Friday, December 19, 2014

When it Snows

Did you know that when it snows, 200 employees with 175 pieces of equipment spring into action? Here's a snapshot of the County's snow response plan:

When snow begins to cover roads, salt crews spread salt on all main County roads and emergency routes. When snow accumulates to three inches, plowing and salting crews continue to clear all main County roads and emergency routes. Once the snow stops, crews begin plowing neighborhood roads. Then crews complete plow routes and spread abrasives on hills, at intersections and on roads around schools.

Get all of your snow removal questions answered here.

What's In and What's Out for 2015

In – jobs:  With my proposal for a special appropriation for economic development, which the Council approved, we will substantially increase the number of challenge grants and prizes available for entrepreneurs and innovators through the Department of Economic Development. It also will allow additional spending on marketing and business development programs generally. With this special appropriation, we are stimulating the local economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation, and that's a good investment.

Out -- ambiguity:  Confused about zoning in Montgomery County? You’re not alone. Up until recently, only a select few understood the nuances of our 1,200-page zoning ordinance. But now, thanks to the newly overhauled code, zoning information in Montgomery County is clearer, more accessible and available online. That means residents will be able to participate more effectively in key land use decisions and that small businesses will be able to locate and expand in the county without having to untangle a complicated web of archaic rules.

In -- public campaign financing:  This year, the Council approved a voluntary public campaign financing system for candidates for County Council and County Executive. Beginning with the 2018 election, a candidate for Council or Executive may seek matching funds for small dollar contributions of $150 or less from a Public Election Fund.

Out -- nicotine:  I recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces where traditional cigarette use is prohibited, including public buildings and restaurants.The bill also would prohibit use of electronic cigarettes by minors and would require child-resistant packaging for them. The use of electronic cigarettes, commonly called “vaping,” has grown dramatically since the product’s introduction in 2007. The practice has become so commonplace that the Oxford Dictionary selected the word “vape” as its 2014 “Word of the Year.” Although electronic cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, they do contain nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals.

In -- White Oak:  The Council approved the much-anticipated White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, transforming the area on the east side of the County around the Route 29 corridor and the Food and Drug Administration into a community of vibrant mixed-use centers. With the passage of this plan, we are realizing a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create the opportunity for robust employment and amenities in the eastern part of the County after a generation of moratoria.

In – pets:  The new Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center opened to the public last spring. The state-of-the-art facility is operated by the Montgomery County Police Department’s Animal Services Division and serves as the County’s only open-admissions animal shelter. Programs and services offered at the new Center include: adoptions, lost and found, pet licensing, field services, pet-owner and adopter support and foster and volunteer opportunities.

Out – congestion:  They say you never really learn to swear until you learn to drive, but now you may be able to save a few nickels from going in the curse jar, according to the most recent Mobility Assessment Report. The study conducted by the Montgomery County Planning Department shows stabilization and even improvement in congestion in several key areas, especially on roadways near the Intercounty Connector.

In -- Georgia Avenue/Randolph Road:  The long-awaited interchange project to replace the existing Georgia Avenue/Randolph Road signalized intersection in Glenmont is now underway. Residents stand to benefit not only from congestion relief but also improved traffic safety and enhanced economic development.

In – good neighbors:  Last winter, with the seemingly never-ending snow storms, I awarded Golden Shovels to a record 111 individuals. This award honors those who help their neighbors clear snow and ice after a storm and make their communities safer. We received an avalanche of nominations, demonstrating just how generous Montgomery County residents are.

In -- new faces:  The Council welcomes our newest members, Sidney Katz and Tom Hucker. While they are new to the Council, they aren't new to public service, and they already hit the ground running. I'm looking forward to serving as Council vice president this year while my friend and fellow fourth-term Councilmember, George Leventhal, serves as president.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Public Hearing on Development Ombudsman Position

Sign up now if you want to testify at the public hearing on Expedited Bill 58-14 that would create a new non-merit position of Development Ombudsman in the Office of the County Executive. The public hearing is scheduled for January 13 at 1:30 p.m.

The Development Ombudsman would act as a facilitator for commercial and residential development projects by working as an intermediary to address challenges, issues and concerns during development. The ombudsman would promote regulatory efficiency, accessibility, transparency, predictability and consistency across agencies and departments. He or she also would identify systemic challenges in the entitlement process, permitting and general regulatory procedures and would facilitate necessary changes that bring about tangible improvements that save both time and costs.
 
Call 240-777-7803 to sign up to speak. If you can't make the hearing, you can send your written testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

MBDC Matches Large Businesses with Small

The Montgomery Business Development Corporation knows that small business is big business. That's why they help larger employers link up with small businesses for their procurement needs. To learn more, see MBDC's new public service announcement.

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Remember to recycle your natural Christmas tree. First, remove the stand and all decorations--including lights, ornaments, tinsel and garlands. Be sure there is no metal attached to the tree. Then take the tree to the curb on your regular recycling day, and if you are like me, remove any ornaments you missed the first time around. You can also recycle branches and needles by placing them under trees and shrubs as a temporary winter mulch--or chop them up and add them to a compost pile. Many of the trees collected by the County get turned into mulch, therefore January and February are great months to get free mulch from the County. Bonus: The Christmas tree mulch smells fantastic.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Schedule for Christmas and New Year's Days

Here is our holiday schedule for Christmas Day on Thursday, December 25 and New Year’s Day, January 1:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed on December 25 and January 1; all branches will close at 6 p.m. on December 24 and 31
  • County liquor stores – closed
  • Recreation – all facilities closed December 25 and January 1; senior centers, community and neighborhood recreation centers will be closed December 25 through January 1; aquatics programs operating on a modified schedule, contact each facility directly
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are closed both days. For operating schedules during the holidays, 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, December 11, 2014

Holiday Safety Tips and Reminders

Unfortunately, “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be the most vulnerable time of the year. But, the possibility of becoming the victim of a crime or traffic/pedestrian collision can be greatly reduced by regularly following good safety practices.

Important Holiday Shopping Safety Tips include:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings.
  • Lock you car doors and don’t leave anything of value within view.
  • If you take trips back to your vehicle to lighten your gift package load, move your car to a different parking space because potential thieves can be watching to see which vehicles contain gifts.
  • Don’t hide or store gifts in your trunk when you get home from shopping. Theft from vehicle is a prevalent crime.
  • Do not carry large amounts of cash.
  • Keep a list of credit cards at home, in case they are stolen.
  • Carry your closed purse in front of and close to your body.
  • Carry a wallet in a front jacket or pants pocket.
  • Don’t let your guard down because you are in a rush.
If someone does try to rob you, don’t resist. Give up your property; do not endanger your life. Report the crime to police as soon as possible, and try to describe the attacker as accurately as possible.

Seasonal Home Safety Tips include:
  • If your Christmas tree can be seen through a window, do not display presents under the tree where they can also be seen by potential burglars.
  • Make sure to lock all doors and windows.
  • If you are going away for the holiday, let a neighbor know that your home will not be occupied and have someone keep an eye on your home. Stop delivery, or ask someone to pick up your mail and newspapers.
  • Place your lights on timers to give the appearance that the home is occupied.
  • After the holidays, be sure to break down cardboard gift boxes for recycling so that a potential burglar does not know your home has a new computer, TV, video game system, etc.
Special note from the National Crime Prevention Council:

The holidays are a good time to update or create your home inventory. Take photos or make videos of items, and list descriptions and serial numbers. If your home is burglarized, having a detailed inventory can help identify stolen items and make insurance claims easier to file. Make sure items like TVs, VCRs, cameras, camcorders, cell phones, major sports equipment, jewelry, silver, computers, home office equipment and power tools are on the list. Be sure to store this information in a cloud-based program, so that if your computer is stolen, you’ll still be able to access it.

Reminders from the Fire and Rescue Service include:
  • Tree: Make freshness a priority. Check needles to make sure they are green and difficult to pull back from the branches. If the tree has been freshly cut, the needles should not break. Tap the tree on the ground several times. If several needles fall off, the tree is probably dried out.
  • Lights: Use only lights that have been tested by an approved testing laboratory for safety. Inspect them for frayed wires, bare spots, broken or cracked sockets, excessive kinking or wear before plugging them in. Avoid stringing more than three light strands together. Always turn off tree lights, indoors or outdoors, when leaving the house and before going to sleep.
  • Fireplace ashes: If possible, allow all ashes to cool in place for several days. For disposal, place ashes in an approved metal ash bucket with a tight-fitting metal lid, and wet them down. Store the container outside, away from structures, decks, fences, wood piles or other combustible materials. Never use a vacuum cleaner to pick up ashes. Don’t dispose of ashes outside on a windy day. Wind can whip up what may have seemed like cool embers, making them fiery hot and sending them traveling to ignite nearby combustibles.
  • Candles: Don’t leave burning candles unattended or place candles too close to holiday decorations. Keep candles in secure holders and on a safe surface away from children and pets. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue officials recommend the use of battery-powered flashlights or lanterns in the event of a power outage.
  • Extension Cords: Make sure that an extension cord is suitable for the electrical “load” needed. Do not place cords under furniture or rugs and do not plug two extension cords together to increase the total length. If too much power is demanded from an extension cord, overheating and fire may result. Read all packaging and instructions and ensure it is UL listed.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Apply Now to Public Election Fund Committee

The Montgomery County Council is seeking applicants for positions on the recently established Committee to Recommend Funding for the Public Election Fund. Letters of interest must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 4.

The Council recently enacted Bill 16-14 that established a voluntary public campaign financing system for candidates for County Council and County Executive. Beginning with the 2018 election, a candidate for Council or Executive may seek matching funds for small dollar contributions of $150 or less from a Public Election Fund. The Council must appropriate funds for the Public Election Fund as part of the annual County government operating budget.

The legislation created the Committee to Recommend Funding for the Public Election Fund to estimate the funds necessary to implement the public campaign finance system and recommend an annual appropriation by the Council to the Public Election Fund.

The Public Election Fund Committee will be composed of five County residents appointed by the County Council for four-year terms beginning on May 1 of the first year of the Council’s term of office. The term of this committee will begin on May 1, 2015, and end April 30, 2019.  No more than three members can be from the same political party. The Council will designate the chair and vice chair. The committee must issue its report to the Council on or before March 1 each year.

All five positions are up for appointment. There is no compensation for members of the commission, but members may be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. The committee, once it is formed, will determine how often it will need to meet.  Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time.

Letters of application expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President George Leventhal, County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850.  Applications can also be submitted via email to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Appropriation to Stimulate Entrepreneurship

Last week the Council unanimously approved my proposal for a special appropriation for economic development. This additional funding will substantially increase the number of challenge grants and prizes available for entrepreneurs and innovators through the Department of Economic Development. It will also allow additional spending on marketing and business development programs generally and require the Department to submit a report in January outlining how the money will be spent.

We need this $150,000 increase because the regional economy is lagging. In fact, after years of strong performance relative to the nation, the metro area economy is lacking relative to other regions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Washington, D.C.metropolitan area ranked 330th out of all U.S. metropolitan areas in terms of percentage change in real gross domestic product in 2013. In the second quarter of 2014, Maryland ranked 47th in terms of percentage change in personal income from the previous quarter. With this special appropriation, we are stimulating the local economy by encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation, and that's a good investment.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Council Officers Elected

I'm looking forward to serving as Council vice president this year while my friend and fellow fourth-term Councilmember, George Leventhal, serves as president. George and I have had a great working relationship for a long time, and I have high expectations for this term. Also today, we welcomed our newest members, Sidney Katz and Tom Hucker. While they are new to the Council, they aren't new to public service, and they hit the ground running.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Transition of Two Council Seats

In the final session of the 17th Council we said farewell to the shortest-term and longest-term members of the County Council--Cherri Branson and Phil Andrews, each of whom did not seek re-election to their seats.

We are extremely grateful to Cherri Branson for her willingness to serve District 5 when the need arose. Although her term lasted only one year, she made a huge contribution to the County and represented her constituents admirably.

Phil Andrews, who represents District 3 and concluded his 16th year on the Council, has been a strong and thoughtful leader respected by all. He is been best knows for his unflappable style and his ability to listen carefully to all viewpoints. He has been a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility, and Montgomery County has been lucky to have him in public service for four terms.

Newly elected Councilmembers Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz will join us right after their inauguration on December 1. Both have extensive experience in elected office, and I look forward to working with them.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bill to Regulate Electronic Cigarettes

This week I introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces where traditional cigarette use is prohibited, including public buildings and restaurants.

The bill also would prohibit use of electronic cigarettes by minors (ages 18 and under) and would require child-resistant packaging for electronic cigarettes.

The use of electronic cigarettes, commonly called “vaping,” has grown dramatically since the product’s introduction in 2007. The practice has become so commonplace that the Oxford Dictionary selected the word “vape” as its 2014 “Word of the Year.” Although electronic cigarettes do not produce tobacco smoke, they do contain nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals. Children and teens are particularly susceptible to nicotine addiction.

As elected officials, we at the County Council are stewards for public health. We know that teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs, putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction and nicotine poisoning, as well as potentially graduating to harmful tobacco products. It is our responsibility to put some protections in place.

Twenty-four states, including Maryland, prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Municipalities including New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago also have enacted restrictions. While the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering regulations to address electronic cigarettes, it is not clear when those regulations would be finalized or take effect.

A public hearing on the bill is tentatively scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on January 22. To sign up to testify, call 240-777-7803. You can also send you testimony to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Inauguration for Local Elected Officials December 1

County Executive Ike Leggett and nine Councilmembers – two of them newly-elected – will take the oath of office for four-year terms at a ceremony taking place at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville next Monday, December 1. The event will begin at 11:15 a.m. and is free and open to the public. It will be videostreamed live via www.montgomerycountymd.gov and broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (Channel 6 for Comcast and RCN customers, Channel 30 for Verizon subscribers).

The swearing-in will be preceded by an Inaugural Inter-Faith Prayer Service at 8:45 a.m. on Monday at the Rockville United Church, 355 Linthicum Avenue in Rockville. It is also free and open to the public. Shuttles will return from the service to Richard Montgomery High School.

The Master of Ceremonies for the inaugural event will be journalist Derek McGinty.
Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice, Hans Riemer and I will be sworn into office by Clerk of the Circuit Court Barbara Meiklejohn.

County Executive Ike Leggett will be sworn in to his third term as County Executive by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Titus.

Council President Craig Rice and County Executive Leggett will deliver remarks.

Parking will not be available at Richard Montgomery High School itself (with the exception of disabled accessible). Parking will be available at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave.; the Board of Education, 850 Hungerford Drive; and at the Sandy Spring Bank and Marlo Furniture parking lots on Rockville Pike near the school. Shuttle buses will run from the Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street; the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue; and the Board of Education, 850 Hungerford Drive. They will run every 15 minutes starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 12:45 p.m.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Schedule for Thanksgiving

Here's our holiday schedule for Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 27:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – closed
  • Recreation – all programs and facilities are closed
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are closed on Thursday. For operating schedules on Friday, 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, November 20, 2014

Nonprofits: Important Information about Council Grants

Nonprofit organizations: get ready to apply for this year's council grants. Here is the Council President's message, including key dates:

Dear Community Partner:

The Montgomery County Council believes that a strong partnership with nonprofit organizations is critical to meeting the needs of our residents.  As in previous years, the Council will have a formal application process for nonprofit organizations that wish to request Fiscal Year 2016 grant funding.  As part of this process, the County Council will appoint a volunteer community Grants Advisory Group to review and evaluate applications. 

The Council will accept applications for programs and projects that advance the County’s services, goals, and objectives in areas such as health and human services, economic development, education, and recreation.  As in recent years, the Council is particularly interested in proposals that provide emergency and other assistance to the neediest members of our community.

Our nonprofits know all too well that Montgomery County was not spared from the recent deep recession, and that as a direct result there continues to be more poverty, hunger, and homelessness in our county.   While the County Council is committed to supporting the many valuable services your organizations provide to our residents, our local government also continues to face significant fiscal challenges.  In this coming year, we will again face rising needs with limited revenues.  

With regard to the actual grants process, we are pleased to announce that this year, the county implemented a new online One-Stop Grants Portal to manage the submission and review of both County Council and County Executive Grants.  As a result, you must now submit applications for both grants programs through the new online process.  Please note that for FY 2016, the Council and County Executive will be accepting applications only through its new online grants portal, which you can access at:  www.montgomerycounty.fluidreview.com.  For future reference, you may access the application portal by clicking the Grants icon located at the bottom of the Council Home Page.

Important dates to remember:

  • December 4, 2014 -- Grants Workshops
     o   1:30 at the East County Regional Services Center
          3300 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring,  or
     o   7:00 p.m. in the 3rd floor Council Hearing Room of the Council Office Building
          100 Maryland Ave., Rockville   
           The content will be the same at both workshops.  Each will cover the grants process for both
           Council and County Executive Grants and provide a brief introduction to the new application
           process.  We strongly encourage you to send a representative to one of the workshops.

  • January 13, 2015 -- Application Deadline
    Please note that no applications will be accepted after that date.
  •  February/March -- The Grants Advisory Group will review and evaluate applications.
  •  April 24, 2015 -- the Grants Advisory Group is scheduled to issue its report.
  • Mid-Late May -- the County Council will make funding decisions as part of the FY2016 Operating Budget.  Proposals that are selected for funding will be effective after July 1, 2015.
  • Funds will become available approximately 60-120 days after July 1, 2015, after execution of a required contract with the Montgomery County Government that includes reporting and other requirements.  The grant application provides further details.
If you have questions, please contact Joan Schaffer, Council Grants Manager, at council.grants@montgomerycountymd.gov or 240-777-7935.  For your information, the Council web site has a section on Council Grant Information at: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/COUNCIL/grants/council_grants.html

Thank you for the contributions you and others in the nonprofit community make to a better future for all our residents.  

Sincerely,

Craig Rice
Council President