Friday, September 27, 2013

Study Begins On Bus Rapid Transit System

Identifying the specific lines and approximate station locations for the proposed bus rapid transit lines within Montgomery County, as well as the minimum rights-of-way required for the segments in each line, will be the focus of the County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee as it holds as many as five worksession in October on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.

The T and E Committee, which is chaired by Roger Berliner and includes Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, is scheduled is tentatively scheduled to hold worksessions on the plan on Oct. 7, 11, 14, 18 and 21. The meetings will be broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and streamed live on the County Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/.

At public hearings on Sept. 24 and 26, approximately 70 speakers testified about the bus rapid transit plan that, if fully implemented, would cover about 80 miles around the County, not including the already planned Corridor Cities Transitway between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. Those who generally favor the proposal stressed the need for better public transportation options that connect various parts of the County. Those opposed to the plan cited the cost and the concern that re-purposing certain lanes for express buses would generate increased congestion in the remaining lanes.

The transit corridors master plan also proposes establishment of several Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas and the addition of a third track on the CSX Metropolitan Branch between Metropolitan Grove and Frederick County to allow for the potential for MARC rail service during other than weekday peak periods.

The Planning Board’s draft of the master plan can be found at: http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/viewer.shtm#http://montgomeryplanning.org/transportation/highways/documents/ctcfmp__planning_board_draft_production_version_7-24-2013.pdf

The appendix to the master plan draft can be found at: http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/transportation/highways/appendix.shtm

The Countywide Transit Corridor Functional Master Plan’s recommendations include:

• Transit facilities along 10 corridors to facilitate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service that will move more people to and from jobs, homes, shopping and entertainment areas in urbanizing parts of the County, while making more efficient use of our public rights-of-way and existing pavement.

• Pedestrian facilities that meet ADA Best Practices and provide safe and adequate accommodation along and across the recommended transit corridors, ensuring that transit patrons can safely cross to and from transit stops and that the general public can safely cross these roadways at all intersections.

• Accommodating all master plan bikeways within the recommended rights-of-way and accommodating additional on-road bike facilities where possible.

• Designating more than two dozen Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas around major transit stations, several of which are included in the County’s initial round of proposed bikeshare stations.

• A third track on the MARC Brunswick Line between the Frederick County line and the Metropolitan Grove MARC station to reduce conflicts with freight service and enabling the expansion of commuter service, as recommended by the Maryland Transit Administration’s Growth and Investment Plan.

Town Hall Meeting for Students: Wednesday, Oct. 9

The County Council, which for the past several years has held Town Hall Meetings throughout the County in its efforts to find out what issues most concern residents, will learn what is on the mind of younger residents when it hosts its fourth-ever Town Hall Meeting for Students on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the Council Office Building in Rockville. The meeting, in the Council’s Third Floor Hearing Room, will start at 7 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the building’s second-floor cafeteria.

The meeting is open to high school and middle school students from public and private schools from around the County and to students from local colleges. The meeting will allow the participants to let Councilmembers know how they feel about specific issues and also will provide the opportunity to ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting.

The Council Office Building is located at 100 Maryland Ave. in downtown Rockville. It is about a three-block walk from the Rockville Metrorail station, which also is a main stopping point for many RideOn bus lines. For students traveling to the meeting by car, free parking will be available by entering the Council parking garage from the Fleet Street entrance.

Students who wish to attend the meeting are asked to RSVP by calling 240-777-7931. The meeting will be broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and rebroadcast at various times in the weeks following the meeting. Susan Kenedy, a producer for the County station, will moderate the meeting.

Council President Nancy Navarro said that the youth town hall meetings have become learning experiences for both the Councilmembers and the students.

“The County Council funds the school system and many other programs which have a direct impact on our county's youth, and this meeting is an invaluable opportunity to hear directly from them,” said Council President Navarro. “In the past, feedback from our youth has led us to restore the Kids Ride Free program on Ride On, launch the Teen Escape Clubs, and begin many other important initiatives. We gain a unique perspective on the needs of our young residents, and we always take their feedback seriously."

Council Vice President Rice, who is a member of the Council’s Education Committee, said that hearing the perspectives of students is a great opportunity for Councilmembers.

“So many major decisions concerning education—and students—are made by adults talking with other adults,” said Council Vice President Craig Rice. “But the students often have so much to offer that adults do not necessarily see. We are looking forward to learning about how they see the issues we are discussing and to hearing from them about new things they would like to see us consider.”

County Launches Effort to Address Panhandling

Councilmember George Leventhal and County Executive Ike Leggett have joined representatives from homeless advocates, grassroots social service agencies, the faith community and County Police to launch a joint public education campaign to address panhandling in Montgomery County.

The theme of the program is: “Give a Hand Up. Not a Hand Out.”

“Panhandling is not safe and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help them,” said Councilmember Leventhal, who chairs the Council Health & Human Services Committee.

“We all know the feeling. We want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We feel guilty. We all want to help. The question isn’t whether to help – it’s how. That’s why Montgomery County government is joining together with homeless advocates and social service providers throughout the County to urge you to give a hand-up, not a hand-out.

“Those who work daily with panhandlers in homeless advocacy and other social service groups know that most panhandlers use the money they collect to support their addictions – drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. None of that helps panhandlers to solve their problems.”

County Executive Leggett said: “I hear a lot from County residents who are concerned about the proliferation of panhandlers at intersections throughout the County. I agree that the status quo is unacceptable. Even though panhandling is legal under the First Amendment and Maryland law, it is not a safe thing to do and giving cash to panhandlers doesn’t help.

“By texting ‘SHARE’ on your cell phone to 80077 you will contribute to grassroots efforts throughout the County to make sure people get the food, shelter, health care and help solving their problems that will make a real difference.”

The County Office of Public Information is coordinating efforts that will include messages on RideOn buses, public service announcements, signs in County facilities, email and listserve messages, a new web site, social media and other outreach designed to spread the word.

“We want to give these folks the help they need, but the way to do it is not to give them cash on the street,” said Police Chief Tom Manger. “The way to do it is to donate that money to organizations that help. Panhandling in the roadway is dangerous and causes distractions for drivers. If you want to see the panhandling issue go away, stop giving money to panhandlers.”
For more information on the initiative, go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/panhandling.

Navarro: We Must Protect Right to Vote for All

A resolution in support of action at all levels of government to improve and protect the right to vote of citizens in Montgomery County, Washington, D.C. and across the country was unanimously approved by the Montgomery County Council on Sept. 24. Council President Nancy Navarro was the chief sponsor of the “Right to Vote” resolution and the other eight Councilmembers were co-sponsors.

The resolution calls for creation of a task force that will review and offer recommendations to improve the election processes in Montgomery County. The resolution also calls for Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Council President Navarro said the resolution “affirms the Council’s commitment to expanding participation in elections and protecting voting rights for all of our residents.”

The Council is now seeking applicants for the Right to Vote Task Force that will study state and local laws and practices that may affect the right to vote. The task force will develop plans and take action to promote early voting and same-day registration, develop plans for a comprehensive voter registration program and make recommendations for changes in state and local laws, regulations and practices.

Persons interested in serving on the committee should submit their letter of interest with a resume by 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 to Council President Nancy Navarro, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Md. 20850.  Letters can also be sent by email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

In Montgomery County, elections are administered by the Montgomery County Board of Elections according to federal, state and County laws and regulations. Voter turnout was 66 percent of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election and 51 percent of registered voters in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

The State of Maryland recently expanded early voting, resulting in at least three new early voting centers for the 2014 elections, and adopted same-day voter registration during early voting.

The County Council created the Right to Vote Task Force to ensure that the County maximizes these new opportunities to make voting easy and accessible for every citizen. The task force will consist of up to 15 members, appointed by the Council, with a staff member from the County Board of Elections serving as an ex officio member. No more than two-thirds of the members may be registered to vote in the same political party. The Council will designate a chair and vice chair. The chair and vice chair must not be from the same party.

The task force must issue an interim report by Feb. 28 and a final report with recommendations by May 31, 2014. The Task Force must also submit a report by Feb. 28, 2015 that evaluates the efficacy and implementation of its recommendations during the 2014 general election.

In an event on Sept. 23 on the steps of the Council Office Building in Rockville,  Council President Navarro was be joined by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Council Vice President Craig Rice, Councilmembers Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen, State Senator Jamie Raskin, Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and Councilmember Bridget Newton and other community leaders.

 “With states like North Carolina and Texas rolling back voting rights and instituting draconian photo ID laws, the need for robust federal enforcement of election law is needed more than ever,” said Council President Navarro.

Hearings On Zoning Changes: Nov. 12 and 14

The County Council will hold a second public hearing on proposed changes to the County's Zoning Law starting at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, and continuing on Thursday, Nov. 14. The hearing will address proposed changes to the law recommended by the County’s Planning Board and by the Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. This hearing will give residents a further opportunity to comment on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 13-04 and District Map Amendment (DMA) G-956.

Those interested in testifying at the public hearing should call 240-777-7803 by 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 11. Sign-ups will begin on Thursday, Oct. 3. Spaces are limited.

The PHED Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Floreen and includes Councilmembers Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, held worksessions every week in June and July, and on several occasions in September, on the Planning Board’s recommended Zoning Law Rewrite. The committee is expected to recommend amending many aspects of the text and map, but until it completes its worksessions, its recommendations are tentative.

The Council introduced the Planning Board’s recommendations on May 2 following years of the Planning Board’s extensive work and discussion with community groups and other stakeholders. The Council heard from more than 50 speakers at a public hearing on the Planning Board’s recommendations in January and has received extensive email and other correspondence from County residents as the committee continues to do its work.

The Zoning Law has not been comprehensively updated since 1977 and has grown to more than 1,200 pages over the last 30 years. The goal of the Rewrite is to reorganize and simplify the Zoning Code. Rewriting the code in plain language and reorganizing it into rational sections will enable residents to more easily participate in key land use decisions, and courts and agencies will have clearer rules to apply.

Although the County Charter calls for only one public hearing, Council President Nancy Navarro said it was decided to hold a second public hearing because Councilmembers recognize the significance of the proposed text and map changes. Few changes are proposed for single-family residential properties, but non-residentially zoned properties and their neighbors could be affected. ZTA 13-04 would implement the text changes to the Zoning Law, and DMA G-956 would update the zoning for each property to apply a new zone. The proposed rezoning in DMA G-956 is designed to mirror each property's current zoning as much as possible.

Residents can see the proposed Zoning Rewrite, along with the tentative changes being considered by the PHED committee, at www.zoningmontgomery.org. Residents also will find an interactive map that enables users to determine the existing and proposed zoning for every property in the County.  Clicking on a particular property will display the development standards (density, height limits and setbacks) for the existing and proposed zone.

In addition to being able to testify in person, residents can submit written testimony or comments to County Council / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, Md. 20850 or comments can be emailed to all Councilmembers at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Councilmember Comments - A More Vibrant Nightlife for Our County

Councilmember Hans Riemer:

As many neighborhoods evolve in Montgomery County, it has become a priority to find ways that we can build a stronger nightlife in the areas of the County that are setup to take advantage of new opportunities. I recently posted a survey to see what residents thought of this issue, and I thought it might generate substantial interest. But I was blown away by the responses: more than 2,000 residents have completed the poll!

So here are some preliminary results. While specific opinions varied, one clear theme emerged: Montgomery County residents want a more vibrant nightlife here at home.

We can do that, and we can do it responsibly.

You can see a comprehensive report on the survey results at: http://www.councilmemberriemer.org/2013/08/moco-night-life-survey-results.html

The following are some top-line findings from the results we have already gathered:

• It's not just young people who want better night-life options. Older residents, including retirees, do as well. Better dining and entertainment appeals to every generation.

• Most people say that our nightlife options are “okay” or “not that great” today.

• For young adults, a key factor in deciding where they are going to go out is accessibility to public transportation. Most of them go to the D.C.

• Another key factor for many people is whether establishments offer wide selections of beer and wine—for example craft beers or small batch spirits. Our County regulations make providing those options extremely difficult for our restaurants.

• Fewer than 10 percent of respondents say that it is a good thing that grocery stores do not sell beer and wine.

The Bottom Line: We have the ability to foster a vibrant night life here in Montgomery County, but in order to do that, we need to make some changes. The Montgomery County Night Time Economy Task Force, which I helped launch, is considering a range of recommendations, and your input is needed. Here are some of the ideas that have come up for me:

• Abolish outdated rules that create barriers to great restaurants and entertainment venues, such as liquor-food ratios.

• Significantly expand public transportation, such as the proposal before the County Council now to expand transit on our major arterials, to make our urban centers accessible at night.

• Reform the County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) so that it provides real accountability to the restaurants and entertainment venues that it serves by giving them a voice in policies and procedures.

• Change DLC rules so that restaurants that want to stock craft beers and other small batch liquor will be able to do that just as easily as they can in any other jurisdiction.

• Designate dining and entertainment districts with increased funding for walkability infrastructure, such as sidewalks and lighting

I have received a wealth of insightful comments from residents on this issue. What I have learned first of all is that everyone wants something different from our social centers. My response is that quality urban areas can provide the diverse offerings that give everyone what they are looking for.

What do you think about these ideas? Let us know by taking my survey and making sure to fill out the comment box. You can find the survey at:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1QXhv4pV7G5chkxzLLso0BkWCqveuyNw2LbII_0q0YxY/viewform
With your help, we will make Montgomery County nightlife more attractive, fun, and safe. This initiative has the potential to improve the social opportunities for current residents, attract young professionals, and ultimately, strengthen our economy. It is just that: A win, win, win. Let’s get started.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Councilmember Ervin Helps Launch County-wide Food Recovery Program

Members of the Montgomery County Council’s Food Recovery Work Group, the president of Montgomery College, the director of Public Policy for the Capital Area Food Bank, non-profit leaders, private sector partners and community advocates have joined with Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin to take the steps needed to create a food recovery program in Montgomery County. Once in operation, it is believed that the program will be the nation’s first county-wide food recovery program.

In a report that was released to the County Council on Sept. 10, the County’s Food Recovery Work Group presented a roadmap for establishing a streamlined process for collecting unused, edible food and distributing it to non-profit providers who serve the hungry.  Councilmember Ervin brought together all of the partners in a Council-appointed work group, which met for eight months to develop recommendations on how to create a food recovery program in the County. 

“We needed to hear from our non-profit providers, faith-based institutions and community advocates who deal directly with helping those in need about where the gaps are and what they needed to better serve families who are food insecure,” said Councilmember Ervin.  “My hope is that the Council, which unanimously voted to create this work group, will again join with me to implement these recommendations so we can start a streamlined distribution system to get unused food directly to those who need it most.”   

Creating a county-wide food recovery program is also an outgrowth of February’s SNAP the Silence Challenge, spearheaded by Councilmember Ervin. Participants in the challenge—including all members of the County Council and hundreds of others—agreed to live on a food budget of $25 for five days. That is the approximate average amount allotted to the nation’s neediest residents through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP was formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.

“The SNAP Challenge was truly an eye-opener for me and many of the hundreds of people who participated,” said Councilmember Ervin. “Now we are in a position to take action by moving ahead with recommendations to develop a program to help reduce hunger and help those in need and our working families.”

Some cities have food recovery programs, such as the D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., and City Harvest in New York City. However, it is believed that Montgomery would be the first county to implement this type of program.  The Manna Food Center is Montgomery County’s main food bank and nearly every non-profit organization that deals with food insecurity issues relies on Manna to provide food for their clients. This food recovery effort would enhance existing resources for Manna and other non-profit groups in a new way.   

Food insecurity is a nationwide challenge. The Capital Area Food Bank reports that 40 percent of its clients must choose between paying for food and paying for other necessities like housing, utilities, medical care and transportation. 

In Montgomery County, the economic downturn has forced more people than ever to ask for public assistance.  In 2012, the self-sufficiency standard (the minimum income families require to achieve financial security) for a family of four in Montgomery County was approximately $82,877. One-third of students in Montgomery’s public schools qualify to receive Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARMS). 

Councilmember Ervin was motivated to start a food recovery effort in Montgomery County after she saw the work that student volunteers were doing at the University of Maryland. Students Ben Simon and Mia Zavalij created a model of food redistribution called the Food Recovery Network at the College Park campus. As of May 2012, the University of Maryland chapter had collected and distributed enough unused food to create more than 30,000 meals. Nationally, the organization has generated 135,000 meals. After helping launch food recovery programs at colleges across the United States, the organization is becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of replicating the model in other communities. 

“When I saw the amazing job the students at University of Maryland were doing, I thought, ‘Why aren’t we doing this in Montgomery County?’” said Councilmember Ervin.  “Hunger is an ever-increasing problem in our community, and many of our working families struggle to put food on the table. Since we have numerous public institutions and private sector partners who dispose of unwanted food, it seemed like a no brainer for the county to follow the lead of the students who began the food recovery movement.”

There also is an environmental component to the initiative. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2011, more than 36 million tons of food waste is generated annually in the U.S.  In Montgomery County, approximately 19 percent of the waste stream is made up of food.    

“The food recovery initiative will not only help our area non-profit organizations who fight hunger, but should also reduce the amount of food that ends up in our waste stream,” said Councilmember Ervin.  “In my mind, this initiative is a win-win as those who donate food receive tax benefits and those in need receive healthy meals.”     

For more information on how a food recovery effort works, view a clip from County Cable Montgomery about the University of Maryland Food Recovery Network at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ1iX1KzFTA&feature=youtube
 

Study Shows Diners Influenced by Nutritional Information on Menus


An independent survey by the University of Maryland Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program shows that Montgomery County’s effort to place nutritional information on menus at larger chain restaurants is making a significant impact on the food choices of diners who read the information before ordering. The survey shows that women were more likely than men to use the information, but alarmingly, not one person surveyed between the ages of 18-24 said they considered the nutritional information before ordering.

The County Council in 2009 approved Bill 19-07, whose chief sponsor was Councilmember George Leventhal, the chair of the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee. Montgomery County was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to pass such legislation, which went into effect on July 1, 2010. Full compliance was expected by Jan. 1, 2011, and is regulated by the County’s Licensing and Regulatory Services. 

The bill requires an establishment with at least 20 national locations that offer the same type of menu at each location to post information on calories on the menu or menu board for any standardized menu item. Establishments are required to provide calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total and complex carbohydrates, cholesterol, sugar, fiber and protein for any standardized menu item in writing on request.

For food in self-service facilities, such as salad bars and buffet lines, the bill requires the establishment to post calorie information for a standard serving size on a tag next to the item.

“In just a short time since this measure went into effect, this survey shows that about one-third of all diners are using the new information available to make healthier food choices, and it clearly shows that our efforts are making a difference,” said Councilmember Leventhal. “I think we are all disappointed by the survey’s results regarding young people not even considering the health aspects of what they are eating. There is a national effort, and a very strong one in Montgomery County, to fight obesity in young people so that they do not have increased health problems as adults. This survey shows us we have considerable work to do on this level.”

From February through May of this year, the University of Maryland Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) surveyed customers in 23 restaurants (each of which were in compliance with the law)  in various communities around the County to determine the impact of the legislation. A total of 129 customers were interviewed—66 (51 percent) male and 63 (49 percent) female. Ages ranged from 18-79 and most customers interviewed spoke English at home (67 percent). Nearly 19 percent spoke Spanish. 

The survey showed that 32 percent of customers surveyed read the nutrition information available in the restaurants. Of those, 39 of the 41 reported that the nutritional information influenced their meal choices, with 67 percent stating they used only calorie information. Others stated they used fat content and sodium content to make their selections.

Reasons for not using the nutrition information varied, with 59 percent of those surveyed stating they already knew what they wanted to order and 19 percent saying that the nutrition information was not important in their decision. Three customers stated they wanted to indulge so they ignored the information.  Seventeen of those surveyed said they did not use the nutrition information because they did not see it at the time they ordered their food. 

Women were more likely to read the nutrition information (41 percent of all surveyed) compared to men (23 percent).  Customers ages 25-39 were most likely to report reading the information to decide what to order, with 64 percent in this age group reading the information. Of the 19 customers surveyed ages 18-24, none stated that they had read the nutrition information before deciding what to order.

The survey report said it found another unexpected result. “A surprising finding was that greater use of the nutrition information was reported by those who frequent the restaurant daily (50 percent) than by those who frequent the restaurant weekly (26 percent), monthly (23 percent), or less (47 percent),” said the report. “Only 38 percent of customers who stated it was their first visit to the restaurant reported using the nutrition information.”
 
The instrument and methodology of the survey was developed for EFNEP by Mira Mehta and Linda Ashburn. Kavitha Sankavaram, Krizia Fernandez and David McHale also contributed to the survey and helped establish its results. Carol Garvey, co-chair of the Obesity Work Group, also provided support for the study.

 

County Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Now in Effect

The County’s $4.8 billion total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2014 went into effect on July 1. The budget, which was unanimously approved by the County Council and reflects a 4.1 percent increase over the approved budget for FY 2013, “continues to invest in our economic and social infrastructure,” said Council President Nancy Navarro.

The total County budget, including debt service, grants and enterprise funds, will be $4.8 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent from the FY13 approved budget. The overall tax-supported portion of the budget will be $4.2 billion, including debt service, an increase of 4.2 percent from the FY13 budget.

The budget also maintains property tax revenue at the Charter limit. It includes a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. Because property assessments still reflect the impact of the recession, the weighted property tax rate will increase by 1.8 cents.

Since March 15, when County Executive Isiah Leggett presented his recommended budget, the Council worked to balance the County’s budget as the deep recession that affected jurisdictions nationwide slowly receded. The budget provided some limited opportunities to address areas that suffered significantly during the recession.

The Council’s budget protects core services and “safety net” programs. The Council continued its strong support of the Montgomery Cares program by adding $256,875 to increase reimbursement for Montgomery Cares services from $62 to $65; $400,000 to increase the number of mammograms and colorectal screenings performed by Montgomery Cares; and $75,000 to allow Montgomery Cares to expand its behavioral health services.

The Council added $997,000 to increase the County matches to 85 percent for the Working Families Income Supplement. It also added $200,000 to implement the County Food Recovery program and $75,000 to enhance homeless outreach in support of the 100,000 Homes Campaign and for outreach to panhandlers.

“We have been able to craft a balanced, sustainable budget that fully funds the school system's request,” said Council President Navarro. “It begins to reverse the most painful of the cuts made at the height of the recession, prioritizes services for the most vulnerable in our County, enhances out-of-school opportunities for at-risk youth, reduces the energy tax and provides compensation increases for our dedicated County employees for the first time in four years.”

The Council approved a total budget of $2.225 billion, including $2.1 billion in tax-supported funds, for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), an increase of $57.7 million (2.65 percent increase from FY13) in the total budget. The budget provides a County contribution to MCPS that meets, but does not exceed, the State’s Maintenance of Effort Law requirement.

The Council approved a total budget of $280 million, including $228 million in tax-supported funds, for Montgomery College. This is an increase of 4.2 percent from the FY13 approved budget and funds 99 percent of the College’s tax-supported request.

In the years between FY09 and FY12, the County Government workforce was reduced by 1,254 positions (10 percent). The FY13 budget restored 92 positions and the FY14 budget restores an additional 128 positions—including 104 overall in either public safety departments or the Department of Public Libraries.

Funding for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will increase by $6.2 million to $105.1 million, a 6.3 percent increase and more than 100 percent of the agency’s request.
 
Tax-supported funding for Montgomery County Government programs will be $1.3 billion, an increase of 3.9 percent, not including payments to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust.

The Council approved the Executive’s collective bargaining agreements with organizations that represent County employees. County employees have not received general wage adjustments (COLAs) for four years or service increments (step increases) for three years; were required to take furloughs of three to eight days in FY11; and have experienced increased cost-sharing for health and retirement benefits starting in FY12.
 
Given the County’s improved fiscal condition heading into FY14, the Council approved the Executive’s FY14 compensation plan. Under the Executive’s plan, most County government employees would receive a 3.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment or general wage increase in September. Police officers would receive a 2.1 percent increase and career firefighters would receive a 2.75 percent increase, both in July. Eligible employees would also receive service increments (step increases) of 3.5 percent on their anniversary date.
 
The Executive’s plan also provides for retroactive service increments for some police officers and career firefighters. Eligible police officers would receive a 1.75 percent increment in February 2014 while eligible career firefighters would receive a 3.5 percent increment in April 2014. Eligible employees would also receive longevity increases. The combined increases for all County employees would cost about $32 million in FY14.
 
To aid both residents and businesses, the Council took another significant step in rolling back the energy tax increase approved as an emergency measure three years ago. Last year, the Council reduced the increase by 10 percent. This year, the Council reduced the increase by another 10 percent.
 
The Council approved $2,250,857 for 72 Council community grants to nonprofit organizations to support a variety of programs and services, including food, eviction prevention, utility assistance and other safety net services to help low income families facing severe economic hardships. This amount is in addition to the $4.6 million in community grants recommended by the County Executive.
 
The Council continued its commitment to restore recent reductions to the County Libraries budget. The approved budget of $34.8 million is an increase of $3.4 million (10.8 percent from the approved FY13 level) and supports the reopening of Gaithersburg and Olney libraries and expanded services hours at Poolesville and Long Branch libraries. The Council added $100,000 to the Executive’s recommendation to increase the purchase of e-Books.
 
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 cushion the County against any additional unanticipated economic setbacks. It also again increases the pre-funding of retiree health benefits.

The approved budget strongly supports the County’s public safety commitment. The budget for the Department of Police is $260.5 million, an increase of $9.99 million (4.0 percent) from the FY13 approved budget. The budget implements the second year of the Police Department’s three-year staffing plan, adding 40 positions. The number of School Resource Officers assigned to Montgomery County Public Schools was doubled from the current six to 12.

The budget for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service is $218 million, an increase of $13.5 million (6.6 percent) from the FY13 approved budget.
 
The Council re-emphasized its support of school-based after-school programs by approving the RecExtra and Sports Academies programs, addition of one middle school site for the Excel Beyond the Bell program and addition of three summer Extended Learning Opportunity programs.
 
The County’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) that is the focus of major review every two years and adjustments in the other years saw approval of several adjustments for Fiscal Years 2013-18. The Council added $3.82 million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) replacement projects in school facilities and accelerated $8 million for HVAC and roof and other building components. The Council accelerated more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and added $4 million for bridge renovations (including the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda). The Council kept on track funding for the Capital Crescent Trail and Bethesda South Entrance. The Executive had recommended delaying funding for the projects.

2 Bills to Protect and Maintain Trees Approved


The Montgomery County Council on July 23 approved Bill 35-12 and Bill 41-12 that will protect roadside trees that are targeted to be trimmed, cut down or otherwise damaged, and will require owners of infill development properties to plant trees to bolster the County’s “tree canopy.”

Bill 35-12, which was approved unanimously, would require property owners who apply for a sediment control permit to plant trees even if they did not take down trees as part of their development. Sediment control permits are required if more than 5,000 square feet of property would be disturbed.

The bill is intended to help the canopy of shade trees that benefit the County in numerous ways. The bill would not apply to major developments, which have a different set of tree protection mitigation requirements.

Bill 35-12 requires property owners to plant three shade trees on a smaller lot and a greater number of trees on larger lots. Property owners have the option of paying into a fund for tree canopy conservation projects. The bill would require 400 square feet of open space per shade tree planted onsite.

The bill also would require the County’s Department of Environmental Protection to develop a comprehensive County-wide shade tree planting plan.

Bill 41-12, which was sponsored by Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich, was approved 7-2. Council President Nancy Navarro, Vice President Craig Rice and Councilmembers Berliner, Elrich, Phil Andrews, Valerie Ervin and Hans Riemer voted to support the bill. Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal were opposed.

Today is a big day for everyone who loves trees,” said Councilmember Berliner. “The Council has passed two major pieces of legislation that together protect trees in our County rights of way and preserve our tree canopy.  The bills reflect the extraordinary importance of trees to our residents, and the environmental, aesthetic and economic value they add to our quality of life in Montgomery County.”

Councilmember Elrich said: “I am proud that we passed two important environmental bills today.  I started work on the tree issue when I first was elected to the Council.  A bill to strengthen the Forest Conservation Law was my first major legislative initiative. This has been a long, six-year process and today it culminated in the passage of two bills: one to better maintain our road side trees and a second that fosters the protection and preservation of our tree canopy. I want to thank Councilmember Berliner who, working with the County Executive Leggett’s staff from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Permitting Services, worked hard and long to address the concerns of the various stakeholders and to shape bills that have a meaningful and positive outcome for the environment and for the residents of our County.”

Bill 41-12 primarily addresses County-owned trees that are in County right-of-ways. In many instances, trees that a property owner considers to be their trees actually are in County right-of-ways and Bill 41-12 would apply in those cases. In some cases, property owners want to cut down trees they believe to be unsafe, but when a property owner wants to cut down a roadside tree for other reasons, they would have to get a State tree care permit and a County right-of-way permit.

The bill authorizes the Department of Transportation to create a tree replacement fund to pay for needed roadside trees. An applicant who wants to cut down or trim a roadside tree will be required to get a County right-of-way permit from the Department of Permitting Services. That application will be required to include a site-specific tree protection plan.

The bill also requires a permittee who removes a roadside tree both to plant another tree, from a County recommended tree list, at or near the site, and also to pay into a tree replacement fund that will allow the County to plant two more trees in a right of way.

The effective date of both bills will be March 1, 2014.

 

CCM Show 'The Unseen Montgomery' 1 of 3 County Winners at 3CMA National Awards

The concept for a cable television special show by Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Floreen that evolved into the County Cable Montgomery episode of The Bottom Line: The Unseen Montgomery has been named the winner of a Savvy Award—first place nationally—by the City-County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA). The show was one of three from Montgomery County’s organization of public cable stations (PEG, representing Public/Education/Government) to win national recognition when the awards were announced at the 3CMA national conference on Sept. 5 in Scottsdale, Ari.

The Unseen Montgomery won first prize in the category of TV and Video—One-Time Special Programming (for jurisdictions with population: 100,000 and up). The original idea for the show came from Councilmember Floreen, who wanted to portray a side of the County that is often overlooked: residents who did not appear to need the help of available services, but through circumstances, could not financially keep up with their individual and family needs.

The show was produced and hosted by Susan Kenedy of County Cable Montgomery (CCM). The videographer was Mike Springirth. The show was edited by Loren Olson and was coordinated by Delphine Harriston.

“Montgomery County is known for its prosperity, so it is easy to forget that we have many residents who do not have enough money to pay for even their basic needs,” said Councilmember Floreen. “Some of those living in poverty lost their jobs in the recession while others find themselves trapped in low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the rent. These families live right here, and they need help—but they are not always easy to identify. That’s why I am so grateful to Susan Kenedy and her outstanding team for looking past the affluence and giving us a chance to see a growing part of life right here in Montgomery County. The Unseen Montgomery tells a very important story in a way that’s meaningful and thought-provoking. The team at CCM definitely deserves this award.”

CCM Show The Unseen Montgomery 1 of 3 County Winners at 3CMA National Awards

The concept for a cable television special show by Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Floreen that evolved into the County Cable Montgomery episode of The Bottom Line: The Unseen Montgomery has been named the winner of a Savvy Award—first place nationally—by the City-County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA). The show was one of three from Montgomery County’s organization of public cable stations (PEG, representing Public/Education/Government) to win national recognition when the awards were announced at the 3CMA national conference on Sept. 5 in Scottsdale, Ari.

The Unseen Montgomery won first prize in the category of TV and Video—One-Time Special Programming (for jurisdictions with population: 100,000 and up). The original idea for the show came from Councilmember Floreen, who wanted to portray a side of the County that is often overlooked: residents who did not appear to need the help of available services, but through circumstances, could not financially keep up with their individual and family needs.

The show was produced and hosted by Susan Kenedy of County Cable Montgomery (CCM). The videographer was Mike Springirth. The show was edited by Loren Olson and was coordinated by Delphine Harriston.

“Montgomery County is known for its prosperity, so it is easy to forget that we have many residents who do not have enough money to pay for even their basic needs,” said Councilmember Floreen. “Some of those living in poverty lost their jobs in the recession while others find themselves trapped in low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the rent. These families live right here, and they need help—but they are not always easy to identify. That’s why I am so grateful to Susan Kenedy and her outstanding team for looking past the affluence and giving us a chance to see a growing part of life right here in Montgomery County. The Unseen Montgomery tells a very important story in a way that’s meaningful and thought-provoking. The team at CCM definitely deserves this award.”

The 3CMA independent judging panel said of the show: “A great way to focus on the issue. The video helped to cast a light on the new poor in our country. An interesting topic that kept the judging team engaged.”

In addition to airing on CCM, the show has been viewed more than a thousand times on various Internet outlets. It can be viewed on YouTube at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xsFpQSPOg

The show County Report This Week, which is a collaboration of all members in the PEG organization, won the 3CMA Award of Excellence (third place nationally) in the category of TV and Video—Interview/Talk Show/News Programming. The weekly half-hour show highlights County news each week, particularly news not necessarily featured on commercial media.

Jurisdictions were allowed to enter one episode of a regular series for judging. The episode entered was hosted and produced by Ms. Kenedy. Joelle Modderman was the editor. Tracy O’Connor was the coordinating producer. Donna Keating was the executive producer. Ms. Kenedy hosted about half of the episodes over the past year and Lorna Virgili hosted the other half.

The 3CMA judging panel said of the show: “Effective collaborative effort. On-air talent, images and graphics very professional. Strong, newsworthy items make this production one to watch.”

The City of Rockville won a Silver Circle Award (second place nationally) in the category of Special Events/Recurring Event for jurisdictions with populations up to 76,000. The city’s entry was its campaign to promote Hometown Holidays, the city’s annual Memorial Day celebration.

The 3CMA judging panel said of the entry: “Solid event through and through . . . Teamwork and talent shine. Way to go with stretching dollars.”