Friday, May 29, 2009

E-cycling Day Next Weekend

Not sure how to recycle your old TVs and outdated electronics? In partnership with our Division of Solid Waste Services, Bethesda Green is promoting e-cycling day, Sunday, June 7, noon to 4 p.m. at the Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School parking lot. Bethesda Green volunteers will pass out free Honest Tea. All you need to do is gather up your stuff and drop on by. You don't even have to get out of your car. Last year, the group collected almost 100,000 pounds of e-waste at Walt Whitman. Learn more.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Corridor Cities Transitway Plans Ready for Public Comments

Now is your chance to comment on the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), the planned rapid transit system that will run from the Shady Grove Metro station to Clarksburg and eventually Frederick County. Don’t let the project’s formal name, I-270/US 15 Highway and Transit Improvements Study, confuse you. This study does include the CCT in addition to other improvements for the Upcounty corridor.

Possible transportation alternatives include several combinations of transit and highway strategies including Express Toll Lanes, light rail, bus rapid transit and more. For detailed information, take a look at the Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment.

I encourage you to take advantage of the public review period and learn more about the project and offer your comments. Written comments are due to the State Highway Administration by July 31. Alternately, you can speak at one of these two public hearings:

June 16
Gaithersburg Middle School
2 Teachers Way
Gaithersburg, MD 20878

June 18
Monocacy Middle School
8009 Opossumtown Pike
Frederick, MD 21702

At both locations, a time to review maps and displays will take place 5:00-9:00 p.m. Public testimony will begin at 7:00 p.m. To register or learn more about the process, visit the State Highway Administration.

The CCT concept has met with broad community support, and right-of-way already has been set aside. Construction could begin by 2012, once funding is available.

The County Planning Board and the County Council will consider the options later this year, so let me know what you think.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reconciliation List

Many of you have asked me about the Reconciliation List (sometimes called the "wish list"). To see the funded items, visit the Council's Web site.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Council Passes Reduced Budget

Today we unanimously approved a $4.39 billion total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2010. The national recession along with a shortfall in both tax revenue and state aid made this one of the most challenging budgets in County history.

This year’s budget is 0.3 percent lower than last year’s amount, marking the first decrease in our budget in 18 years. The tax-supported portion of the budget is down $14 million from last year and is $8.4 million less than the County Executive’s recommended budget.
There are no winners and losers in this budget—just tough decisions and hard-working employees trying to do more with less. We focused on protecting core services including education, public safety, public health and transportation. We also recognized the need to maintain and even enhance our safety net for those most affected by the troubled economy.

We understand that Montgomery County residents already are struggling with higher costs and flat or decreased income, so we chose not to exceed the County’s Charter Limit on property tax and included a $690 property tax credit for homeowners.

Although I was disappointed by many of the cuts we had to make, I am glad we were able to retain 18 Ride On bus routes that had been targeted for elimination or reduced service. Transit has a lot of benefits, like reducing congestion and mitigating climate change. But my most important consideration right now is that Ride On is the only transportation option for many of our residents. Fortunately, we’ve been able to make sure the most vulnerable of our residents continue to have the tools they need for their health, safety and productivity.

For a list of budget highlights, including specific funding decisions as well as approved reductions, see the Council’s press release.

What Do You Think About Auto Emissions?

“The cars of the near future will be lighter, more expensive and maybe smaller. Big engines will shrink. And more and more cars will be hybrids or diesel-powered vehicles like those common in Europe,” according to a May 20 Washington Post article. “…New fuel-efficiency and tailpipe-emissions standards unveiled yesterday at the White House will push automakers and motorists in a direction aimed at reducing U.S. oil dependence and the emissions of greenhouse gases…”

If these standards are enacted, they would go a long way toward the air quality and greenhouse gas mitigation goals I’ve been pursuing since I came to the Council six years ago. I understand others have different views on the subject. What do you think?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tuesday Council Meeting Cancelled

We will not meet on Tuesday, May 19, although we had been scheduled to approve a tentative agreement on the FY10 operating budget then. We now are scheduled to give final approval to the FY10 operating budget on Thursday, May 21. The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. and will be broadcast on County Cable Montgomery.

Memorial Day Schedule

While you enjoy hotdogs and lemonade, here's how Montgomery County government will observe Memorial Day on Monday, May 25:

County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the exception of the following stores, which will be closed: Cabin John; Diamond Square; and Twinbrook
Ride On – Sunday schedule
Metrobus – Sunday schedule
Metrorail – Sunday schedule
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
Refuse/recycling pick-up – no collection*
Transfer Station – closed
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed

*collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Maintenance of Effort Waiver Denied

The State Board of Education denied our Maintenance of Effort waiver request with Board members Blair Ewing and Donna Hill Staton dissenting. This means the Council now must reconcile a $79 million budget gap as I indicated in my previous posts. I will continue to post budget information (right) as it becomes available so you can follow along. You can read more in The Gazette.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Disability Retirement Reform

Yesterday we unanimously approved amended Bill 37-08 that reforms the County’s Disability Retirement Law. We fully responded to all the issues the Inspector General raised in his report last September.

The bill was based on the tentative agreements negotiated by representatives of the County Executive and the Fraternal Order of Police. It makes reforms primarily focused on accountability--strengthening the Disability Review Panel and requiring independent medical examinations and annual re-checks for employees who retire on disability. I am confident that this will put to rest the concerns about the potential for fraud and abuse that the IG raised.

Although we discussed changing the level of benefits by implementing a two-tiered system, we took no action on it mainly because this particular issue always had been addressed through collective bargaining. The Council never has legislated the outcome of negotiations, and now isn’t the time to start. Most importantly, there was no way to guarantee that proposed changes actually would save the taxpayers any money.

Nor was there was any evidence to show that this was necessarily the only way to approach the issue of varying levels of police disability. In any event, we got the commitment from our negotiating team that they will take up this issue in their next set of negotiations with the police.

The major provisions of the bill we approved include the following:

  • Increasing the independence of the Disability Review Panel by ensuring that a doctor appointed to the panel cannot be vetoed by an employee organization, as is currently allowed
  • Improving medical expertise with regard to disability claim review by requiring that all four members (an increase from the current three members) of the Disability Review Panel be board certified in occupational medicine or have at least 10 years of experience practicing occupational medicine
  • Requiring an independent medical examination of each disability applicant unless the nature and severity of the injury render it unnecessary
  • Strengthening review of existing disability retirements by requiring an annual medical exam or a certificate from a medical doctor. This would verify a continuing disability for the first five years after retirement and every three years after that until age 55 for public safety employees. The Disability Review Panel may require the member to submit to an independent medical exam.
  • Requiring panel decisions to be made by at least three doctors (instead of two)
  • Reducing lump sum retroactive disability benefits by the amount of workers’ compensation benefits received by a police officer
  • Requiring applicants to report a claimed injury within one year of the time the applicant knew or should have known that the injury was disabling
  • Requiring applicants to file for benefits within one year after separation from county service or by July 1, 2010, whichever is later, and, for police officers, within five years of the accident causing the impairment or by July 1, 2014, whichever is later, unless the police officer is working in a chronic incapacity position
  • Reducing the County’s payment by the amount of disability payments made by another employer for the same injury, except for Social Security disability benefits
  • Reducing the County’s payment by the amount of outside earnings received by a former police officer who accepts employment as a sworn law enforcement officer with another government agency
Call or e-mail me if you have any questions.

No Word on Waiver

Because we still have not received the State’s decision on our request for a waiver on the educational funding requirement under the State’s Maintenance of Effort law, we will not have sufficient information to take a straw vote on the budget on Thursday as originally planned. We likely will take the straw vote on Tuesday, May 19, with the final action still scheduled for May 21 if all goes well. There are a lot of moving parts at this time, so stay tuned.

The Maintenance of Effort law requires jurisdictions to appropriate at least the same amount of money per pupil from their own budgets as they did in the previous year, regardless of any additional funding that may be received from other sources such as the state or federal government.

Because we received additional federal and state aid for education, we believe we can reduce our local funding portion of the school system’s budget without going below the program level recommended by the Board of Education. This being an extreme year, we are hopeful the State will grant a one-time waiver of the Maintenance of Effort requirement so that we do not have to make extreme cuts to other programs. We expect to hear tomorrow (May 15).

If we do not receive the waiver, then we must provide additional funding to the school system. There will be no other option but to take the money from other parts of the government, so we’ll have to re-evaluate our earlier decisions or take some other dramatic action.

If we do receive the waiver, we will finalize the remaining details of the budget, including Reconciliation List items (those which have not yet been approved, but are recommended for approval if funding permits), on the same day as the straw vote.

Now it gets REALLY interesting.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Budget Timeframe Coming to a Close

We’re heading into the home stretch on our budget deliberations. As you can see from the Committee Budget Packets (links to the right), Council committees have considered a mountain of information, and now the full Council is looking at the committees’ recommendations. In accordance with our normal practice, we plan to take a straw vote on Thursday which will signal our intent for final action on the following Thursday, May 21.

Some big questions remain to be answered between now and then. Biggest among those questions is whether the State of Maryland will grant us a waiver on the educational funding requirement under the State’s Maintenance of Effort law. It is our hope that because of the County’s longstanding commitment to education and its history of making investments well above the required amounts, we are in good standing to receive the waiver, either totally or in part.

Although the State is not required to issue its decision until May 15, we’ve asked to get the decision early. If we do not receive the waiver, then we would be required by law to provide more funding to the public school system. The money necessarily would come from other parts of the government.

If you are interested in the budget, now is the time to pay close attention. Things can change quickly during what we hope is our last week of budget discussions. I will continue to post the budget packets to the right so you can follow along. And of course, it is not too late to let me know what you think.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Choosing to Save Ride On Service

Yesterday the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair, voted to recommend retention of the current service for approximately 18 Ride On bus routes that were targeted for elimination or reduced service in the County Executive’s proposed FY10 operating budget. To offset the costs of retaining the bus routes, we recommended an increase in parking rates in the Bethesda/North Bethesda area.

I don’t like raising fees, certainly, but I find eliminating bus service even less palatable. Transit has a lot of benefits, including reducing congestion and mitigating climate change. But, my most important consideration right now is that that Ride On is the only transportation option for many of our residents. During difficult times, we must make sure the most vulnerable of our residents continue to have the tools they need for their health, safety and productivity.

The Ride On service cuts would have saved approximately $2 million, but would have resulted in about 323,000 fewer riders annually. The full Council will consider the recommended changes as a part of its final budget discussions later in May.

To fund the restored bus routes, we recommended an increase of 25 cents per hour in all short-term spaces for public parking in the Bethesda Parking Lot District. Also recommended are increases in the long-term hourly rate, for a monthly Parking Convenience Sticker and for other associated fees. For more details, see the press release.