Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Tuesday, May 21, 2013)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining me for today's Live Discussion. I look forward to your questions, so let us get started.
Robert from Up County
As an employee on Montgomery County Gov. I would like to know when we can expect some sort of raise? As you know it's been awhile since we've had one.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I am very aware of the sacrifices that our employees have made in the last few years without cost of living increases, step or increments, and with required furlough days. The average employee has contributed over $30,000 to help close the $2.7 billion in budgetary gaps, and I am very appreciative of that. Now that the economy is beginning to improve, as I promised our employees, I am able to increase compensation after so many lean years. I am pleased that the Council has approved my recommended compensation plan, and general County employees will receive a 3.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment in September. Police will receive a 2.1 percent increase and career firefighters will receive a 2.75 percent increase, both in July. Eligible employees could also receive service increments that may be an additional 3 percent. Thank you for your service on behalf of the County.
Larry from Up County
How does the new Transportation Funding signed into law by the Governor benefit Montgomery County commuters?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The law increases revenues from the sale of gasoline for the first time in more than a generation. The revenue is estimated at $4.4 billion statewide over the next six years. The funds in Montgomery County will be dedicated to new roads and mass transit projects, including the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway and a backlog of major road projects, including the Watkins Mill interchange and the Brookeville Bypass. These projects will offer commuters more options and help with traffic congestion. This funding will also boost our economic base, providing more jobs and enhance our tax base.
Pete from Up County
What is your opinion on WalMart moving into the old Vitro site in Aspen Hill?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I understand the community's desire to see redevelopment of this site, and have heard from a number of residents in that area that they would like to see greater shopping opportunities. This site needs to be improved because in its current condition, it is undervalued and, therefore, is not contributing to the County's tax base. However, rezoning the old BAE/Vitro property in Aspen Hill will require a master plan amendment to the Aspen Hill Master Plan through Park and Planning, and ultimately, the County Council. Recently, the County Council asked the Park and Planning Commission to proceed with this work. Please understand that while I agree that creating more shopping opportunities on that site would benefit the Aspen Hill area generally, I, as County Executive have no official role in the planning or rezoning process.
Peggy from Up County
What does next year’s County budget do to bring more police protection to our neighborhoods?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The Police Department budget will increase by four percent, starting July 1. As part of my three- year staffing plan, which adds 120 police officers and 23 civilian employees 40 new officers will be added in the new budget. In the current year, 40 officers were added. The two upcoming police recruit classes will be larger and the number of School Resource Officers will be doubled. A new Crisis Intervention Team Officer will improve police response to calls related to mental illness and provide better coordination with the mental health community. In addition, funds will support a new investigative unit in the sixth Police District, replace expiring Federal grant funds for the Anti-Gang Unit and provide resources dedicated to missing person calls. Overall, crime is down, but we can do more. It is expected that you will see more officers throughout the neighborhoods.
DALE from Up County
Thank you Mr Leggett for your response on panhandlers in Maryland even though it probably came from somebody in your office not yourself. I'm going to put up a sign and let the citizens know why I'm panhandling and that I just need to tally up what they make a day and figure 5 days a week how much they make panhandling and paying no taxes I will post this in the papers so the public knows. Thank you.
My main question to you Mr. LEGGETT is why will you allow illegals to get a license in Maryland yet they pay no taxes. Myself and many others have found themselves owing taxes for one year or another because of a mishaps and find we can't get a registration renewal until we pay in full. Times are hard and I lost my truck for owing 290.00 in 1993 and had no idea I did not send it in. Now you all want $13.000 from me. Robbery is what I say. Nevertheless illegals don't pay taxes and here's a license to drive and here is a registration for your vehicle. They don't have a social s
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The letter you reference did come from me. Also, let me assure you that I do, in fact, answer these questions myself.
Regarding your question about undocumented people obtaining driver's licenses, this measure was approved by the State legislature this year. I believe, as well as the General Assembly, that providing undocumented residents with a limited license actually helps overall public safety. The greater issue here is the need for national immigration reform. I am hopeful that the Congress will enact much-needed immigration reforms in the coming months. Many studies have shown that even people who are undocumented pay a variety of taxes. With immigration reform, we will have a better system of assuring that undocumented immigrants will pay their fair share of taxes. Thank you
David from Up County
Does the County share responsibility in the recent death of Mary Jo Fish, the panhandler who died on Friday following the accident on Veirs Mill Road where she was struck in the median?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We are not yet certain if Ms. Fish was panhandling at the time of her death. The Police are investigating this unfortunate incident.
As for panhandling, it is most unfortunate that anyone living in our County would need to beg on the street for sustenance. We have effective County and non profit agencies which are able to assist our most needy residents. The best way for a person in need to obtain help is to contact one of these agencies rather than risk panhandling.
I supported legislation in the General Assembly which enables local governments to enact local laws addressing panhandling. I will soon send legislation to the County Council which will require anyone who panhandles on the medians to secure a permit. It will be unlawful for anyone to panhandle on the median without the permit.
Thank you again for your question.
Mark from Eastern Montgomery
What are you thoughts on what has affectionately become known as the "Rain Tax"?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The so-called "rain tax" is a mandate from the State of Maryland, intended to address the impervious (paved) surface water runoff that adversely affects the Chesapeake Bay. Under the new County law, many of our residents will not pay increased taxes. In fact, many will see a decrease in what they currently pay. There are some increases for businesses and very large residences, due to the size of their impervious areas. This is a necessary fee in order to protect our environment and the Chesapeake Bay, despite negative publicity that claims it to be a "rain tax."
Dave from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
The majority of people I speak with oppose The Purple Line. Is there any mechanism to put The Purple Line to a state or county-wide vote? We vote on many issues, why not this one? Or have we, and I missed it? Thank you
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I know there are some in the county who oppose the Purple Line. As Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and other areas continue to evolve, effective mass transit is critical to avoid gridlock and promote livable communities. The Purple Line is part of the County's transportation master plan.
Generally, legislation passed by the state and County can be petitioned to public referendum. However, budget items cannot be petitioned to referendum. The Purple Line is a construction budget item for the County and state.
Thank you again for your question.
Max from Up County
Are commercial signs allowed in the right-of-way?
I'm seeing a lot of lawn signs, the kind that have two pieces of heavy-duty wire that get stuck into the dirt, all over the grassy medians, and it was my understanding that those are illegal. I'd like to remove them and reduce the visual clutter. If these signs are illegal, is there any reason residents should not pull them up and throw them in the trash?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Your are correct that signs are not allowed in the medians of our roadways. I agree with you that these signs are unsightly and add to visual clutter. We recommend that residents call 311 to report signs in the medians, and our Department of Permitting Services will send out staff to remove illegal signs.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you to all who participated in today’s Live Discussion. Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day holiday and please join me for my next Live Discussion on July 9.