Virtual Town Hall Meeting Transcript (Thursday, April 23, 2009)
Mr. Leggett: Hello. Welcome to today's live discussion. I am ready to answer your questions.
Joe from Mid County
Hello - do you plan to close down or otherwise significantly alter the mission of the department of liquor control during your tenure as county executive?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
I do not intend to significantly alter the operations of the Department of Liquor Control. I understand that some question the County being involved in regulating wholesale and retail liquor sales. On balance, however, I believe that being a “control” jurisdiction enables us to better regulate liquor sales so that liquor stores do not proliferate throughout the County and enables our Department to pursue programs of outreach and enforcement to prevent underage drinking.
There are tangible but non-monetary benefits to operating a control system. There is a lot of recognized, credible, scientifically-based, peer-reviewed, published evidence that the social costs associated with the abuse and misuse of alcohol are LOWER in control jurisdictions like Montgomery County, than in open/licensed jurisdictions. One statistic: alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving persons under age 21 are at least 9.5% lower in control jurisdictions than in non-controlled jurisdictions. Montgomery County is a safer and healthier community because we actively control the sale and distribution of alcohol, in addition to the revenue that is generated for public benefit.
County sales also will return, after all expenses, nearly $30 million this year to the County’s general fund – revenues that might otherwise have to be raised by increasing taxes.
All this being said, I am willing to reevaluate the County's control status and determine if we need to continue this type of operation.
Jane from Rockville
Regarding your March FY2010 Special Budget Edition proposal to the County Council:
I was impressed that your proposal could actually increase funds to MCPS by 2% and "fully fund all educational programs and nearly 99% of the MCPS rquests." Would this then mean that the current cuts to programs under the direction of Dr. Weast would be overturned and resume status quo? thank you
Mr. Leggett: I appreciate your question.
As you know, this budget represents some tough choices made to close a $587 million budget shortfall caused by the housing downturn, the national economic recession, and the State of Maryland’s fiscal crisis.
My budget protects public safety, education, and the County’s safety net for the most vulnerable, while cutting costs by eliminating approximately 400 government positions, providing no cost-of-living pay raises (COLAs) to public employees, realizing cost savings from all County departments, and reducing expenditures in the capital budget.
This budget keeps faith with my commitment to hold the line on property taxes at the Charter limit, including a credit of $690 to lower the burden on homeowners and maintain a more progressive property tax. Under the recommended budget, the property tax rate remains unchanged.
This budget brings the County government’s tax-supported growth rate down from a 14.1 percent increase in FY07, the year before I took office, to less than zero – an actual decrease of 0.4 percent for the coming fiscal year – the lowest level since 18 years.
In the three budgets I have prepared, I have closed nearly $1.2 billion in shortfalls, unprecedented in County history.
In my first two operating budgets, I have squeezed spending requests in other areas to meet the needs of our school system. In our most recent capital budget, the overall increase was a meager 1.1 percent but I gave schools’ projects a 15 percent increase. That’s because, as a teacher myself and a grandfather with a grandchild in the public schools, I know how important learning is.
In my recommended budget for this year, I would increase the Montgomery County Public Schools budget by $38.5 million – a two percent increase – and fully fund all educational programs and nearly 99 percent of the Montgomery County Public Schools request – with a different mix of state and County resources.
You may be aware that school employees are foregoing their scheduled cost-of-living increase this year, saving County taxpayers $89 million.
I have worked closely with the School Board, with Superintendent Weast, and with the unions representing school employees to prioritize our school system in these tough times. They all deserve a lot of credit.
I am convinced that Montgomery County will weather these difficult challenges and come out stronger on the other end. For now, however, the choices are difficult.
The determination of the impact of the $38.1 million -- a 2 percent increase -- on programs in the school system is a matter for the Board of Education and School Superintendent to decide.
Michael from Silver Spring
Is there any possibility that Comcast will reconsider putting channel 22 back on the regular line up? Why is the Maryland Public television station not available in Maryland and the Washington station (WETA) is still on channel 26? It is sad that we are all being forced to get a cable box. Has the Montgomery County Council tried to do anything about this issue? Comcast claims the cable box is free for a year and then they will have a monthly charge. It is obvious that we need more competition in the cable business.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question.
Analog equipment may be causing the problems you are experiencing. Comcast does carry Maryland Public Television (MPT), but only through digital equipment. For residents who still have analog equipment, the County Council is actively working to protect their consumer rights and find ways to address some of these issues. If you need additional information, please contact Mitsuko Herrara in our Cable Office. She can be reached at 240-777-2928.
Arlene from Up County
My dear friend, a hardworking and smart man is being told by the holder of his mortgage, that he must pay $9,000 in fifteen days or lose the house that he has been faithfully paying on for years. They threaten to foreclose. What can we do to help my friend?
How does it benefit the bank or our County to have an empty house deteriorating and a man driven from it with all his possessions? How!
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for contacting me about this. The current foreclosure crisis is negatively impacting the lives of many hardworking and responsible people. I am working closely with the Govenor to take full advantage of economic stimulus funds and other tools to assist those facing foreclosure. The Maryland hotline to assist people facing foreclosure is 877-462-7555. Here in the county, foreclosure counseling is available through several organizations. Please call our Department of Housing and Community Affairs at 240-777-3600 for more information.
Florence Powell from Up County
I would like to know why people are put on the waiting list for HOC and don't get a place, while you have others (involved in drugs, etc) that are not put on the waiting list, but they go to a shelter and get a home before someone that really needs it does? Allso who do you complain to about HOC owned property that is run by another company and the company makes its own rules. Example I have a niece who applied for a place and was placed on the waiting list. Someone that has not lived on the property that long applied and moved in the townhouse next door to the way they were staying in?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (HOC) and the Housing First Initiative (housing formerly homeless families and single adults) are two separate programs with different eligibility and different funding sources.
Criteria for families served under the Housing First Initiative is that they were previously homeless, living in a shelter and have disabilities -- either physical or emotional.
For more information, contact the Housing Opportunities Commission at 240-773-9000.
Mary from Silver Spring
Some Councilmembers are talking about closing libraries or cutting hours to save money. Do you support them?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. The short answer is no. I do not support closing any libraries or cutting hours. I realize that more and more people are depending on libraries for a variety of services -- books for homework research, access to computers, online job searches. Because of these very difficult financial times, I have proposed some reductions to libraries such as purchasing fewer new materials and some staff reductions. In some libraries, this may result in longer lines and fewer copies of that new best seller. My proposed budget does not reduce library hours or close libraries. I have deliberately steered away from these options because there is a tremendous need for access to libraries during these challenging economic times.
Tom from Bethesda-Chevy Chase
When are the long-promised speed control cameras going to be installed and placed in operation on Cedar Lane?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for this question. A date has not yet been set for the installation of these speed cameras. Staff has reached out to the homeowners association, and neighborhood concerns and traffic speed in the area will be evaluated before the cameras are up and running.
If you have further questions, you can contact the Police Traffic Division at 240-773-6056.
Karen from Eastern Montgomery
Why do you want to relocate the Wheaton library?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I have made no decision to relocate the Wheaton Library. I am, however, fully committed to assuring that Wheaton has a modern and accessible library. A new or fully renovated facility will be required to accomplish this. Before making a final recommendation on the location of the library, I am seeking the opinions and views of the people in Wheaton who use the library. I have already received a great deal of feedback regarding this matter. In the near future, I will host a public forum in the Wheaton community to discuss the library. Thank you for your interest in the Wheaton library.
anne from Mid County
Approximately how many threats and approximately how many attempted assaults have you incurred while county executive?
Does this number warrant 4 'security detailees'
at an taxpayers expense of $450,000, and does this cost cover 5 days a week or 7 days a week?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Information reported by some media regarding security for the County Executive has been false and misleading. It is important to know the facts.
First, Montgomery County has provided security for the County Executive as part of its overall plan for County buildings and personnel for the past seven years, long predating my taking office. This is a continuation of ongoing County security policy.
Second, most jurisdictions that approach Montgomery’s nearly one million residents that have elected County Executives and Mayors have security details for such officials, some far more extensive than what is provided in Montgomery County.
Third, the officers who are assigned to the protective detail devote only part of their time to security for the County Executive. The remainder is devoted to supervising County building and personnel security operations not involving the County Executive. So the protective detail personnel cost is way below the cost you cite. Their pay level is consistent with the average wages and benefits for County police officers with a number of years service.
Fourth, there is no 24/7 protection for the County Executive. Protection is only provided on an as-needed basis.
Fifth, it is standing County policy not to comment on security threats to County buildings or personnel, including the County Executive – or to divulge information that could undermine security precautions. That said, please be advised that the need for security is quite real. If there was not a need, the County would not have established the security detail in the first place or continue it to the present.
Incidentally, in meeting the current fiscal difficulties, I have reduced my own office’s budget by 8 percent – even as overall County spending increases by approximately two percent.
Thank you for your question.
Sue from Mid County
How will your Smart Growth Initiative help to generate more jobs for the County?
Mr. Leggett: My Smart Growth Initiative provides for the movement of a number of County offices that will free up valuable land that is adjacent to the Shady Grove metro station and in the middle of our biosciences center. This will allow for the best use of valuable land and the future growth of high quality jobs and housing exactly where they make the most sense -- near mass transit. The construction for all of these different facilities -- both public and private -- will provide for significant jobs while also expanding the County's tax base. Expanding the tax base is what helps relieve the current tax payers of some tax burden.
This is an important initiative for our County's future.
Joe from Up County
Do you intend to furlough County employees? if not, why not?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. I do not intend at the present time to furlough County employees. I was able to avoid this step in the current fiscal year, and I do not propose to do so in the coming fiscal year. I have instead worked with the unions to eliminate general cost-of-living adjustments and eliminated hundreds of positions through a series of efficiencies and difficult choices. These measures provide greater reductions to the continuing cost of government and are preferred to furloughs, which tend to offer only one time cost savings. However, if the fiscal situation worsens, there are few options remaining and I may have to revisit the need for furloughs.
Maria Walker from Up County
Why are there so many programs in Montgomery County, but because I am a M.C.P.S school bus driver (10 month employee) I don't qualify for? I am at the bottom of the barrel. I am a single mother of three children 13, 11, 3 don't qualify for food stamps, day care vouchers etc. etc. I am thinking that mother who doesn't work gets all the assistance. Why are there no homeownership programs for bus operators, just for teachers or police officers? I would appreciate a response please? Thank you
A struggling single mother of 3
M.C.P.S Bus Operator
Shady Grove South #5320
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. Ever since I first assumed elected office here in Montgomery County, I have been concerned for hard working people like you. Most of the social services programs are rigidly controlled and defined by federal and state regulations. Most of these regulations are based upon parts of the country or state that are less affluent than our county. I know our housing costs, food and other necessities cost more here than in less affluent areas. There are several county programs that help individuals like yourself who work hard but still need some assistance to make ends meet. Please contact the Department of Health and Human Services at 240-777-1245 to learn more about the county programs for which you may qualify. And thank you for your services as a bus driver!
Melanie from Rockville
Would it be possibel to announce to the county that here in America we need to walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic?@
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question. It gives me the opportunity to discuss the priority I have placed on improving pedestrian safety. Using the revenues from the speed camera program, I have significantly enhanced the County's efforts to improve pedestrian safety through a three-pronged approach of education, engineering and enforcement. The effort you ask for falls under better education and I am proposing a significant increase in this area. I will pass your comment along to those that are working on this effort. The County Council is currently considering my proposed increases in pedestrian safety and has made some preliminary recommendations to reduce my proposed education effort. If you have a view on this, you may want to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marlene from Silver Spring
I was fraudulently induced into a rent to own/which was to be a home purchase contract. He was to assist me in finding a home to purchase. He asked that I put down $20,000.00 towards the down payment. I at the time put down a total of $19,300.00 which I gave to him in checks etc. I moved into the rent to own property and was evicted because Mr, Davis who label himself the property manager did not pay the owner (so the owner evicted him). I have tried to have him return my money so I can move on to purchasing a home. I have no down payment left and I would really like to get my money back to go forward. I have tried to find this guy.
I am presently living in a home but the owner is selling. What can I do in this matter to help myself get my money back and find a home to purchase?
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for your question, Marlene, and I'm sorry for the trouble you are experiencing. The County has an effective Office of Consumer Affairs and strong consumer protection laws. Please contact the Office at 240-777-3636.
Florence Powell from Not from Montgomery County
I would like to know who I can contact about police brutality and also the way police officer's drive on the beltway?
Mr. Leggett: The Police Department has an Office of Internal Affairs which investigates all complaints against police officers. Please go to the Police Department's website. The link to their Internal Affairs page is: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/Pol/districts/chief/internal_affairs/index.asp
Please go to this page for instructions on filing a complaint. You can also call Internal Affairs at 240-773-6000, or pick up a complaint form at your District Police Station. Thank you.
Mr. Leggett: Thank you for joining me today for a live online discussion. I appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions and share information that may be helpful.
Join me next time.