Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Tuesday, November 19, 2013)
Mr. Leggett: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining me for today's Live Discussion. I'm sorry I'm a few minutes late in getting started. We have a lot of questions today, so let's get going.
Melanie from Silver Spring
Would you come and speak to our community association (Quaint Acres Community Association) on November 21 at 7:30 at our neighborhood church about the Science Gateway? We would love to have you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for the invitation. I would love to speak to Quaint Acres about the Science Gateway. This Thursday is not good but my office will contact you to see if we can schedule me at a future meeting.
Rishocki from Up County
Building a new Potomac river crossing to Virginia and connecting to Dulles airport should be the number one priority of this county. Without this the business are going to flee and the county will just turn into bed room community. It is quite ridiculous the reasons that are provided to justify not building this. This should have been done before my father died in this county, i.e 30 years ago.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
In fact, Montgomery County has long been on record in favor of another Potomac River crossing – an expansion of the crossing at Point of Rocks.
Proposals for a second crossing within the County itself have been unanimously opposed by a series of County Executives and County Councils because such a crossing – and its approaches – must necessarily slash through our County’s 90,000-acre Agricultural Reserve and would adversely affect hundreds of homes in neighborhoods on both sides of the Potomac. It should be remembered that it was Northern Virginia decades ago that first removed an “outer Beltway” from its Master Plans; Montgomery County later followed suit.
Building a “techway” through our Ag Reserve would inevitably involve more access exits and denser development in an area which the County has sought to preserve as mostly “green space” and agricultural land. That is a unique achievement that should not be undermined. If there are changes of opinion, another study may be justified.
Shashikant from Mid County
I must congratulate for the services given by our county for Seniors. We are very much pleased. I am 79 years old and not driving so for us there is good transportation facility like free ride on RideOn and CallN Ride also. The sr. people kile us are not driving so these programs are helpful for going out for social work and others.
I have two questions for call N Ride and Ride On bus route.
(1) Recently we have come to know that that while considering the subsidy for call N Ride applicant the income of all the household people is to be considered which is not fare.The income of the applicant only to be considered . For example a sr. person who is old age and with low income is getting SSI so hid SSI income only should be considered and not of all family members or all the people living in house as while considering the SSI for old low income person the income of others in house or family members like son/daughter etc are not considered so while considering the in
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I appreciate your praise for County seniors programs. I have worked hard over the past seven years – even in these times of economic challenges – to focus County departments on the needs of seniors and their families. In fact, come January, we will inaugurate an initiative with the Jewish Council on Aging to do door-to-door pickups of seniors with mobility needs to take them to programs at County senior centers.
On another question you raise, the County is required by federal law to focus our Call N Ride subsidies on low-income seniors and persons with disabilities and to base eligibility on household income. For example, if you live with a son or daughter and they do not claim you as a dependent for purposes of taxes, you may be eligible based solely on your own income. In addition, we are required to recertify recipients’ status every two years to ensure they are eligible.
As to the part of your question that was cut off concerning a bus route, I think you are referring to the 75 bus. The County discontinued running it along Old Baltimore Road in 2008 or 2009, when Comsat closed. Now that route runs along 355, which is a walk from the neighborhood you describe. Certainly when Cabin Branch opens that route is likely to be resumed in some form, but let me look to see if there are possibilities in the interim.
Anthony from Silver Spring
County Executive Isiah Leggett, citizens of Montgomery County, as well as citizens from other counties, enjoy using the recreation activity-facilities and recreation activity-grounds for sport events. If you, members of the Council, and Montgomery County Citizens determine that an indoor public tennis facility would be economically viable and serve the needs of your fellow citizens and patrons alike, would you agree to build a new indoor public tennis facility?
Olney has a sports complex with many outdoor tennis courts and at least one court at that location is in need of repairs. Rather than just resurface the damaged court(s), I thought to myself and shared with fellow patrons, "Wouldn't it be great to have an indoor tennis facility, right here." I imagined sharing this idea with you, and including other ideas that could potentially add revenue to domestic and foreign businesses, create a science focus for schools and colleges, and increase traffic along the Inter-County Connec
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your question.
Tennis is a wonderful game and I play it myself whenever I get a chance. The County currently operates indoor tennis facilities in Wheaton and Cabin John and they are very successful. While I think one in Olney would be similarly well-used, we do not at present have space in our County capital budget for such a project. As you can imagine, there are lots of worthwhile projects in the queue to be included and I have to make hard choices. The capital budget I will release in January will, I believe, put the lion’s share of resources into meeting critical capacity needs and enrollment increases in our schools. And, of course, that’s an area where we will look for additional State help in the upcoming session in Annapolis. We will continue to evaluate the need and cost-effectiveness of a facility in Olney.
Rick from Rockville
It's almost been two years since the ICC has opened. What do you think about the ICC? Has it been a success or failure? Why? Are toll prices too high, just right or too low? Could the ICC be improved? Explain your thoughts in detail.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question on the ICC.
I believe that the overall success as of the ICC as originally anticipated has yet to be determined. It has not, as some touted it would, “ended gridlock.” I never believed it would do that – and it hasn’t. Certainly it has improved the ability for east-west transit in the County and, with that, access to BWI Airport. I do believe it would attract more traffic and ease more congestion if the tolls were lower.
Kevin from Up County
What is the status of the deer management programs in the upper county region, and why is there not a deer management program at the correctional facility with Clarksburg being a vastly growing community? It is getting very tiring having to dodge deer each day and see dead deer mangled on the side of I-270. Wouldnt the jail be a perfect place for the deer to hide and for hunters to help the community? Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I understand your concerns, and agree that deer are a problem and safety hazard for motorists in Montgomery County. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission oversees the deer management program for the County, and oversees managed hunts in 27 parks, including many that are in the northern part of the County (in Boyds, Darnestown and Clarksburg). A complete list of parks and a schedule of closure dates is available at www.parksdeermanagement.org. The goal of the deer management program is to reduce human-deer conflicts to a level that is compatible with human priorities and land uses. In this way, residents and white-tailed deer can live in harmony, and deer will remain a cherished part of our County's natural landscape.
Eric from Mid County
I understand the latest craze for a livable wage, but are you going to look in-depth at how small, medium and large businesses vary in their operations before making an across the board decision to set some wage?
With many new taxes being passed along (rain tax) via landlords, adding a new cost to businesses will hurt them. Margins are thin as is and leases are signed long term with set escalations.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is, of course, woefully inadequate. It has not been increased since 2009 and is not indexed to inflation. That is why more than 20 states, and other local jurisdictions, have already increased the minimum wage in their jurisdictions above the federal minimum.
Last year, I supported the effort at the State level to increase the minimum wage in Maryland to $10 an hour, phased in over three years. It was unsuccessful. There is no guarantee that such an effort will succeed in the General Assembly this year or in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, I support Bill 27-13 introduced in the County Council to increase the minimum wage now.
A higher minimum wage for Montgomery County is justified, given the higher cost of living in the County as compared to the rest of the State. I believe that a level of $10.75 is more reasonable than the $11.50 in the current bill and that it, too, should be phased in over three years.
Nationally, fewer than five percent of workers earn at or below the minimum wage and I believe that percentage is even lower in Montgomery County. But for those workers who are supporting themselves and their families on a thin financial margin, an increase in the minimum wage will provide them with additional money, much of which will probably be spent in the County and could have a positive impact.
Tom from Silver Spring
You've talked about how upset you are about the Silver Spring Transit Center and how we won't pay to get it fixed. But why shouldn't voters hold you responsible for this in next year's election? Don't you believe the buck stops with you? Ultimately, voters like me give you credit for successes you may or may not be directly responsible for, isn't it fair we hold you responsible for similar failures under your watch?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I have repeatedly stated in countless media outlets that I take responsibility for the Silver Spring Transit Center. Although the defects have been determined to be the responsibility of the private contractors, I take responsibility for getting the center opened as swiftly and safely as possible.
County taxpayers should not pay to fix problems caused by faulty design, construction, and inspection. Last year, as the Silver Spring Transit Center was about 95 percent complete, I became concerned about the overall construction after we and others observed what appeared to be minor cracks in the structure. I decided to take a comprehensive look at possible flaws, and the County hired a world-renowned firm that assembled a team of independent engineers who discovered that the problems at the SSTC far exceeded what was originally identified. In addition to identifying the problem, the report also outlined a solution for resolution.
We are moving ahead on that work. I will continue to protect County taxpayers from bearing any additional costs that result from the defects.
If I had not insisted on a thorough investigation – rather than just a “quick fix” to deal with the concrete thickness, the more serious – and latent – problems would not have been discovered until after the SSTC opened.
In short, the County’s due diligence paid off. We put safety first – and didn’t rush to “patch” something up before we made sure we knew exactly what was wrong and what was required to fix it. Please keep in mind that this facility is scheduled to be used for the next 50 years and I remain convinced that doing this correctly is the right approach, despite temporary inconveniences.
No one wants the SSTC to open more than I do, but I will not recommend opening this facility unless it will serve the County for the next 50 years. I will not open it at the expense of public safety or burdens to County taxpayers from future unanticipated costs.
The work to open the center will continue through the winter. The final overlay, which should only take about four to six weeks, will be started during warmer weather in March or April.
Nicketa from Mid County
Good Afternoon County Executive Isiah Leggett,
I have two questions.
They are as follows:
1.) Will you consider putting a reasonable cap on how much apartment complexes charge for parking spaces? ie. $35 a year for a space or no more than $25 per month per space
I personally feel that one parking space should come with a unit based on the extremely high rent and that a lot of residents are also responsible for their gas, electric, and water.
2.) I would also like to know is there a tax write-off for renters in Montgomery County?
Thank you for your time.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your questions. Currently, I have no authority to place a cap on how much apartment complexes charge for parking spaces.
However, that being said, I have made a commitment to improve conditions in our County for renters by establishing the Renters Alliance. For the first time, renters now have a voice.
The Renters Alliance, a non-profit organization, has as its mission advancing renters rights and security, and can advocate for issues such as the one you raise about rates for parking spaces. This group provides advocacy, education and support for renters on a range of issues.
Please visit: http://www.rentersalliance.org/ to see the many ways this organization can assist you.
Currently, I am unaware of any tax write offs for renters.
Deborah from Rockville
What was the reason you failed to prevent the increase in council members salaries by $32,000 over the next 4 yrs? With the economy weak and not fully recovered and in a time of financial austerity, what possible justification is there for such a large increase? What can be done at this time to stop it? If we show our anger by voting out the current council, the new council will get the increase. That's a clever counter-incentive to the impulse to replace the council. All together, a very unusual method of giving yourself job security while irking your constituency.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. As you may know, I too, was concerned about the proposed Council raises, especially given the uncertainties that still lie ahead of us on the economic front. I informed the Citizens Commission on Compensation last July that I supported only a cost of living increase for the Council and Executive. I did not support the current bill, nor did I sign it. The only power I had was to veto the bill, but because eight Councilmembers voted to support the increase, my veto would have been overridden and it would have become law, despite my objections.
Lebowski from Up County
The jobs and business in MoCo is going from bad to worse, commercial vacancy is all time high.The "For Lease" signs are up on every building in I-270 technology corridor. Everyday there are thousands of people going to DC and Virginia for the private sector jobs. With every tax going up in the state and the county, and no accessible airport roads there is no incentive for business to move to the county in the first place. So in these circumstances what are the county economic development office's efforts in attracting new companies and jobs ? Other than the Costco in Wheaton what please give one example of a a new large company moving to MoCo which hired white collar jobs ?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Although the job market and economic development overall are not at the level that I would like, you need to be aware of the County's performance in these areas. Please keep in mind that the County, and the nation as a whole, has gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression, virtually every jurisdiction around the country has seen similar challenges as you cite in your question, if not worse.
Montgomery County jobs increased by 44,000 – or 8 percent – between 2001 and 2010, 60 percent higher than the national job growth average over that same period.
Despite the lingering recession, over the last two years we have seen a nearly 4 percent increase in jobs in the County – higher than the District, higher than Fairfax County.
Montgomery County continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. The County remains one of the most important centers of biotechnology and life sciences in the world – with MedImmune, Human Genome Sciences and with an expanded Johns Hopkins University.
During the period of economic downturn, my economic strategy has centered on keeping the companies we have, supporting small businesses, and attracting new jobs and businesses from around the country and all over the world.
Over a year ago, I established a major public-private partnership called BioHealth Innovation to accelerate technology transfer and research commercialization in Montgomery County and the Baltimore region. The County is making visionary investments in the Greater Seneca Science Corridor. We are moving aggressively to transform the White Flint and Shady Grove areas with transit-oriented development, and our planning for the future East County life sciences center is well under way. I have worked aggressively with business, communities, and the Council to move these Master Plans and Sector Plans forward.
Between the Great Seneca Science Corridor, the White Oak Science Gateway, and the White Flint Plan, we are creating at least 100,000 new, quality jobs in Montgomery County. These initiatives represent the largest creation of jobs in our County's history.
My Smart Growth Initiative is also significantly strengthening the County's tax base by creating new, high-quality jobs and fostering growth and expansion of the County's biotechnology sector. This initiative allows the County to develop thousands of new transit oriented housing units near the Shady Grove Metro site alone. Prior to my administration there no plan to advance the long-delayed Shady Grove Sector Plan critical to that area of the County.
Here are a few additional highlights:
Our unemployment rate has dropped by 15 percent over the last two years.
The construction of new residential units in Montgomery County increased by over 150 percent over the last three years.
Non-residential construction starts – and their value – have doubled between 2009 and 2012.
And the value of taxable property – the County’s tax base – increased by almost 30 percent in the last five years.
In addition to Costco, which you mentioned, Digital Management, Inc., celebrated the opening of its new world headquarters in Bethesda with 800 global employees, Digital Receiver Technology, Inc. celebrated the opening of its new 162,000-square-foot world headquarters in Germantown, housing nearly 400 employees, and Choice Hotels opened its new world headquarters in downtown Rockville. Those are just a few recent examples.
Una from Up County
When is the reopening of the Olney Library?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We anticipate that the Olney Library will reopen in mid March, 2014. I appreciate the patience of the Olney community as we work to provide a much improved facility.
Mr. Leggett: Unfortunately, that's all we have time for today. If you have other questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As we head into the holiday season, I want to wish you and yours much peace and happiness.