Thursday, November 7, 2013

Working Families Income Supplement Bill Enacted


The Montgomery County Council on Oct. 29 unanimously enacted Expedited Bill 8-13. The bill increases the County’s Working Families Income Supplement for low-income households to 90 percent of the Maryland refundable credit beginning in Fiscal Year 2015, 95 percent in FY16 and 100 percent in FY17 and beyond.

The chief sponsor of Expedited Bill 8-13 is Councilmember Hans Riemer. Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal were co-sponsors. The Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, which is chaired by Nancy Navarro and includes Councilmembers Riemer and Valerie Ervin, at a worksession on Oct. 21 voted 3-0 to recommend that the full Council pass the bill with several modifications.
The bill permits the Council to approve a lower amount in the annual operating budget by a vote of at least five Councilmembers. The minimum funding levels in the bill for the WFIS will not apply in any year that the State increases its refundable earned income credit above the current level.  

“Montgomery County is often thought of as one of the wealthiest counties in America. But while we do have many prosperous communities, we also have a very high cost of living,” said Councilmember Riemer. “Experts estimate that a household with two adults and one preschooler needs $89,784 to get by. Many thousands of residents struggle to earn this much, and poverty is growing faster in our County than anywhere else in the region. As the County slowly recovers from recession, it's only fair to working families that we help them recover too. I am gratified that we continue to look out for our most vulnerable residents.”
Started in 1975, the EITC allows households earning income to apply tax credits to their returns. The County Working Families Income Supplement (WFIS) is derived from the federal earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable tax credit for lower income working families and individuals. Recipients of the WFIS include some of the lowest-paid residents of the County. To qualify for the EITC in Tax Year 2013, a taxpayer must earn less than:
·       $46,227 ($51,567 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children
·        $43,038 ($48,378 married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
·        $37,870 ($43,210 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
·        $14,340 ($19,680 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children

The Tax Year 2013 maximum credit is:
·       $6,044 with three or more qualifying children
·       $5,372 with two qualifying children
·       $3,250 with one qualifying child
·       $487 with no qualifying children

In FY11, the County had 33,840 WFIS recipients who received an average amount of $381.81 each.  Restoring the County match to 100 percent would provide an additional $124, for a total of $505.81.  For a worker on the edge, this could mean making a car payment, paying an overdue utility bill, or paying rent.  The program encourages people to work because a recipient must have earned income to be eligible for a refund. 

Twenty-two states (including Maryland), the District of Columbia, New York City and Montgomery County offer their residents a WFIS based upon the EITC. Maryland permits residents to claim a credit of one-half of the federal EITC and provides a refund for up to 25 percent of the federal EITC. In 2000, the County began matching 100 percent of the Maryland refundable credit to help working County residents meet the high costs of living in Montgomery County. In May 2010, the Council enacted Expedited Bill 33-10, which permitted the Council to set the WFIS at less than 100 percent of the Maryland refundable credit by resolution each year.

Accordingly, the Council set the WFIS at 72.5 percent for FY11, 68.9 percent for FY12 and 75.5 percent for FY13.
On May 23, 2013, the Council appropriated funds to increase the WFIS to 85 percent of the Maryland refundable credit during FY14.


Montgomery County Retains AAA Bond Rating From All Three Rating Agencies


Montgomery County learned on Oct. 28 that all three bond rating agencies—Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s—reconfirmed that the it has retained its AAA bond rating.

County Council President Nancy Navarro, Council Vice President Craig Rice and County Executive Isiah Leggett recently traveled to New York City to meet with representatives of the bond rating agencies and explain steps the County has taken to maintain its financial health during the Great Recession of recent years and as the nation has begun to recover.

 The AAA bond rating allows Montgomery County to issue bonds for its capital borrowing at the most favorable rates, saving County taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of the bonds.  The County's pending issuance will refinance $295 million of bond anticipation notes and $27.7 million of long-term debt.

Montgomery County is only one of 38 counties (out of 3,140) in the nation to receive a AAA rating from all three rating agencies.

Council President Navarro, who has chaired the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee since 2010, said the following after learning the AAA bond rating was confirmed:

“During the Great Recession, the Council took extraordinary steps to strengthen Montgomery County’s fiscal health. Starting in 2010, the Council approved a balanced six-year fiscal plan that ensures the County develops a long-term strategic approach to budgeting. The Council also made structural changes that have enabled Montgomery County to bounce back faster than most jurisdictions nationwide.

 “This decision by the rating agencies is a reflection of the hard work of this Council and the County Executive. During the most challenging economic times, we developed a proactive strategy to put our fiscal house in order for the future.

“The land-use decisions the Council has made over the past few years—to invest in smart-growth opportunities and encourage redevelopment in all corners of the County—will create a strong tax base for years to come.

“Since I joined the Council, we have closed a cumulative $2.7 billion budget gap, slowed the rate of growth in expenditures and put our County on a sustainable fiscal path. As our economic recovery continues, this decision today by the rating agencies demonstrates that Montgomery County is moving in the right direction.” 

100,000 Homes Campaign Seeks to Have County’s Homeless Accept Available Housing


Hundreds of volunteers joined members of Montgomery County’s nonprofit community in the early morning hours during Nov. 4-6 to assist in the County’s first-ever “Registry Week” that is a key element of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. The campaign seeks to reach out to the chronically homeless, especially those who are medically vulnerable, to assess their needs and try to get them to accept the variety of housing opportunities that are available to them.

During Registry Week, about 300 volunteers spread out throughout the County from 4-7 a.m. on each of the three days to survey homeless individuals who are living in streets, parks and other areas. By assessing the reasons that they have attributed for refusing housing options, the County can better formulate attempts to get them to accept housing.

Members of the Montgomery County Council, County Executive Isiah Leggett and representatives of the County-wide non-profit community worked for several months in urging residents to volunteer for Registry Week. The survey of the homeless is part of the commitment Montgomery County has made in joining more than 200 communities nationwide in the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

The local campaign is a joint effort that includes Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and many other government agencies, nonprofits and organizations. This is the first time Montgomery County has assembled an organized effort to participate in the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

The public is invited to attend a community/media debriefing on the outcome and results learned during Registry Week. The debriefing will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the Council Office Building (COB) at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. At the event, formerly homeless individuals will share their stories. Other speakers will talk about how the 100,000 Homes Campaign is changing lives, the reality that people living on the street die 25 years prematurely than the rest of society and how permanent housing is more cost effective than hospital, jail and shelter recidivism.

It is intended for the survey data to be utilized quickly and efficiently to move the County’s most vulnerable chronically homeless neighbors into permanent housing with supportive services. 


Earlier this year, the County participated in the 2013 Point-in-Time Count of Homeless Persons in the Metropolitan Washington Region in which volunteers attempted to count and survey as many homeless people as possible in a one-day event. That count found that, on one given day, 1,007 individuals experienced homelessness in Montgomery County, and that 222 of these individuals were chronically homeless.

“The 100,000 Homes campaign has worked in other areas of the nation and Montgomery County has been studying the most successful practices used,” said County Councilmember George Leventhal, who chairs the Council’s Health and Human Services Committee, serves on the Executive Committee of the Montgomery County 100,000 Homes Campaign and urged the Council to fund the program. “We are fortunate in our County. If we can identify the most medically vulnerable homeless people in our County who can be helped, we have the resources to help them. Not all jurisdictions are in that position. Taking this survey is crucial to the success of this effective program.”

County Council Vice President Craig Rice said the County must take steps to help solve a continuing problem.

“This County has done many things over the years to help address our homeless population,” said Council Vice President Rice. “The 100,000 Homes Campaign targets a special segment of this population—a population that has been difficult to reach. Through this program, and the steps that are being put in place, we now have a better chance of letting them tell us their needs and then directly working to finding housing for these most vulnerable people.”

County Executive Leggett said: “Helping those most vulnerable in our community is extremely important. This campaign will help us identify those at greatest need so we can help move them into permanent housing.”

This past summer, the local Campaign reported 64 of the most vulnerable people were housed since the County joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign, helping push the national campaign to over 50,000 housing placements. Currently the national 100,000 Homes Campaign has housed over 70,000 homeless individuals.

“The Campaign has been preparing for this monumental moment when we will join together as a community to not only assesses homeless individuals’ needs towards effectively housing them, but we will also know them each by name,” says MCCH Executive Director Susie Sinclair-Smith.

For more information on the Montgomery County 100,000 Homes Campaign, contact Homes Campaign Manager Herb Smith at hsmith@mcch.net or 301-917-6648.

More information on reducing homelessness also is available at: http://www.mcch.net/endhomelessness/homescampaign.html

Leaders of HOAs, Condo Associations Exchange Ideas, Seek Answers to ‘Common’ Problems


Approximately 100 people representing more than 60 homeowners and condominium organizations from across Montgomery County on Oct 23 attended a forum in Rockville designed specifically for homeowner association and condo board leaders. During the forum, which was hosted by County Councilmember Nancy Floreen, participants exchanged ideas about problems they share and asked the representatives of twelve County Government departments and agencies how they could better work together.

Issues raised during the forum ranged from speed humps on neighborhood roads to nuisance animals. Many participants said homeowner associations, and especially condo boards—which can assess monthly dues in the hundreds of dollars—need better tools for collecting overdue fees. Several people had questions about the County’s recently revamped Water Quality Protection Charge and its associated credits. Others expressed a need for individual utility meters in multi-family buildings.

With so many department and agency heads on hand, many participants who came with questions or unresolved problems were able to leave the forum with answers or commitments for further follow-up. Several participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet with leaders and decision-makers face-to-face.

“I organized this forum because people who are involved with their homeowner associations are connected to their community in a unique and highly localized way,” said Councilmember Floreen, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. “I wanted to make sure these volunteers have the tools they need to continue in their good work.”

The forum can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.  Many of the subjects discussed apply to homeowners and condominium associations that were not represented at the forum. To view the forum, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_yPosvaJPY .

Among the representatives of County departments and agencies present at the forum were: Jewru Bandeh (East County Regional Services Center), Ken Hartman (Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center), Cathy Matthews (Upcounty Regional Services Center); Nadim Khan (Health and Human Services), Reginald Jetter (Permitting Services), Eric Friedman (Consumer Protection), Peter Drymalski (Commission on Common Ownership Communities), Steve Shofar (Environmental Protection), Rick Nelson (Housing and Community Affairs), Walter Wilson (County Attorney), Gwen Wright and Pam Dunn (Park and Planning), Bruce Johnston and Gary Erenrich (Transportation), Commander James Fenner and Lt. Jaques Croom (Police) and Susan Hoffman (Recreation).

Second Public Hearing on Proposed Zoning Changes to be Televised Live


More than 90 people have signed up to testify as the Montgomery 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 at 7:30 p.m. 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. The hearing will give residents a further opportunity to comment on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 13-04 and District Map Amendment (DMA) G-956.

The public hearing will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Each night of the hearing will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and will be streamed through the County Web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

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 in December, 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, the Council decided to hold a second public hearing because it recognizes 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.

On the Web site, 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.

Written testimony or comments about the proposed zoning changes can be mailed to County Council / 100 Maryland Ave. / Rockville, Md. 20850 or emailed to all Councilmembers at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Restaurants Contributing to Child Obesity Focus of HHS Worksession


How children’s meals at fast food and other types of restaurants contribute to obesity in children was the focus of an Oct. 31 worksession held by the County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee. The worksession included a presentation from representatives of the nutrition policy section of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has produced a report entitled, “Kids’ Meals: Obesity on the Menu.”

The HHS Committee, which is chaired by Councilmember George Leventhal and includes Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice, started the worksession by stating it did not call for the discussion based on any developing legislation. Committee members said they wanted to learn more about the findings of CSPI and how restaurants in the County were trying to address the issue on their own initiative.

Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy for CSPI, was among those attending the worksession. Also in attendance was Michaeline Fedder, president of MD HEAL (Maryland Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyle Coalition, Inc.); Melvin Thompson, senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy for the Restaurant Association of Maryland; Joan Rector McGlockton, vice president for food policy for the National Restaurant Association; and Joy Dubost, director of nutrition for the National Restaurant Association.
The report "Kids' Meals: Obesity on the Menu" states that many restaurant chains offer menu items especially for, and marketed to, children. Research has shown that children consume on average 25 percent of their daily calories at fast-food and other restaurants, meaning the nutritional quality of those meals is important. The report investigates the types of children's menu items and the nutritional quality of children's meals at the largest restaurant chains in the United States.

“Fast food restaurants use toys and other sophisticated marketing techniques to peddle food to children that isn't good for them,” said Councilmember Leventhal. “Children are not equipped to make wise consumer choices in their own best interest. This is a serious ethical problem. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 91 percent of meals specifically peddled to children fail to meet a minimum nutritional standard.

“We held this meeting to send a message to our local restaurant industry that the Montgomery County Council takes seriously its charge to promote a culture of wellness and advance public health. While we are not considering legislation at this time, we will return to this topic again in the future in the hope that local fast food restaurants will change their practices and offer more healthful choices for children's meals.”

Of the top 50 chains, nine (18 percent) did not have dedicated children's menu items or meals. Of the 41 chains with children's items, 34 (83 percent) offered children's meal combinations and provided adequate information for nutrition analyses. The report assesses the nutritional quality of all possible children's meal combinations against a set of standards developed by a panel of nutrition and health experts, and against the National Restaurant Association's (NRA) Kids LiveWell standards.
Of the 3,494 meal combinations, 97 percent do not meet the expert nutrition standards for children's meals and 91 percent do not meet the NRA's Kids LiveWell standards. Nineteen of the restaurant chains offering children's meals (56 percent) do not have even one meal that meets the expert nutrition standards and nine chains (26 percent) do not have one meal that meets the Kids LiveWell standards.
For more information about restaurants and obesity in children, see the Council packet at: http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/council/pdf/agenda/cm/2013/131031/20131031_HHS1.pdf