Montgomery in Focus Masthead
May 2013

 

Overview of the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite

Nancy FloreenBy May 3, we should have the Planning Board's recommendations for rewriting the Zoning Ordinance to make it easier to understand and apply. The Planning Department gave us a summary of the overall objectives in April. Whether you are an expert or a novice, you'll appreciate the background and supplemental information they provided, including the interactive map where you can see how proposed changes would affect your property. Check out the video archive of the meeting or just the Power Point presentation.

The public hearing on the rewrite will be Tuesday, June 11, and the PHED Committee will be meeting weekly on this throughout the summer.

Over the years, the Zoning Code has become overly technical, contradictory in some places and difficult to understand. We aim to make the revised version more transparent, clear and consistent. I encourage you to weigh in as we make our way though this comprehensive project.


 

Budget Update

If you would like to follow along as we continue to work through the FY14 budget, you can get our committee and full Council agendas on our Web site, and all of our meetings are broadcast live either on television or on County Cable Montgomery’s Web site. We will pass a final budget on May 23. Although we have finished our public hearings, you can still let us know what you think.


 

My Intern's Perspective on the County Budget

Amanda in an airplaneMy intern, Amanda Cohen, attended one of our public hearings on the budget last month. A junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Amanda has an interesting perspective--one we don't always get a chance to hear, so I appreciate her thoughtful commentary. Here's her take:

The process of making the Montgomery County budget is not an easy one. Every year, Councilmembers and their constituents crowd into meeting rooms to discuss the needs of every service, program and agency in Montgomery County.

Before I came to intern at the Montgomery County Council, I had no knowledge of the County budget, or the fact that there was a budget at all. It is only now, after listening to the citizens of Montgomery County fight for their programs, that I understand how important this $4 billion budget is.

For many citizens, the money received by certain programs is a way to change lives. A speaker from the Korean Community Service Center told a moving story of how, with the help of County money, the center saved a young woman and her baby from an abusive husband. The Center is a like a home for some of the 45,000 Koreans that live in Montgomery County and has provided them will a place to celebrate their culture, adapt to America and find relief.

For other much younger citizens, this money provides an invaluable education. The numerous mothers in attendance on Thursday, April 11th, passionately explained the overcrowding that has been disturbing Montgomery County’s schools. As a current student, I can attest to this overcrowding; every day I push my way through thick crowds of students to sit in a stuffed classroom where most teachers pass out busywork because there are too many of us to have fair class discussions. Members from the Northeast Consortium and Gaithersburg Cluster discussed this overcrowding and the need for modernization. With less crowding in schools and modernized technologies, our public schools can retain their high standards and continue to progress as one of the top public school programs in the country.

After the school moms had given their speeches, John Mannes, Student Member of the Board of Education, gave a precise and passionate speech about the downfalls of the County budget. He believes that the current budget is doing the bare minimum to help our schools and the Council needs to approve more money towards teachers and students. While I do agree that the budget does not spend enough on teachers, I believe that our school system, as the best in the state, is doing far more than the bare minimum. Approximately 50% of the current budget goes to MCPS to give our County high schools a plethora of AP and IB courses, Student Service Learning opportunities, varsity sports and extracurricular classes.

The budget is too complicated for any one person to compute. There are so many parts and opinions to be taken into account the Councilmembers are lucky to have their staffs, constituents and each other to help make these tough decisions that shape our community.


 

Proposed Changes to the Bag Tax

Nancy Floreen holding different types of bags.The bag tax has been in effect for over a year, and it has generated far more revenue than expected. While the effort to change behavior in grocery stores, drug stores and general stores shows some promising results, I continue to hear from residents that applying the tax to other types of stores, like those that sell clothing, is a bridge too far. In these cases, the tax is creating more resentment than incentive. I opposed the bag tax when it initially came before the Council because I thought it was regressive in nature and would place an unfair burden on those with low incomes as well as seniors. Now that the tax is in effect, I want to make sure it is reasonable for our residents.

That's why I, along with Councilmembers Craig Rice, Roger Berliner and George Leventhal, am sponsoring a bill to modify the carryout bag tax law. Bill 10-13 would limit the tax to bags distributed at food stores. It also would repeal the tax on plastic food take-out bags. The bill defines food stores as any retail store where food consists of more than two percent of gross sales by dollar value. The tax would continue to cover non-food items purchased at stores that meet the definition of a food store.

A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for June 18. Call 240-777-7803 to sign up to speak. You can also let us know your views by e-mailing county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.


Fast Fact

Do you have an opinion about a plan that would bring rapid transit to Montgomery County? If so, mark your calendar for a May 16 public hearing scheduled by the Montgomery County Planning Board. See the press release.


 

Green Tip of the Month

In its third year as an Arbor Day Foundation partner, Pepco is providing free trees to customers through the Energy-Saving Trees program. Launched as a pilot initiative in 2011, the program conserves energy and reduces household electricity bills through strategic tree planting.

An online tool helps Pepco customers find the most strategic location for planting and estimates the annual savings that will result from the tree. You can reserve up two trees per household and the program will continue until all trees are reserved. In exchange for the free trees, you are expected to care for the trees and plant them in the location provided by the online tool. The two-to-four-foot trees will be delivered directly to the you at an ideal time for planting.


 

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.