Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Wednesday, November 12, 2008)
Mr. Leggett: Welcome to today's Live Discussion. I'm County Executive Ike Leggett, and I welcome your questions. Let's get started.
Mike from Silver Spring
Good afternoon Mr. Leggett:
How do you intend to close the significant fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget gap without again increasing taxes, and / or raising or introducing new fees for services, such as the ambulance transport fee?
Also, do you intend to fully fund the general wage adjustment for your County workfroce in your FY10 budget proposal to the County Council?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
As you may know, over the my first two years I have reduced County government agency spending from a 14 percent
increase in the year before I took over to 6.9 percent and, then, last year, to 1.6 percent. I have initiated a
hiring freeze and eliminated 225 positions. My current six-year capital budget increased by only 1 percent, compared
to an average of 25 percent for each of the previous two cycles.
I have proposed a two-day furlough that would affect all County employees and save about $6 million toward the $8
million hole left by the County Council when they passed the budget last May. The remainder would be met through
better-than-expected savings from our early retirement program and from limiting senior management pay.
Updated revenue reports in November will tell us whether we need to go beyond the two days. Given the difficulties
with the national economy, the downturn in the housing market, and the state budget crisis, I believe we will need
an expanded savings plan for this fiscal year that might involve more furlough days. In addition, we project a $251
million gap in the budget that begins next July 1.
Incidentally, I will contribute back to Montgomery County whatever my equivalent pay would be for however many
furlough days are necessary.
I have already said that I will not increase taxes next year. I am currently engaged in discussions with the County
employee organizations over the depth of our budget challenges and adjustments in negotiated cost-of-living
increases. Lacking an agreement on reductions, I will be proposing a budget next March 15 with significant
reductions in critical areas.
On the proposed Emergency Medical Services Transport Fee, it would not, of course, cost County residents a single
We depend on our Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. It must have the resources to continue to serve everyone
in need, regardless of ability to pay.
And County taxpayers already pay for fire and rescue services and should not be asked to pay more.
Thatís why my proposed Emergency Medical Services Transport Fee strengthens our Fire & Rescue Service at a time of
tight budgets at no additional cost to County residents. It will bring in $14 million a year and $200 million over
ten years from money already being paid to health insurance companies.
If we fail to implement an EMS Transport fee, our options will be to increase taxes further, take resources away
from other critical County needs, or slow the pace of needed improvements in our emergency medical services.
Dan from Mid County
I have recently moved to the newly built wentworth house complex in North Bethesda. I was told that per Montgomery County, we can't have grills(gas/charcoal) installed outside our apartments. The building is designed in such a way that it has terraces on the third floor.
Why can't I have a grill on my terrace which is above the still in construction Harris Teeter, and is technically away from the actual building.
You can find more information about the complex at: http://www.wentworthhouseapartments.com
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
The really short answer is that no grills are allowed in multi-family dwelling units unless they are at least 20 feet away from the building. If you would like to have an inspector come out to determine if a grill is acceptable on your terrace, call Chief Hamilton at 240-777-2457.
Wanda from Up County
Good day. I have often wondered why the county use the labor of the detention icenter nmates to cut the grass in the summer but not not use them in the winter to shovel snow, especially around the Rideon bus stops. I live in the Dufief section of Montgomery county and when it snows there is no access to the bus stop because the snowplows push the snow in the curb. Also does the county plan on providing covered shelters for all bus stops in the system? Thank you for your assistance.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The County actually does use minimum security inmates to clear snow and do other community service work.
Deborah from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
Can you do more to enforce the county's noise ordinance? I have found that more often than not, contractors and county workers are the ones ignoring the ordinance. Just this morning, a contractor dumpster working on a garage in Bethesda pulled up at 6:35.They are not supposed to start work until 7 am. A couple weeks ago, a county parking lot was being swept at 11:45 pm (and believe me this is extremely noisy). I have complained many times, and there is never any change.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I appreciate your taking the time to bring issue of noise ordinance violations by contractors doing work for the County to my attention. I have asked David Dise, the director of General Services, to provide reminders to our contractors that they are required to comply with all County laws, including our noise ordinance. We can also remind them of what our noise ordinance requires. In the meantime, if you have specific complaints, please call Noise Control at 240-777-7770. Thank you again for your question.
mary clipper from Not from Montgomery County
i know that you did a early out for some of the county employees which was very good. Now you have alot of public safety worker who would like the same. Some have the time but is waiting and hoping for a buy out??. Would this help with the furlongh--peace out
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We will continue to look at this, but given the critical need for public safety personnel, it is unlikely that we will be able to do this any time soon.
Jack from Mid County
The County is facing a number of fiscal issues that will tax your administration not only this year, but likely for the foreseeable future.
How do you intend to balance the following revenue issues:
*Declining tax revenues
*Ficker's anti-tax charter amendment
*the likelihood of declining state aid
Against the commitments noted below:
*negotiated wage increases for County employees
*maintaining the County's AAA bond rating
*your Smart Growth Initiative
Can you do it all? What are the priorities?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
The priorities are certainly education and public safety and protecting those who are most vulnerable in our County. The budget this year, and in the foreseeable future, will be a real challenge, but it is something that we will manage. It is my intent to submit a budget that, under the circumstances, will, unfortunately, have major reductions in programs and services. I will not increase taxes. In addition, I am in discussions with our labor unions to roll back negotiated cost-of-living increases. Under no circumstances will I take action regarding the budget that will jeopardize the County's AAA bond rating.
Monica from Silver Spring
Greetings Mr. Leggett,
Iím pleased to read about the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veteranís Plaza being built as part of our cityís revitalization.
We should seize this opportunity to pay tribute to the first African-American National President of the Vietnam Veterans of America [VVA], George Calvin Duggins. Serving as President from 1997-2001, with VVA offices at 8605 Cameron Street in Silver Spring, Mr. Duggins worked tirelessly as an advocate for our nations heroes.
George Calvin Duggins was truly an American hero. As a leader of the VVA, an organization based in here in Silver Spring, George Calvin Duggins is certainly worthy of the center itself being named in his honor. What a fitting tribute it would be from us, a grateful nation and city.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your suggestion. I recently announced a series of initiatives aimed at helping veterans and their families, including a new hotline that will start November 17 at 301-738-7176 to coordinate mental health and other services. One of those initiatives was naming a new Veterans Commission to recommend an appropriate memorial for County veterans who lost their lives in our nation's wars. I have also asked the Commission to design and sponsor an enhanced County celebration of Veterans Day. Your thoughts on paying tribute to one of our veterans is much appreciated. I will ask the Veterans Commission and Naming Task Force for County Buildings to consider your recommendation. Thank you.
alan from Rockville
What is the cost of your security detail? What is the reason you have it? Have past county executives had a security detail?
Is the cost of your security detail a cost that is more important to the county than recreational sports programs?
My child played in a county softball league the past few years but now it was canceled due to "budget cuts". We are told the same will happen to Winter Basketball.
What is your justification for using taxpayer money to pay for your personal security detail and $65,000 bathroom that benefit you individually and benefit no other resident as you cancel county programs to the detriment of county residents?
Why don't you cancel your security, or pay for it yourself, and give the $ back to the county so it can pay for softball and basketball leagues that are used by hundreds of kids?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I appreciate your concern, but please understand that the security detail was created by the prior County Executive in response to very real security issues. The Council has discussed this issue on a number of occasions and has concluded that given the continued threats to the chief executive of one of the largest urbanized jurisdiction with nearly 1,000,000 people, the need for a security detail is readily apparent. I'm sure that you would also find it surprising that our County office building has no significant security in place. The doors are open nearly around the clock, there are no metal detectors and the lobbies on each floor are open to all. There is a recommendation to tighten security throughout the building that would cost several million dollars. Instead, we took a far less expensive approach.
Bart from Up County
How much money does the illegal immigrant population cost Montgomery County taxpayers each year? Since we are having such a financial problem at this point will you actually do something regarding this issue so the actual tax paying citizens of Montgomery County can get some relief? What possible taxes could illegals be paying other than sales taxes?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. We do not have costs broken down by immigration status. Based on some analysis, many who are not documented not only pay sales taxes, but also property taxes. In fact, in many cases, income taxes and social security taxes are collected, and these undocumented immigrants will not see the benefits. The problem of illegal immigration is a national problem that must be fully addressed at the national level. Until it is, local jurisdictions will continue to be put in a difficult position.
Gloria Stout from Silver Spring
It is my understanding from careful observation that the safety on the roads from recklessness and negligent driving is on the rise. I can testify that points are not being taken at the district court for speeding and that my neighborhood has weekly wrecks from excessive speeds and attempts to pass through yellow lights while others are trying to stop at the yellow. It has become so perilous that I feel something must be done to prevent unwarranted strain on police and the executive branch not to mention injury and loss of life. How can you change this situation so that those who are reckless take a few years sabatical from driving, as it should be?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your letter. I too have a great deal of concern with the level of reckless and negligent driving I observe on our roads today. I have worked hard to implement measures that try to address these issues such as improved engineering of roads to slow traffic down, measures to improve pedestrian safety and additional enforcement measures. I would urge you to let the judiciary know of your concerns as well.
Fae from Mid County
In the redevelopment plans for Wheaton Central Business District, there is a proposal to move the Wheaton Library from its current location to the mid-county services center. The argument seems to be made on the basis of economic development. Yet government-owned properties are seldom effective anchors for redevelopment. Private enterprises are much more effective in this role. Why, then, are we considering an expensive project to move the Library instead of putting energy into attracting businesses? Why not make an attractive, safe, and convenient way to get to the Library from the Metro rather than relocate it? Thank you for your thoughts on this important issue.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Relocating the library is a result of a community-based "visioning" process. The national trend is to locate libraries near transit. This location would better serve all of Wheaton and would bring more people and business into the Central Business District. It would complement private development, including the MetroPoint mixed use project over the Metro and new investments made by Westfield Shopping Center. All this will contribute greatly to Wheaton revitalization.
Julia from Rockville
The county is proceeding full-speed with a plan to create a school bus depot atop the Gude Landfill. Why would the county spend a minimum of 55-million dollars on a project with extraordinary hazards (of explosion), a project virulently opposed by the neighbors? Why not use that 55 -million dollars to find a better, SAFER parcel of land nearby?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. There were a number of other questions related to the Gude Landfill issue and I will answer them all through this response. Please understand that the County will not do anything that will create a dangerous condition for the surrounding community or at the landfill. We are working with represntatives from the community and will continue to seek their input on the scope of services for the necessary studies. We are also working with the Maryland Department of the Environment to determine what is feasible on that site. There are successful models of reclamation and beneficial reuse of closed landfills. We are looking at those models to better understand how they were successfully and safely integrated into various communities.
Terry from Up County
I have been charged a citation with the safe speed system. I was going 7 miles over the limit. Likely a police officer would not have stopped me. Increase the system to 10 mph. This system does not deter egregious offendors and is in essence a tax on a distressed population. In these economic times, the Montgomery County residents are feeling the squeese worse than many other counties with higher taxes and higher prices for everything. You are simply piling on. To add insult to injury you do not even send the notice certified and charge late fees for a citation that may not even have been delivered.
Stop exploiting your citizens. Eliminate this money making scheme.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The purpose of safe speed systems is to deter speeding in our residential neighborhoods, especially near schools. Motorists are only cited if they go more than 10 miles over the speed limit. If you were only travelling 7 miles above the speed limit, you should not have received a citation and should contest it within the 30 days allowed in order to avoid any additional penalties. Call 866-818-3844 for more information.
Luis Yliquin from Rockville
Good Afternoon Mr. Leggett,
Greetings from the Yliquin's Family,
My whole family would like to know what can the County do for the families that are losing the Houses or are doing Bankruptcy and they can not rent any apartments to live, because of the situation. I am one of them. I would like to know your sincere answer.
Thank you for your time,
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I am sorry to hear about your foreclosure and credit problems. You are not alone in this situation, and preventing foreclosures is a top priority in this economy. That's why Montgomery County has organized public meetings throughout the County to reach at-risk homeowners with information on what they can do to save their homes. The County has also partnered with the State of Maryland to fund the individual foreclosure counseling necessary to problem-solve with homeowners. Non-profit agencies funded under this program are currently working with about 200 families and the County is seeking to add more federally-certified counselors and will be providing training to increase the number of foreclosure counselors. Montgomery County has matched $2.5 million in state funding with $2.5 million from the County's Housing Initiative Fund to underwrite some potential losses of lending institutions in refinancing homeowners at risk.
If you have not yet lost your home to foreclosure, speak to your lender. Then contact the toll-free HOPE Hotline for foreclosure counseling and help at 1-877-462-7555.
If you have already lost your home to foreclosure, contact the County's Department of Health and Human Services at 240-777-1245 to determine if the County can assist.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for all of your good questions today. I am hosting a Town Hall Meeting on November 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Rocky Hill Middle School in Clarksburg. If you have additional questions, I encourage you to attend. Thank you for joining today's discussion.