Monday, June 30, 2008

What Do You Think About the Proposed Ambulance Fee?

We are now considering an Emergency Medical Services Transport Fee, also considered an ambulance fee. The charge for transportation in a medical emergency would be billed directly to an individual’s health insurer, although County residents without insurance would not pay for emergency transports to the hospital. According to the County Executive, who brought the bill to the Council, revenues generated by the fee would help the County keep pace with the public safety demands of our growing community. He adds that all of the region’s surrounding jurisdictions have implemented similar fees without reducing the willingness of individuals to call for emergency service transports. The bill assumes an average fee of about $250 per transport. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is the County's Emergency Management Notification System Effective?

After attending Tuesday’s briefing from the Department of Homeland Security and following the ensuing press coverage about the recent WSSC water main break, I have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the County’s Emergency Notification System. I am especially troubled that information was not posted on the county’s website in a timely manner and that an electronic alert was not sent out. I believe that one of the most important responsibilities of local government is to ensure that our residents receive accurate, clear and timely information, especially during emergencies. It is essential that the public has confidence in our emergency management procedures.

That’s why I have requested that the newly reconstituted Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security brief the Council’s Public Safety Committee. It should be asked to explain its approach to keeping the community informed during emergencies, to describe its procedures for doing so, and to clarify whose responsibility it is to see that the correct information is sent out. It should also detail what outreach it will do before a crisis occurs so that residents know where and how to obtain critical information.

How do you get information about emergencies? Do you use Alert Montgomery? What questions do you think should be addressed in the Public Safety Committee briefing?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Think Tank: New Ideas to Decrease Montgomery County's Reliance on the Property Tax

You are invited to join me, along with civic, business and elected leaders, to look at ways of reducing Montgomery County's reliance on the property tax as a primary revenue source. Discussion themes include: How reliable is the property tax as a revenue stream? What options exist for stabilizing the county's funding? And what is the most equitable way of sharing the county's obligations? To see the invitation, click on "Think Tank" to the right.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Our Housing Policy in Real Life

The best thing about having this position is that we have an actual opportunity to follow through on policy, and in that regard, I want to highlight some parts of the County’s housing policy and what it means when the rubber meets the road.

According to our official policy, a safe, decent and affordable home is the cornerstone for a full, normal life. A neighborhood is the basic unit of community in which a family can grow and flourish. The vision for Montgomery County is for all of its residents to have decent housing in sound neighborhoods.

The Housing Policy of Montgomery County reflects our commitment to certain principles, identifying who we are and what we stand for as a community. These principles mandate that the County strive to maintain and enhance the quality of life of its citizens by developing a housing strategy to address housing needs in all segments of the population. The County also must provide funding and programs when necessary to supplement state and federal programs.
This Council has made it a priority to consider our housing needs on all county-owned land since 2002. We also require affordable housing in all major development, and several years ago we added a requirement for workforce housing. Our master plans identify the need for affordable and special needs housing in addition to other priorities, such as green space and parkland.
As I understand it, there are at least 150 families with children who are currently homeless in this county, whom we have a responsibility to help. Between 2005 and 2006, more than 280 families and 1,300 individuals entered the homeless system. At the present time, we have 21 families in motels (23 adults and 53 children). Over 500 formerly homeless families and 267 individuals are currently housed in scattered shelters in the County. In addition, there are 340 beds for families and 220 beds for individuals in what is known as transitional housing.
In addition to housing for the homeless, there are 277 beds in group homes with some supervision and 2,257 beds in over 400 group homes with substantial supervision scattered throughout the County. These residences are serving people with minor to intense developmental issues.

Someone recently asked me why we should go against a community’s desire when there is conflict over a property, as was the case in Hillmead. After all, it is just one piece of property, merely a drop in the bucket. But I believe that local government is about paying attention to the small stuff. Folks at the federal and state level can make housing policy a priority, but they don’t actually build it. We do. And we do it within communities and throughout neighborhoods. That’s why I cringe when folks marginalize housing initiatives by saying that they are just a drop in the bucket. Well, what is a bucket but a combination of many drops?

In the case of the Hillmead property, there was a whopping price tag of $2.5 million for one acre of parkland. When the proposal first came to the PHED committee, we were aware of the likelihood of budget problems, and we were concerned about the fiscal implications of such a purchase. The existence of a home on the property allowed us to consider other public uses as well, and that made the expense much more palatable to me.

Although I’m disappointed the Council decided to demolish the home in this case, there will be many more opportunities in the coming months and years. To learn more about the County’s housing policy, click on the links to the right. How do you think we can reconcile the County’s housing policy with community desires in future cases?

Friday, June 6, 2008

America's Carbon Footprint

According to a new Brookings Institute report on the carbon footprint in metropolitan America, “The nation’s carbon footprint has a distinct geography not well understood or often discussed. This report quantifies transportation and residential carbon emissions for the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, finding that metro area residents have smaller carbon footprints than the average American, although metro footprints vary widely. Residential density and the availability of public transit are important to understanding carbon footprints, as are the carbon intensity of electricity generation, electricity prices, and weather.” To see the enire report, click on the link to the right.