Thursday, April 17, 2008

Green Business Certification

It is challenging to run a business in Montgomery County because of regulations, taxes and high rents. This County has a reputation for continually adding fees, changing the rules, or imposing regulations. The perception is out there that we are unfriendly to commercial enterprises. Well, it is time to change that atmosphere, and Green Business Certification Program takes one small step toward doing so.

Consumers are caring more and more about what they are purchasing, and we have many businesses that deserve a great pat on the back for what they are already doing. I am convinced that many Montgomery County companies would do much more if: 1 - they knew how, 2 - knew they would be acknowledged for what they would do, and 3 - knew there would be a bottom-line savings.

So I brought this idea to the Executive – that we craft a way to give our consumers the information on which County businesses are going green and give local companies that employee green practices the promotion and recognition they deserve.

This program will reward those who go the extra mile to protect our climate. I strongly believe that environmentally friendly efforts made by our companies, big and small, should be recognized. Our initiative will have three components: a logo for the certified businesses to display, a County website that will list them so consumers can find them, and promotional practices, such as County press releases, when a company achieves certification.

Our companies have long been known as the gold standard; now they should be recognized for their green standard as well. To learn more, click on the link to the right.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Realigning Priorities with a Carbon Surtax

Today I introduced a Carbon Surtax Resolution as a way of reaffirming my commitment to the environment. My plan targets our energy taxing efforts on the fuels that are most destructive to the environment while allowing us to continue to fund our energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction goals for the future.

The Carbon Surtax would be applied in a graduated manner with the dirtiest fuels being taxed at the highest rates and the cleanest fuels being taxed at the lowest rates.

With Montgomery County residents and businesses tightening their belts in the face of increased State income and sales taxes, increased gas prices and a proposed property tax hike, there are some who would say that now is not the time to ask residents for more. I agree.

My plan would result in about $11 million in revenues for the County while costing the average homeowner less than $10 for the entire year. I am working hard to lower the County Executive’s proposed 7 ½ cent proposed property tax so that, essentially, we can keep ourselves on track with environmental preservation without doing harm to residents’ pocketbooks.

I am not recommending new programs to be funded by the Carbon Surtax right now. Rather, I am suggesting we will realign our revenue structure to be more consistent with our priorities. By placing our tax burden on energy consumption rather than real property, we give people more control over their own obligation, and we pave the way for future revenue to pay for some of our most important conservation and efficiency initiatives, such as the Clean Energy Rewards program, free Ride On trips on code red days and tree planting programs.

To learn more, click on the links to the right. I look forward to your guidance on this issue.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Is the Growth Debate Over?

A recent Washington Post article points out that the economic downturn has slowed growth to a point where it has affected local government revenue sources. While some folks had argued that we must slow growth in order to catch up on infrastructure, we now are in a position of scaling back our capital projects because decreased transfer, impact, recordation and income taxes have left us with a big budget shortfall, an estimated revenue loss of $78 million in FY08, in fact.

According to the County’s Department of Finance, there are three economic indicators of particular note. First, the County continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, but job growth in payroll employment remains anemic with businesses adding fewer jobs in the past twelve months. Second, while home prices are still increasing at a low rate, home sales have declined nearly 34% during the fiscal year to date. Finally, because of the decline in home sales and the increase in the inventory to sales ratio for existing homes, the outlook for any improvement in residential construction is not encouraging.

I also find it interesting to note that the County's Department of Economic Development reports: from the second quarter of 06 to the second quarter of 07 (the most recent data available) private payroll jobs in Montgomery County dropped by 4,653 bringing the total number of private sector jobs to the lowest level in two years.

In a December column in the Gazette about our recently adopted growth policy, I worried that bringing growth to its knees would have an adverse effect on the county’s fiscal bottom line. As we now face school and transportation impact taxes about 1/3 lower than anticipated, we’re looking at delaying high school modernizations, deferring construction funding on five fire stations, delaying land acquisition for the Montrose Parkway East and cutting the Ride On bus fleet expansion. We’re falling behind, not catching up, on infrastructure and necessary programs and services.

In my April 4 post, I encouraged more discussion on the base budget issues. Here I solicit your views on the bigger picture. Do you agree with the Post that the “growth” debate is over? Do you have any thoughts on whether we should think about revisiting any current policies?

To read the Post article, my Gazette piece, the Department of Finance’s economic indicators, or the Department of Economic Development's Montgomery's Pulse, click on the links to the right.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Working Out a Budget

In his proposed FY09 Operating Budget, the County Executive lays out a plan to maintain most services in the face of decreased revenue projections, including what is likely to be only minimal State aid (I’ll let you know when we find out how much we will get from the State). His budget reflects an overall 3.9% increase over last fiscal year, including a 4% increase for Montgomery County Public Schools.

To achieve this budget, he proposes to abolish about 225 County positions and add an ambulance fee. He also proposes to increase property taxes by 20.7% for commercial property and 23.7% for rental property. A variable scale for residential property would mean a 6.2% increase for homes assessed at $343, 200, and an 11.9% increase for homes assessed at $500,000, and a 15.8% increase for homes assed at $1 million. Given that these increases would be in addition to the State’s bump in income taxes and the sales tax, I’m not convinced the community can bear them. On the other hand, the alternative would be significant cuts in service, which I’m not sure folks are willing to do either.

We will hold public hearings all next week and then start committee worksessions. We’ll pass a final budget at the end of May. Let me know what you think. To see the entire proposed budget, click on the link to the right.