Montgomery in Focus Masthead
June 2012

 

Council Approves Forward-Looking Budget

Nancy FloreenWe passed a $4.6 billion total County operating budget for Fiscal Year 2013. The budget, which reflects a 5.6 percent increase over the approved budget for FY 2012, restores some of the cuts we made in recent years but still reflects our constrained circumstances. In a budget year that continues to be complicated by the national and regional economic downturn, this budget protects core services and safety net programs. The budget will go into effect on July 1.

Education continues to be our top priority, and we appropriated $2.0 billion in tax-supported funds for Montgomery County Public Schools, funding 100 percent of the Board of Education’s request and meeting the County’s Maintenance of Effort obligation. That is an increase of $50.7 million, or 2.6 percent, over FY 2012, and does not include the $27.2 million for the pension cost shift. The tax-supported budget for Montgomery College grows by $0.4 million to $218.4 million, a 0.2 percent increase, and funds 100 percent of the College’s request.

Over the last three years, the County Government workforce has been reduced by 998 positions—approximately 10 percent. The FY 2013 budget restores 92 positions, including 58 in the Police Department through increased staffing and the consolidation of 911 call-takers, and 15 in libraries.

The budget shows reductions totaling $14 million in current County Government spending. The County is expected to save $6.4 million in electricity costs as a result of newly negotiated electricity supply rates for County Government accounts.

Funding for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will increase by $5.4 million to $102.2 million, a 5.3 percent increase and 100 percent of the agency’s request. M-NCPPC had been hit hard by budget cuts in recent years, so I’m pleased we were able to provide this funding. We sometimes forget that our master plans are an important part of our economic development, so it is critical that we keep these updates on track for our long term future.

We approved the County Executive’s recommendation to implement an Emergency Medical Services Transport reimbursement program, which is expected to generate $18 million in annual revenue in future years. We created a dedicated account for this reimbursement revenue so that the funds will be used solely for needed improvements to the Fire and Rescue Service. This funding could be used to purchase replacement apparatus; restore Fire and Rescue services; purchase portable Fire and Rescue equipment for career and volunteer personnel; or improve and maintain Fire and Rescue facilities.

We added or restored a number of significant items related to Health and Human Services, including funds for health care for the uninsured, an increase in child care subsidies, an increase in energy assistance rebates and an increase in dental care for low-income patients. We also restored funding to restart the Conservation Corps job training program.

Economic development remained a priority for the entire Council and for me personally. We appropriated funds to partner with the Montgomery Business Development Corporation to market Montgomery County as a compelling place to conduct business and to attract and retain businesses. We created the position of Chief Innovation Officer to assist in transforming the County’s service delivery and government operations. We also added two positions to the Department of Economic Development to implement Bill 5-12 that created a Small Business Navigator to help small business owners start and maintain their businesses. I’m very pleased that even with constrained resources, we made the decision to invest in our future. Only through job creation will our residents and our county as a whole be able to achieve the future we envision.

To aid both residents and businesses, we took a significant first step in rolling back the energy tax increase, approved as an emergency measure two years ago, by reducing revenue from the 2010 tax increase by 10 percent for FY 2013.

The budget also maintains property tax revenue at the current level, which is $32.7 million below the Charter limit, and includes a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. Because of declining property assessments, the weighted property tax rate will increase by 4.5 cents to 99.1 cents.

We continued our commitment to restore recent reductions to the County Libraries budget. The approved budget of $31.4 million is an increase of $2.9 million (10.3 percent from the approved FY 2012 level). We added $200,000 to the Executive’s recommendation to increase purchases of library materials.

The budget includes funding for all the economic provisions in the negotiated collective bargaining agreements with County employees represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. The budget includes funding for most County employees to receive a $2,000 one-time lump sum payment that will not increase the employee’s base salary. The budget also includes funds to reinstate longevity raises for eligible long-time County employees and to reinstate limited tuition assistance for all County employees. Our employees really have been great throughout the economic downturn, and I’m glad that we finally are able to provide some measure of increased compensation this year. It is certainly overdue and well deserved.

M-NCPPC is taking the same one-time lump sum approach. Montgomery College provided a one-time lump sum payment to its employees in FY 2012 and will not be making a payment in FY 2013. MCPS plans to provide increases to base pay.

The budget maintains the County’s commitment to prudent fiscal policies that the Council and Executive mutually agreed are critical to maintaining sound fiscal management. The budget increases County reserve levels to $302 million to cushion the County against any additional unanticipated economic setbacks. It also more than doubles the pre-funding of retiree health benefits.

The County’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) that is the focus of major review every two years was updated for Fiscal Years 2013-18. The plan includes funding of $4.3 billion. The six-year CIP for all agencies (excluding the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission) addresses major projects.

Among the notable items funded in the CIP is approval for the Wheaton Redevelopment Program that will guide revitalization of Wheaton’s downtown area. We also restored funding for the Bethesda South Metro entrance to demonstrate our commitment to the Purple Line, and included funds for the Capital Crescent Trail. Traffic projects that continue the implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan also remain funded and on schedule. Planning for a proposed County-wide rapid transit system continues.

The CIP also includes funding for sciences and student services buildings and a new parking garage at Montgomery College; a long-awaited North Potomac Recreation Center; and critical pieces of bike infrastructure, such as the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

The CIP for Montgomery Public Schools includes funding for 20 new schools and/or additions, including nine projects new to the CIP.


 

Improve Your Home Improvement Experience

house with scaffoldingJoin me and Montgomery County's Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection for a public forum entitled Improve Your Home Improvement Experience. Topics include everything from avoiding scams to state licensing requirements. The expert panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, June 20 from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, 1st floor Auditorium. 

This free forum will be moderated by Eric Friedman, director of the County’s Office of Consumer Protection. He will lead a discussion with experts on home improvements, including Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition; Steven Smitson, executive director of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (a division of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation); the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services; and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

As we approach the summer building season, our Office of Consumer Protection generally sees a rise in complaints involving home improvement, so I look forward to having an opportunity to help educate our residents on ways to avoid getting scammed.  The Office of Consumer Protection is such a valuable resource for our residents, and I am pleased to be able to participate in this important forum.

The forum will address a number of topics including common scams, how to be sure your contractor is properly licensed, how to structure your home improvement contract, permitting requirements for homeowners, and what remedies are available for consumers.  Light refreshments will be served.


 

Charter Review Commission Wants Your Views

The Montgomery County Charter Review Commission wants your comments on a variety of issues to determine if the current system of County Government adequately addresses the needs of County residents. Submit your comments by June 30.

General comments are also welcome, but the Commission is seeking community input on the following issues: (1) if the Charter should allow a special hiring authority for people with disabilities; (2) whether the Charter should be amended to provide for the removal of a Councilmember for a serious violation of the Ethics law; and (3) if the Council should have a Council President that is elected by the voters to a four-year term.

Special Hiring Authority

Persons with disabilities face persistent barriers to employment, including some employers’ presumptions about persons with disabilities, the structure of jobs and the personal circumstances of the job seeker. The Commission is considering whether to amend the Charter to allow a special hiring authority for people with disabilities. Under the special hiring authority, a hiring manager could directly hire a person with a disability into a merit system position and bypass the typical merit system hiring process. Applicants would still need to possess the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the position.

Removal of a Councilmember

The Charter provides for the removal of a Councilmember, after a public hearing is held, if at least six Councilmembers find that the Councilmember is unable to perform the duties of the office because of a physical or mental disability. The Commission is considering whether to expand the reasons for removal to include removal for a serious violation of the ethics law.

Council President Election and Term

Currently, the Council President is elected to a one-year term and the Charter requires the Council to elect a President from among its members. The Commission is considering whether the President should be elected by the voters and whether the term should be longer than one year. Related issues, such as whether a popularly elected President should be a district or at-large member, have arisen.

Mission of the Charter Review Commission

The Charter is the constitutional framework for County government. Charter Section 509 provides for an 11-member Charter Review Commission to study the Montgomery County Charter. The Commission must report to the Council in May 2014 with recommendations for possible Charter revisions. These recommendations may lead to proposed Charter amendments that are voted on by the electorate in November 2014.
The current members of the Commission are: Molly Mahoney Matthews, Chair; Mark Feinroth, Vice Chair; Jeannie Cho; Diane Nash Dillon; Wendell Holloway; Guled Kassim; Thomas King; and Albert Pearce.

If you want to present your opinions on the issues listed above or are interested in recommending additional issues for the Commission, submit your recommendations to: Charter Review Commission, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, 5th Floor, Rockville, MD 20850. You can also e-mail your comments to CharterReview.Commission@montgomerycountymd.gov. Get your comments in by June 30.


 

Is Rapid Transit Right for Montgomery?

rapid transit vehicleThe Montgomery County Transit Task Force released its recommendations for establishing a 160-mile, innovative, best-in-class rapid transit system that creates a comprehensive transit network. The Task Force recommends that the system be built in three phases over the next nine to 20 years to mitigate both construction and affordability issues.

The proposed rapid transit system would use vehicles that would operate like “light rail on rubber tires” and is more typically referred to as bus rapid transit. To the maximum extent possible, the network would have separate, dedicated rapid transit vehicle (RTV) lanes, with an emphasis on creating a network with both north-south and east-west connections.

The report states that an RTV network is essential if the County wants to achieve its smart growth vision and successfully compete for its fair share of the projected job growth in the region. Although still a rough estimate, the Task Force estimates capital costs for the RTV system to be $1.83 billion. Annual operating costs for the system are estimated to be $1.1 million per mile.

While I think it is great to think big about our future, I continue to ask myself what is economically feasible and manageable for us long term, especially in light of our already extensive backlog of unfunded transportation projects. A recent staff report to the Planning Board raises several issues, including a concern that the proposed network could create a huge amount if transportation capacity beyond that needed to support our current planned land uses. Also, The Gazette has a nice article in addition to an interesting editorial about the report. Check these out and let me know what you think.


 

Fast Fact

Join Conservation Montgomery for National Get Outdoors Day and take a Tree Care 101 class on Saturday, June 9, 1:00-2:30. Homeowners have a large percentage of our tree canopy in their own yards, so learn how proper tree care will keep trees on your property healthy and safe through the years. Conservation Montgomery will host a home tree maintenance session and tree planting demonstration, followed by a short stroll around the neighborhood to look at the condition of residential trees and trees in Montgomery Hills Park.

A neighborhood clean-up will be part of the stroll for MCPS students who want to earn SSL hours. Registration and a donation are required. E-mail ConservationMontgomery@live.com or call 240-793-4603 for more information.


 

Green Tip of the Month

Upholding its reputation as a local leader in recycling efforts, Montgomery County is stepping up again with the establishment of a new, higher recycling goal--70 percent of the waste stream being recycled by the end of 2020.

The new goal is the first to be established since the original goal of recycling 50 percent of the waste stream was established nearly 20 years ago. It puts Montgomery County in an elite group of major jurisdictions which have the highest recycling goals in the United States. Both Florida and California have recycling rate goals of 75%, while the City of Seattle's recycling rate goal is 70%. Maryland's recycling rate goal is 35% with an additional waste reduction goal of 5%. For more information about recycling in Montgomery County, visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/recycling.


 

Let's Talk

Is your community organization hosting a public meeting?  Please let me know how I can help. I am happy to assist residents in understanding pending bills or in finding ways to get involved in the political process. Even more important, I want to hear about what matters to you.  Send your meeting notices to councilmember.floreen@montgomerycountymd.gov or call 240-777-7959 if you would like me to address a particular topic with your group.