Thursday, May 28, 2015

Council to Sponsor Discussion of New Public Financing System

The Montgomery County Council will join the Montgomery County Democratic and Republican central committees at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 15, to co-host a forum on the new law that will allow candidates for County Council and County Executive to qualify for partial public financing for their campaigns. The law, which was unanimously approved by the Council in September, is the first measure of its type for County elective offices in the Washington region and in the State of Maryland.

In approving the County’s Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget on May 21, the Council added $1 million to begin building the fund that will start making public funds available in the 2018 election cycle.

The forum, entitled “A Public Discussion of Montgomery County’s New Public Financing System for County Elections,” will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The meeting will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also will be streamed through the County Web site.

Explaining the law and answering questions about it from attendees will be a panel including Jared DeMarinis, director of the Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division of the Maryland State Board of Elections; Phil Andrews, a former member of the County Council who was the lead sponsor of the bill that created Montgomery’s public financing system; and Bob Drummer, the senior legislative attorney for the County Council.

Since 2001, members of the Montgomery County Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted a bill that enables counties to provide the option of public financing for county elective offices beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates is voluntary.

The forum on June 15 will help explain the details of the law and will provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions about it.

Under the Public Election Fund law, to qualify for public financing, a candidate must:

  • File a Notice of Intent prior to collecting qualifying contributions
  • Establish a publicly funded campaign account
  • Only accept contributions from an individual of between $5 and $150
  • Refuse to accept a contribution from any group or organization, including a political action committee, a corporation, a labor organization or a State or local central action committee of a political party
  • Collect a qualifying number of contributions from County residents: 500 for County Executive candidates, 250 for at-large Council candidates and 125 for district Council candidates
  • Meet qualifying dollar thresholds of $40,000 for County Executive, $20,000 for at-large Councilmember and $10,000 for district Councilmember
  • Limits are indexed to inflation
  • Only contributions from County residents are eligible for matching funds
The plan provides strong incentives for candidates to seek out many small individual contributors. Matching public dollars for County Executive candidates would be $6 for each dollar of the first $50 of a qualifying contribution received from a County resident, $4 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution. Matching dollars for County Council candidates would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50 received from a County resident, $3 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution.

The maximum limit on public funds per candidate for either the primary election or the general election will be $750,000 for a County Executive candidate, $250,000 for a Council at-large candidate and $125,000 for a district Council candidate. Matching dollars would not be distributed for self/spouse contributions or to candidates running unopposed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Local Farmers' Markets Now Open

Stop by one of Montgomery County’s farmers’ markets for fresh, healthful produce and specialty products at locations across the CountyThe markets offer traditional items like fruits, heirloom tomatoes, cut flowers and preserves as well as many items that may be new to you. To ensure access to healthful products, many Montgomery County farmers’ market vendors accept SNAP, WIC and senior farmers market nutrition program benefits.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Holiday Schedule for Memorial Day

Montgomery County government will observe the following holiday schedule for Memorial Day on Monday, May 25:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Recreation – all indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be open; administrative offices,senior centers and community recreation centers will be closed
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are open. For operating schedules, including Brookside
  • Gardens, ice rinks, tennis centers, trains and carousels, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.
  • Ride On – Sunday schedule
  • Metrobus – Sunday schedule
  • Metrorail – Sunday schedule
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) -- closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – no collection*
  • Transfer Station – closed
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
  • State offices and courts – closed
*Collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Thoughts on the Budget Agreement

The Council today reached agreement on a $5.07 billion total County operating budget for Fiscal Year 2016. I voted in opposition. The budget reflects a 1.7 percent increase over the approved budget for FY15. We will formally adopt the FY16 operating budget and amendments to Capital Improvements Program next Thursday. The budget will go into effect on July 1.

While I am pleased that this budget holds the line on property taxes and limits our spending increase to 1.7 percent over last year, I remain deeply troubled by the fuel-energy tax rate. Residents and business owners will remember that we doubled this rate when we were in the throes of the recession. At that time, we promised to eliminate the increase entirely when the economy improved. To date, we have only reduced the increase by 27 percent. For FY16, we did not reduce it at all.

We have been working hard over the past several years to boost our economic development initiatives and bring more jobs, and ultimately more revenue, to Montgomery County. I am very sensitive to the cost of doing business here, and I am not willing to undercut our efforts to improve the local economy with such an onerous fuel-energy tax rate.

I appreciate the work that has gone into this budget but regret that I cannot support it. See the full press release.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Views on the Fuel/Energy Tax Rate

We're in the final days of our budget deliberations, but there are still some big decisions to make. On Wednesday, we will discuss revenues, including the proposed fuel/energy tax rate. We raised this rate when we were in the throes of the recession with the understanding we would decrease it when the economy improved. To date we've only reduced the increase by 27 percent, so I'm asking the Council to reduce it more this year. Learn more in this video by County Cable Montgomery.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tree House Tour de Cookie

Nearly 500 riders are registered to participate in the third annual Tree House Tour de Cookie, a 14- or 40-mile bicycle ride to benefit the Tree House Child Assessment Center. A public-private partnership, the Tree House Child Assessment Center is dedicated to reducing trauma and promoting healing for child victims of physical and sexual abuse, and neglect.

Participants will ride between cookies stands hosted by local clubs and organization. Following the ride, a community expo will be held with exhibits, entertainment and activities and families. Sponsors of the ride include the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus.

Saturday, May 2, 2015
8:45 a.m. – Opening Ceremony
9:05 a.m. – Riders Begin (14 & 40-mile routes)
12:30 p.m. – Kid’s Ride
1:30 p.m. – Best Cookie Stand Awards Presentation
Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Winner of the Intel Science Competition

What a treat it was to meet Michael Hofmann Winer and congratulate him on being named one of three first-place winners in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition. He received the First Place Medal of Distinction for Innovation and a cash prize of $150,000. See the story on CCM.

Michael's study looked at how fundamental quasi-particles of sound, called phonons, interact with electrons. Organizers said that Michael's work potentially could be applied to more complex atomic structures such as superconductors. Michael is a senior at Blair High School in the Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science Magnet Program. He plans to attend MIT in the fall.

One other Montgomery County student--Yizhen Zhang from Richard Montgomery High School--was a finalist in the competition. Of the 300 semi-finalists, 16 were from Montgomery County.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Budget Updates

If you would like to follow along as we continue to work through the FY16 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 21. Although we have finished our public hearings, you can still let us know what you think. Also, check the Council's Web site for regular budget updates.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Housing Counseling and Homebuyer Day Event on Saturday

Here's the full press release:

First time homebuyers or those facing financial challenges staying in their existing homes, are invited to attend the Housing Counseling and Homebuyer Day event on Saturday, April 25 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg.  Presented by the Housing Initiative Partnership and the City of Gaithersburg, the event is co-sponsored by the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs, the Montgomery Housing Fair and Bank On Gaithersburg.

Housing counselors will offer free one-on-one sessions addressing foreclosure prevention, pre-purchase preparations, financial capabilities and rental counseling.  Representatives of Bank On Gaithersburg and the Financial Wellness Coalition will help individuals open low-cost bank accounts and provide information on financial education classes, including credit, savings and budgeting.

Participants interested in owning a home are encouraged to register for the eight-hour homebuyer seminar.  Pre-registration is required.  The seminar fee is $50 for an individual or for a couple applying jointly for a home loan.  The seminar will help attendees understand the homebuying process and will feature speakers from the real estate industry,  including loan officers, realtors, home inspectors, insurance agents and settlement attorneys.  Information will also be presented on various down payment and closing cost assistance programs.

For more information, or to register for the homebuyer seminar, call the Housing Initiative Partnership at 301-916-5946 or visit www.hiphomes.org.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Golden Shovels Awarded Today

See the video of the presentation. What a pleasure it was to recognize 20 winners of the Golden Shovel awards today. The 2014-15 winter season in Montgomery County, according to the County Department of Transportation, had seasonal snow totals ranging from 34.4 inches (in the southern part of the County) to 46.6 inches (in northern areas of the County). In addition, there were 20 days when the high temperature for the day was 30 degrees or below.

Residents submitted 97 nominations for the awards this winter, and I will present 20 Golden Shovel awards at the April 21 ceremonies.
As I read through the nominations, I recognized how grateful people are for the kindness of their neighbors. Truly these nominees are unsung heroes, so it was difficult to select the winners. All those nominated are certainly deserving of our appreciation, and we thank them for their selflessness.

The 2015 awardees (in alphabetical order) are as follows:

Bruce Bishop of Bethesda expanded his snow clearing this year to include sidewalks of six houses on Cheshire Drive and was out as late as 10 p.m. to finish the job.

David and Jim Carter of Rockville (brothers aged 72 and 74) unselfishly shoveled out the homes of two elderly, widowed neighbors including the driveways and a completed clearing the sidewalk down the street.

Carey (Gene) Cheek Sr. of Rockville used his snow blower to clear the sidewalks in front of many houses, the neighborhood common areas and more than a dozen driveways of neighbors.

Jeff Clare of Rockville, whom his neighbors refer to as “The Good Samaritan of Rockville,” shoveled his newly met neighbor’s driveway and unexpectedly provided first aid and called 911 when the neighbor collapsed during one storm.

“The Difference Makers” of Takoma Park, a group of Takoma Park Middle School students and advisors, helped many elderly neighbors clear their sidewalks and steps of snow and ice on school snow days and on weekends.

Mike Glasby of Silver Spring heroically shoveled a long, heavily traveled church sidewalk on University Boulevard, enabling safe passage for students of Eastern Middle School and Blair High School students and for many Ride On commuters.

James Gutmann of Montgomery Village, who is sometimes referred to as “The Snow Angel” of Montgomery Village, received seven neighbor nominations for his tireless shoveling of many walkways, driveways, storm drains and fire hydrants.

Chris Hersman of Chevy Chase, who was called “the epitome of a good neighbor” by one nominator, received 10 Golden Shovel nominations. He diligently worked for hours in the dark snow blowing multiple sidewalks and driveways for neighbors.

Cheryl Leanza of Chevy Chase shoveled several blocks on Grubb Road so children could walk safely to and from school. She also encouraged members of the neighborhood listserv to “be a good neighbor” and clear their sidewalks of ice and snow.

Bill McDowell of Silver Spring, who is retired, continued his annual assistance to his neighbors by regularly clearing snow from many of their driveways and went even further by clearing the snow off of their vehicles.

Michael Marshall of Gaithersburg cleared the car, sidewalk, steps and parking space of his neighbor, who has mobility issues, and also shoveled out additional parking spaces in the community so visitors would have a place to park.

John Mayhew, Philip Stack, Ron Kessler and Michael O’Neil of Olney continued their winter storm day ritual of rising early to clear snow for their entire cul-de-sac, including the roadway, and inspiring a spirit of camaraderie throughout the community.

Shannon Shaffer of Kensington, in spite of a bad back, cleared snow from sidewalks, bus stops and mailboxes and then broke up the tough snow packs that were left by snow plows in front of the driveways of his neighbors.

Mark Springuel of Glen Echo, who is an adult with a developmental disability, routinely shoveled the driveway and sidewalks of his elderly neighbor, providing one of the needed services that allows that neighbor to remain living in his long-time home.

Jeanette Steele of Germantown, who is 72 years old and a native of Milwaukee, said that helping her neighbors clear their sidewalks and driveways keeps her in touch with her Midwestern roots.

Tim Tehan of Bethesda regularly cleared the driveways and walkways for his neighbors, including some very grateful ones (on the aptly-named Snow Point Drive), who were recovering from medical problems.

Kurt Zimmerman of Bethesda cleared the sidewalks in his entire neighborhood so that children could get to their bus stops.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Montgomery County Law Enforcement Agencies Conduct Drug Take-Back Day

The full press release:

On Saturday, May 2, 2015 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., several Montgomery County law enforcement agencies will be conducting a Drug Take-Back day. This is a safe, free and anonymous opportunity to dispose of unused, unwanted or expired prescription drugs. This initiative is part of an effort to prevent the increasing problems of prescription drug abuse and theft that continues to occur nationwide. The Rockville City Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting a Drug Take day on May 30, 2015. 

On May 2, there will be nine drop-off locations throughout Montgomery County. These locations will accept prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications only. Liquids, illicit drugs, needles, sharps and syringes cannot be accepted as part of the take-back program. Officers will staff collection boxes in the parking lots of the following facilities or in their lobbies:

Chevy Chase:
MCP 2nd District Police at Village of Friendship Heights Community Center – 
4433 S. Park Ave, Chevy Chase
Chevy Chase Village Police Station - 5906 Connecticut Ave, Chevy Chase  

Gaithersburg:
MCP 1st District Station – 100 Edison Park Rd, Gaithersburg
MCP 6th District Station – 45A West Watkins Mill Rd., Gaithersburg.
Gaithersburg Police Station -14 Fulks Corner Ave., Gaithersburg

Germantown:
MCP 5th District Station – 20000 Aircraft Dr., Germantown

Silver Spring:
MCP 3rd District Station – 1002 Milestone Dr., Silver Spring

Takoma Park:
Takoma Park Police at Takoma Park Community Center Lobby – 
7500 Maple Ave, Takoma Park

Wheaton:
MCP 4th District Station – 2300 Randolph Rd., Wheaton

The Montgomery County law enforcement community is particularly interested in medications containing controlled substances but will accept any medications brought for disposal. All sites will take pills and medication patches of all kinds. If possible, prescription labels should be removed or personal information should be blacked out; however, pill bottles will still be accepted if the labels are attached. No questions will be asked. This is an opportunity to safely empty out a medicine cabinet of drugs that are no longer needed. 

Disposing of them through a drug take-back day is the safest option. If it is safe to dispose of a drug by flushing it down a toilet, the drug label or prescription information will indicate that option is an appropriate means of disposal. Otherwise unused drugs should not be poured down a sink or flushed for disposal.

Drugs should not be thrown in the trash unless specific safety precautions for safe disposal are followed. The County’s Division of Solid Waste and Services offers these suggestions:

  1. Place unwanted or expired medication into a plastic bag (with a seal) or other empty container with a lid to prevent liquid medications from leaking out.
  2. Mix with kitty litter, coffee grounds or sawdust. (Liquid medications can be solidified using kitty litter or sawdust.)
  3. Seal the bag and/or container.
  4. Crush pills or tablets.
  5. Put the container and/or bag containing the medication into your regular household trash.
  6. Remove the label with the patient’s name from the original medicine vial or bottle.
  7. Place the empty plastic vial or bottle into your blue County recycling bin. Empty aerosol inhalers can also be recycled in the County recycling bins.
Unused and/or expired medicines that remain in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs.  Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.

All the returned medications on Drug Take-Back day will be incinerated by the Montgomery County Department of Police according to state and local regulations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bill to Establish Excise Tax on Electronic Cigarettes

Councilmember Tom Hucker yesterday introduced Bill 15-15 that would establish an excise tax on the distribution of electronic cigarette products. The bill has six co-sponsors, including me.

Under current state tax law, cigarettes are taxed at $2 per pack and other tobacco products are taxed at a rate of 30 percent of the wholesale price. Electronic cigarettes are not currently subject to state tobacco taxes. The proposed tax on the distribution of electronic cigarettes would be 30 percent of the wholesale price--mirroring the state tax on other tobacco products.

If you want to weigh in, you can testify at the public hearing at 7:30 on May 5. Call 240-777-7803 to sign up. You can also send your testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Equal Pay Day

Today is Equal Pay Day. It symbolizes how far into 2015 women must work to earn what men earned in 2014. Even though the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passed more than five decades ago, women continue to suffer the consequences of inequitable pay differentials. In fact, year-round, full-time working women earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. In Maryland, we're doing a little bit better at 85 cents for every dollar. Women earn less in every occupational classification for which enough data is available, including occupations dominated by women. Over a working lifetime, this wage disparity costs the average American woman and her family an estimated $700,000 to $2 million in lost wages, impacting Social Security benefits and pensions.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Golden Shovel Award Winners

Tune in at 9:00 on April 21 for the presentation of the 2015 Golden Shovel awards to recognize residents who helped neighbors shovel out after snowfalls during the harsh winter of 2014-15.

I initiated the Golden Shovel awards to honor residents who helped neighbors by shoveling walkways and driveways after a snowfall. The 2014-15 winter season in Montgomery County, according to the County Department of Transportation, had seasonal snow totals ranging from 34.4 inches (in the southern part of the County) to 46.6 inches (in northern areas of the County). In addition, there were 20 days when the high temperature for the day was 30 degrees or below.

Residents submitted 97 nominations for the awards this winter, and I will present 20 Golden Shovel awards at the April 21 ceremonies.

As I read through the nominations, I recognized how grateful people are for the kindness of their neighbors. Truly these nominees are unsung heroes, so it was difficult to select the winners. All those nominated are certainly deserving of our appreciation, and we thank them for their selflessness.

The 2015 awardees (in alphabetical order) are as follows:

Bruce Bishop of Bethesda expanded his snow clearing this year to include sidewalks of six houses on Cheshire Drive and was out as late as 10 p.m. to finish the job.

David and Jim Carter of Rockville (brothers aged 72 and 74) unselfishly shoveled out the homes of two elderly, widowed neighbors including the driveways and a completed clearing the sidewalk down the street.

Carey (Gene) Cheek Sr. of Rockville used his snow blower to clear the sidewalks in front of many houses, the neighborhood common areas and more than a dozen driveways of neighbors.

Jeff Clare of Rockville, whom his neighbors refer to as “The Good Samaritan of Rockville,” shoveled his newly met neighbor’s driveway and unexpectedly provided first aid and called 911 when the neighbor collapsed during one storm.

“The Difference Makers” of Takoma Park, a group of Takoma Park Middle School students and advisors, helped many elderly neighbors clear their sidewalks and steps of snow and ice on school snow days and on weekends.

Mike Glasby of Silver Spring heroically shoveled a long, heavily traveled church sidewalk on University Boulevard, enabling safe passage for students of Eastern Middle School and Blair High School students and for many Ride On commuters.

James Gutmann of Montgomery Village, who is sometimes referred to as “The Snow Angel” of Montgomery Village, received seven neighbor nominations for his tireless shoveling of many walkways, driveways, storm drains and fire hydrants.

Chris Hersman of Chevy Chase, who was called “the epitome of a good neighbor” by one nominator, received 10 Golden Shovel nominations. He diligently worked for hours in the dark snow blowing multiple sidewalks and driveways for neighbors.

Cheryl Leanza of Chevy Chase shoveled several blocks on Grubb Road so children could walk safely to and from school. She also encouraged members of the neighborhood listserv to “be a good neighbor” and clear their sidewalks of ice and snow.

Bill McDowell of Silver Spring, who is retired, continued his annual assistance to his neighbors by regularly clearing snow from many of their driveways and went even further by clearing the snow off of their vehicles.

Michael Marshall of Gaithersburg cleared the car, sidewalk, steps and parking space of his neighbor, who has mobility issues, and also shoveled out additional parking spaces in the community so visitors would have a place to park.

John Mayhew, Philip Stack, Ron Kessler and Michael O’Neil of Olney continued their winter storm day ritual of rising early to clear snow for their entire cul-de-sac, including the roadway, and inspiring a spirit of camaraderie throughout the community.

Shannon Shaffer of Kensington, in spite of a bad back, cleared snow from sidewalks, bus stops and mailboxes and then broke up the tough snow packs that were left by snow plows in front of the driveways of his neighbors.

Mark Springuel of Glen Echo, who is an adult with a developmental disability, routinely shoveled the driveway and sidewalks of his elderly neighbor, providing one of the needed services that allows that neighbor to remain living in his long-time home.

Jeanette Steele of Germantown, who is 72 years old and a native of Milwaukee, said that helping her neighbors clear their sidewalks and driveways keeps her in touch with her Midwestern roots.

Tim Tehan of Bethesda regularly cleared the driveways and walkways for his neighbors, including some very grateful ones (on the aptly-named Snow Point Drive), who were recovering from medical problems.

Kurt Zimmerman of Bethesda cleared the sidewalks in his entire neighborhood so that children could get to their bus stops.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Council Approves Aspen Hill Minor Master Plan Amendment

After months of technical analysis and considerable community input, the Council approved the Aspen Hill Minor Master Plan Amendment which will provide opportunities for re-use of the former Vitro/BAE property in a way that focuses on design and encourages pedestrian use.

The plan creates mixed-use options for redevelopment of a long-empty office building and neighboring properties. Based on neighborhood concerns, we restricted the "big box" potential for the Vitro/BAE site while providing flexibility for future retail and possible residential use.

The area being addressed covers about 14 acres west of Connecticut Avenue near Aspen Hill Road. The vacant Vitro/BAE property encompasses ten of those acres. At the time the Council reviewed the 1994 Aspen Hill Master Plan Amendment, the Vitro/BAE office building was occupied and the Master Plan supported the continued office focus.

We are grateful to the Aspen Hill community for its tireless commitment to its neighborhood's future. We listened long and hard to the concerns of residents in crafting a sustainable solution for this challenging site. The passage of this plan paves the way for much-needed and long-anticipated redevelopment in the area.