Ms Rosenthal, and for bringing this matter to my attention. I believe small businesses are the heart of a vital economy for our county. I will immediately ask the County Department of Transportation and Public Works to look into this matter and do all it can to assist the businesses located in the Triangle area. Thanks for "extending my eyes" in Bethesda. By the way, my representative in Bethesda is Ken Hartman. He can be reached at 240-777-8206.
Cyrus from Rockville
Why does the county maintain a two-jail system when Clarksburg is only several miles from Rockville and the old jail sits on some of the most valuable commercial real estate in the County. Selling the Rockville property could facilitate the much needed expansion of the County Judicial Center.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. As a Council Member, when the initial decision was made many years ago, I opposed that decision. As County Executive, I have tried to determine if there is a less expensive alternative to renovating the current Detention Center located on Seven Locks Road. We will soon be briefing the Council on a number of options regarding a continuation of a two-detention facility system. This analysis should provide us with the most feasible, cost-effective option for the future.
Charlie from Rockville
When will the new 311 service be up and running?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question and interest in the 311 system. Assuring that County and other community services are easily accessible to our people is one of my highest priorities. Our county has a broad range of necessary services. However, accessing these services is complicated. Dialing 311, reaching a "live body" trained to assist customers, and tracking the effectiveness of our response to the service request is what the 311 system is all about. I have designated an internal team to plan this system working with public and private agencies. Before we implement that system, I want to be certain that it is effective in meeting the needs of our community. I expect that the planning will take about a year and that implementation will take place in mid-2009. Thanks for your question.
Howard from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
What is the total projected cost for the Purple Line?
How is this broken down in that, who pays what portion?
After completion, what is the projected annual budget?
And, again, who pays what portion of that?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The total projected cost for the Purple Line depends on the alignment and whether a rapid bus line or light rail system is ultimately chosen. The projected estimate for the rapid bus line ranges from $420 million to $1.24 billion. For light rail, the estimate runs from $1.16 billion to $1.75 billion. To date, the State has allocated $131 million for engineering and planning.
Jessica from Silver Spring
Mr. Leggett, it was recently made public that you are spending over $65,000 in taxpayer money for a private bathroom in your office that the previous County Executive, Doug Duncan, did not feel was necessary. How can you condone spending on a lavish bathroom (which by the way is $20,000 more than my yearly teacher's salary) at a time when our county is facing a $300 million dollar budget shortfall? Wouldn't it make sense to cut wasteful spending from all budgets to improve efficiency?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The conditions that existed prior to 9/11 when Mr. Duncan removed the bathroom from the Executive office suite were quite different from the major securities we have today. There is no bathroom in the Executive's office suite. This bathroom is located in the hallway for access by staff and visitors on the Executive floor. I want to dispel the misconception that this bathroom is private. It is there for the use of all staff members in the County Executive's Office as well as our visitors. The bathroom was constructed as part of a solution to better provide for my security. The Executive Office Building is not a secure facility. There was a proposal to make the building more secure, and alleviate some of the concerns expressed by Homeland Security regarding my use of a public restroom several times a day in the public lobby in an insecure building. To address this, there was a proposal that would have cost millions of dollars. I rejected this proposal and the Chief Administrative Officer decided to proceed only with the bathroom and other minor improvements that cost $65,000. The bathroom is rather modest and the cost is due primarily to extending the plumbing for some distance and cutting through an existing concrete and steel structure. This option compared to what other public officials have is extremely modest, cost-effective and not exclusive.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for all the good questions and for participating in today's Live Discussion. Please visit again next time. I look forward to hearing from you.