Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Schedule for Christmas and New Year

Enjoy the holiday season, everyone. Here's our holiday schedule for your convenience:

County Offices -- closed December 24 and 31
Libraries -- closed December 24, 25, 31 and January 1
County liquor stores – open on December 24 and 31 until 7 p.m.; closed on December 25 and 26
and January 1 and 2
Ride On – Sunday schedule with service ending at approximately 10 p.m. on December 24;
regular Saturday schedule on December 25 and January 1; Sunday schedule on December 31
Metrobus – Sunday service on December 24, 25, 31 and January 1
Metrorail – Special Sunday service with 3 a.m. closing on December 24, 25, 31 and January 1
TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) – closed on December 24, 25,
31 and January 1
Refuse/recycling pickup – regular collection
Transfer Station – facility drop-offs open until 5 p.m. on December 24 and 31; closed on
December 25 and January 1
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free on December 24 and 25; and December
31 and January 1
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed

New and Improved Snow Map

Check out the Department of Transportation’s new snow map. The new online tool will make it easier for residents to decide when to safely venture out following a snowstorm. The map tool will show the progress of snow plows throughout the County and indicate when emergency roads, primary neighborhood streets and neighborhood streets have been cleared. A zoom feature allows residents to focus on the plow status of their immediate neighborhood and surrounding streets and then zoom out to check on an entire trip route. This improved map comes after residents asked for better information following last year’s storms.

Each road category, whether an emergency/main route or neighborhood street, is designated on the map by a different color. Patterns are used to show whether plowing has begun or not, is in progress or complete. Residents are encouraged to consult the map before concluding their street has been missed.

The map includes a handy icon that allows residents to see road views from any of the County’s nearly 200 traffic cameras. Also shown is helpful information about the location of bus stops and Metro stations. The online map system allows residents to easily report an intersection that needs additional sand or salt, a missed street, or a damaged mailbox.

Since many roads in the County are not cleared by the County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT), it can be confusing for residents. All State-maintained, numbered roads (such as Georgia Avenue, Maryland Route 97 or Rockville Pike, Maryland Route 355) in the County are cleared by the Maryland State Highway Administration (MSHA). A link to information from MSHA about their plowing progress is also available.

Other departments, outside agencies and governmental jurisdictions also have responsibility for plowing. They include the Montgomery County Board of Education; the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission; the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro); municipalities; and homeowner’s associations. Commercial parking lot owners plow their own properties and are prohibited from moving snow into the street.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Report Part II: Options for Long-Term Fiscal Balance

Reducing future salary increases; raising the employee share of health benefits; restructuring retirement benefits; reducing the size of the workforce; reducing debt service; and increasing revenues are among the options we might consider, according to Part II of the Office of Legislative Oversight’s report on the County’s structural deficit.

I asked the OLO to undertake this study during our operating budget deliberations earlier this year as it became increasingly apparent that quick fixes aren’t going to resolve our long-term, built-in problems. In June, we adopted a six-year fiscal plan that outlines the spending limits needed to achieve balanced annual budgets. That plan gave us clear warning that there are structural problems we are going to have to address or it will never work. The options presented in this report will allow us to start a really meaningful conversation about where we go from here.

In regard to employee salaries, the report presents options such as salary rollbacks, calculated at 1, 3 or 5 percent. A 1 percent rollback implemented in FY12 across the four agencies (Montgomery County Government, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission) would save about $23 million. Other options address ways to reduce the rate of salary growth by modifying the current structure of general wage adjustments and step increases. For this and other options, it is important to note that MCPS represents two-thirds of the total workforce.

Options to lower the projected increases in locally paid retirement benefits include approaches to replace defined benefit retirement plans with lower cost defined contribution or hybrid plans for newly hired employees; increase the share of retirement costs paid by employees; and reduce benefit levels.

Options that could lower health care costs for the County include setting a uniform employer cost share at 70 percent for all plans; charging employees who enroll dependents a higher cost share; and setting a uniform employer cost share of 60 percent for part-time employees. The report says implementing these options (as of January 2012) could produce savings for the four year agencies that range from $7 million to $46 million in FY13, and from $19 million to $123 million by FY16. The report shows how phasing in changes over several years also provides cost savings, but at a slower rate.

The report recognizes that eliminating positions is one way to reduce personnel costs. The report calculates that, based on current average employee pay and benefits, approximately 110 workyears (110 full-time employees) would need to be eliminated for every $10 million in annual savings. Illustrative examples of what $10 million in personnel costs currently buys include: 100 percent of the staff in 11 libraries; 153 newly hired MCPS teachers; 26 percent of all Montgomery College staff at the Rockville campus; or 83 percent of all Planning Department staff. I note that Part I of the report states: “Between FY02 and FY11, the primary driver behind higher personnel costs was not an increase in the size of the workforce but rather the increase in average costs per employee.”

The executive summary of Part II of the report recognized that difficult decisions are ahead. “For the many governments currently struggling to align revenues and desired expenditures, it certainly would be desirable if some options existed that magically provided win-win solutions. However, as with so many other jurisdictions, the reality of the County’s fiscal picture, at least for the foreseeable future, requires decisions that involve asking some to pay more and/or others to make do with less. In other words, the reality is that none of the options promise an outcome where everyone wins.”

It is clear we have our work cut out for us with the upcoming FY12 budget as well as further into the future. As we work through the complex issues, we will have to balance our need to control spending, provide services and treat our employees fairly. This will be a long and ongoing conversation, so please let me know what you think.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Inauguration of 17th Council

As the 17th Montgomery County Council and the County Executive were sworn in, I had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the new Council. My comments were about you (who read blogs like this one) and others who remain unaccounted for in our public discussions, and I reflected on our challenge as elected officials to make sure we consider the views of all of the nearly one million people we represent. Here is the complete text:

The opportunity to serve Montgomery County on this Council is a tremendous honor and privilege. On behalf of my colleagues, I want to say thank you to all of the voters here and throughout the county for your participation in the democratic process and for placing your trust in us.

I also want to thank our families and friends and ask their forgiveness for our frequent absences. Perhaps sometimes we made you feel that you are not our first priority. Please believe me when I say you are.

Anyone who has participated in a political campaign knows it isn’t glamorous. It consists of long hours filling out questionnaires, knocking on doors, shaking hands at Metro stations, fundraising, asking friends and family for help, planting yard signs, participating in community forums and a whole lot of “other duties as assigned.”

So, why do we run for public office?

I believe it is because, as Woodrow Wilson said, “there is no higher religion than public service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” By taking the oath today, we commit to serving the residents of Montgomery County to the best of our abilities. We mean to do it with compassion, care and a very deep sense of responsibility.

County Executive Ike Leggett, being sworn in for his second term today, has made it his mission to include more voices in public debates. He has committed to “making a bigger table,” in order to invite participation from residents and groups who have not participated before. He has done a terrific job encouraging inclusiveness, and I congratulate him on that.

I hope the 17th Council will build on this in the coming term. It has been said that if you are not at the table, then you are on the menu. We cannot let that be true. We must think bigger. We must think beyond the table and those savvy enough to find a chair. We must remember that our service for the common good includes taking into account the needs of those who are not at the table.

The last Council broke new ground in its efforts to reach out to the community. We embraced new media, and you can find us now on Facebook, in the blogosphere, on YouTube and on Twitter. We improved accessibility for those who speak other languages. We added a dedicated budget hotline, improved our Web site, and enhanced our presence on cable television.

Yet, I fear it has not been enough. When I look around the room during public hearings, I do not see a true reflection of our County’s diversity, be it ethnic, racial, economic, generational or geographic. I see an improvement, without a doubt, but many are still not represented.

How do we engage more people in their government?

Here’s a reality check provided courtesy of the Newseum. Twenty percent of Americans know the five members of the Simpson family; only three percent know the five freedoms protected by the first amendment.

So that you don’t spend the rest of the morning counting on your fingers, the five members of the Simpson family are Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The five freedoms are speech, religion, press, assembly and petition.

We like to think we are different from the national trend here in Montgomery County, but consider this. In our primary election, 80 percent of registered voters failed to exercise the sacred privilege of democracy—their right to vote. The General Election wasn’t much better with 44 percent failing to show up.

Recently I joined a Scout Troop to help them earn their civics badge. When they asked why people didn’t vote, I had a difficult time coming up with a good answer.

So what can we do?

I call on the 17th Council to make every effort to consider the needs of our constituents who, because of family obligations, work, lack of information or whatever reason, remain unaccounted for in public discourse. We are not just about the voices in the room – or even just those at the polls.

I hope we can agree:
· That our definition of the common good will be all-inclusive;
· That we will listen, not just to what is said but also for what is not said; and
· That we will consider the voices of tomorrow as well as the voices of today.

If we can do that, our county will be the better for it.

Samuel Johnson said “the true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” And so, we must keep in mind the varied viewpoints of the nearly one million women, men and children of this county as we take on the big issues of transportation, education, the environment, public safety, services for the most vulnerable and the biggest budget challenges the County has ever faced.

As I close, I want to share a poem entitled “Leadership” by Mary Lou Anderson.

Leaders are called to stand
In that lonely place between the no longer and not yet
And intentionally make decisions
That will bind, forge, move
And create history.

We are not called to be popular,
We are not called to be safe,
We are not called to follow,
We are the ones to take risks,
We are the ones called to change attitudes;
To risk displeasures,
We are the ones called to gamble our lives,
For a better world.

On behalf of returning Councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Phil Andrews, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro, Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and myself, along with new members Craig Rice and Hans Riemer, I pledge that we will do everything in our power to be the leaders Montgomery County residents want and deserve.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Financing Plan for White Flint Approved

At the end of the last day of my term as Council President, we approved a plan that would help pay for major infrastructure improvements required by the White Flint Sector Plan. The action will spur a revitalization effort transforming the North Bethesda area around Rockville Pike into a more urban and denser community strongly supported by public transit and designed to make residents and workers less dependent on automobiles. We had approved the White Flint Sector Plan in March.

This is a very ambitious and complex plan that will transform the White Flint area along Rockville Pike into an exciting destination. Property owners in White Flint have committed to a financing plan to speed up creation of infrastructure that would support growth. With everyone working together, as they have throughout the planning process, this will remake the strip shopping malls along the Pike into a new, urban community that will make Montgomery County proud.

Tuesday’s bill establishes a White Flint Special Taxing District. The bill authorizes the levy of an added property tax on commercial properties that would go toward funding specific transportation infrastructure improvements in the area. Existing residential properties would be excluded from the tax district. The improvements would include creation of street grids, streetscaping and bike lanes for the area.

Under the financing plan, the County would provide advance funding—through the sale of bonds—to ensure that the improvements are made early in the project rather than relying on piecemeal development to drive the delivery of the needed improvements. The County investment would be repaid through funds collected from the taxing district. The plan calls for the tax district to expire when sufficient revenues have been raised to pay for all of the infrastructure items on the list.

Major roads that will be improved through the financing plan include Old Georgetown Road (Maryland 187), Nicholson Lane, Rockville Pike, Executive Boulevard, Marinelli Road and Nebel Street. Identified infrastructure improvements could cost an estimated $200 million if all are built.

The plan targets future growth along the Pike with development clustered around about 430 acres near the White Flint Metro Station. It will allow replacement of aging low-rise commercial properties in the area with mixed-use buildings as tall as 30 stories. The revitalized new urban neighborhood would include residences, offices, service-oriented businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues. The neighborhood would evolve through creation of a grid of streets to promote walkability for residents and employees.

It is expected that as the plan is implemented over a period of about two decades, approximately 9,800 new residences will be added (there are approximately 2,300 residences currently within the plan area). There will be approximately 2,600 affordable housing units.

A key element of the plan will be the way it incorporates the Bethesda North Conference Center and Hotel into the transformed neighborhood. The plan provides for public gathering space and local parks. The long-term vision suggests civic or entertainment uses, such as a community playhouse or theater.

White Flint was proposed as an urban, mixed-use community as the center of North Bethesda more than 30 years ago as the influence of Metro’s Red Line was starting to take hold. The sector plan covers an area bounded by the CSX train tracks and White Flint Mall to the east, the merge point of Montrose Parkway and Old Georgetown Road to the north, Old Georgetown Road to the west and an area just below Edson Lane to the south. The Georgetown Prep school and the Strathmore Performing Arts Center are south of the plan. All of the plan is within a walkable three-quarters of a mile from the White Flint Metro Station.

My Thoughts on the 16th Montgomery County Council

It has been an honor to serve as Council President in the last year of the 16th Council, and I thank you for entrusting me with another term. In the past four years, we made decisions that will shape the County for generations to come, and I'm proud of that. Here is the complete text of the remarks I gave on my last day with the gavel:

This is the time to reflect on the 16th Montgomery County Council. When you stop and think about it, I am hard pressed to think of any other Council that has worked through the experiences we have had and at the same time were so successful on their substantive initiatives. Since we took office in 2006, two of our members passed away, we lived through two special elections, experienced an earthshattering water main break, snowmageddon, an earthquake, unprecedented power outages and breathtaking budget challenges. What a time it has been!

Councilmember Marilyn Praisner set the gold standard during her 17 years in office with her strength of character and work ethic. Her contributions to this County will never be forgotten.

Councilmember Don Praisner took on the challenges of public office because he thought it was the right thing to do, and he took his responsibility to his constituents very seriously.

Let's pause for a moment of silence in remembrance of Councilmember Marilyn Praisner and Councilmember Don Praisner.

It was Charlie Brown who said, "in the book of life, the answers aren't in the back." The 16th Council knows that better than most. While we faced quite an onslaught of incredible challenges, we have truly shaped the future of Montgomery County with a tremendous list of accomplishments, and I''m going to go through some of those today.

Particularly in the area of transportation, we made decisions that will last for generations. We opened the Montrose Parkway, and we'll soon celebrate the opening of the Intercounty Connector. We broke ground on Silver Spring's Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center, and we resolved the alignment of the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. We advocated widening I-270 for reversible HOT lanes to ease congestion. We even completed revisions to the Road Code which will make roadways safer and friendlier to all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

The 16th Council continued to make education a top priority, funding between 93 and 99.8 percent of the Board of Education's request in each of the past four years, and opening one new school plus 151 new classrooms even as County revenues dropped sharply. Thanks to Valerie Ervin's leadership, more children have access to preschool, and we're making progress on closing the achievement gap.

This Council also continued to make public safety a priority. Our goal of instituting four-person staffing on fire and rescue response units is well underway. We opened new fire stations--the first in more than 25 years--at Kingsview and Milestone. And we made our roadways safer by prohibiting large trucks and recreational vehicles from parking on residential streets.

And to the curses of some, we instituted the Safe Speed (speed camera) program. One man told me that the County has more pictures of him than his wife does. Even though the cameras are the butt of a lot of jokes, they have significantly reduced both speed and accidents.

I am extremely pleased to report that while our population increases every year, we have experienced three years of decreasing crime rates. Crime, including homicide, robbery, home invasions, and auto thefts, are all down. In fact, last year overall crime was down seven percent.

The 16th Council took action to protect residents in other ways, too. Thanks to Phil Andrews, we now offer a hiring preference for persons with disabilities. We focused on fairness and equity by requiring County contractors to pay their employees the prevailing wage and to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners. We added protections for whistleblowers; clarified the disability rules; required clear contracts for domestic workers; added support to the Inspector General; and set limits on lobbying. As a result of the work of Duchy Trachtenberg, we passed legislation to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, and we provided families with a safe haven from domestic violence--the Family Justice Center.

We've been extremely progressive in advancing health, safety and housing needs. Thanks to George Leventhal, we now require that nutritional information be posted on menus.

We also banned the use of trans fats; prohibited the use of brick pavers in public spaces; required pregnancy centers to disclose their scope of work; and required home sellers to disclose complete property tax obligations. And to protect our very most vulnerable, we adopted a policy of Housing First--making housing the top priority in addressing the needs of the homeless.

Despite Mother Nature's unrelenting harshness towards us, we have chosen to be remarkably kind to her. Roger Berliner put forth legislative initiatives ranging from the Home Energy Loan Program to a tax on major carbon emitters and a series of other environmental protections. We approved a green building tax credit. We continued to preserve agriculture and open space, through the new Building Lot Termination program and improved child lot rules.

Of all the areas that will have a lasting impact, planning stands out in the crowd. We took on mansionization; completed the Germantown and Twinbrook Sector Plans; and approved rules to accomodate the Fillmore Music Hall. At the urging of Marc Elrich, we took a hard look at the needs of tenants in the County. We abolished the Clarksburg Development District, and are setting a plan in motion for improving the area’s infrastructure.

Shortly after receiving an Office of Legislative Oversight Report comparing Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, we approved two master plans that establish vibrant, transit-oriented hubs for economic development. The Great Seneca Science Corridor and the White Flint Master Plan set the stage for jobs and amenities for decades to come.

The planning Board itself lost two dedicated public servants--Gene Lynch and Jean Cryor, both of whom we deeply miss. But we were lucky to find great replacements and now, with a newly appointed Planning Board Chair, we're on the move.

As we worked through all of these decisions, we kept a keen eye on improving the way we communicate with our constituents. Mike Knapp started weekly media briefings with the Council President, and Phil and I followed the new tradition. We embraced new media, and you can find us now on Facebook, in the blogosphere, on YouTube and on Twitter.

Nancy Navarro took the lead on improving accessibility for those who speak other languages. And we have added a dedicated budget hotline, improved our Web site, and enhanced our presence on cable television. Best of all, we opened this terrific new room that accommodates more people, allows for better television coverage and provides reporters with better access.

But by far, the top story for the last four years in Montgomery County is the economy. They say a 500-pound gorilla sleeps wherever it wants, but we've taken serious action to try to tame this beast.

Although our unemployment rate didn't come anywhere near the state or national average, it was still by far the highest we have ever seen in the county. It caused a dramatic decline in revenues while at the same time creating a demand for more services. On top of that, we were smacked with a negative watch from the Moody's rating agency.

We were forced to make tough calls on our contract obligations, to freeze pay, to furlough employees, to reduce service and to increase some taxes. Each year, we tightened the budget further, and last year we passed the first overall decreased budget in 40 years. It has been a sea change for Montgomery County.

But it isn't all doom and gloom. The recession has given us the opportunity to re-examine our priorities and to strengthen our policies. For example, we now require economic and fiscal impact statements for all legislation. We started offering a biotech tax credit to spur economic development in the bio-sciences, thanks to Mike Knapp. And we have established a Business Development Corporation to harness the strengths of the private sector and use them to enhance our economic development efforts.

I am proud to have commissioned the Office of Legislative Oversight to examine our structural deficit. They analyzed the cost drivers that create spending pressures as well as the policy options to address them. Information from this comprehensive report will help us make strategic decisions about our financial future.

We strengthened County reserve funds, which greatly improves our ability to handle future downturns and confirms the historical excellence of our financial management.

I believe the best decision we made in this Council was to implement a six-year balanced fiscal plan. While the plan does not constrain future Councils in their year-to-year decision making, it provides valuable information and guidance for sustainability over the long term. The plan not only will guide Councilmembers but also will give communities and the County's four agencies--Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and County Government--a realistic view of what they can expect in the upcoming years. It will be a great tool for everyone.

And those are just the highlights of the past four years. There is more I would like to talk about and people I want to thank but we have a lot on our agenda today, so I plan to do that next week. For now, I'm glad to have had the opportunity to reflect on all that's happened.

As we look forward to the 17th Council, I'll keep this quote from Christopher Reeve in mind: "So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable." I think that's a good place to end, and an even better place to start.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Not to Burn Your House Down This Thanksgiving

More cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year, according to our Department of Fire and Rescue Services. I’m cooking for a crowd this year, as I’m sure many of you are, so here are some safety tips from DFRS. Frying your turkey this year? See the tips specific to turkey fryers at the bottom. Have a happy (and safe) Thanksgiving!

Cooking Fires Life-Saving Tips:

  • Be alert! Always keep your eyes on what’s cooking.
  • If a fire breaks out while cooking, put a lid on the pan to smother it. Never throw water on a grease fire.
  • Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease buildup which can ignite.
  • Always wear short, tight-fitting sleeves when cooking.
  • Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • If you are simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check it regularly. Remain in the kitchen while food is cooking and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire – oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains – away from your stovetop.
  • Double-check the kitchen before you go to bed or leave the house. Make sure all other appliances are turned off.
  • Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home. Test the batteries every month and change the batteries annually.

Turkey fryers are becoming an increasingly popular choice to cook the Thanksgiving turkey and can be extremely dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. If your plans include using a turkey fryer, fire department officals urge residents to follow all manufacturer directions closely and to review the following safety tips:

Fryer Safety Tips:

  • Many units easily tip over, spilling the hot oil within the cooking pot.
  • A small amount of cooking oil coming into contact with the burner can cause a large fire.
    Fryers should always be used outdoors, on a solid level surface a safe distance from buildings and flammable materials.
  • Never use a fryer on a wooden deck, under a patio cover, in a garage or enclosed space.
    Do not overfill the fryer.
  • If the cooking pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill out of the unit when the turkey is placed into the cooking pot. Oil may hit the burner/flames causing a fire to engulf the entire unit.
  • Partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer can cause a spillover effect. This too, may result in an extensive fire.
  • With no thermostat controls, the units also have the potential to overheat the oil to the point of combustion. Never leave the tryer unattended.
  • The sides of the cooking pot, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.
  • Never let children or pets near the fryer when in use or after use as the oil can remain hot for hours.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed before it is placed in a fryer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Report: Achieving a Structurally Balanced Budget in Montgomery County

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” according to my favorite quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan. That’s why I commissioned the Office of Legislative Oversight’s report on the County’s structural deficit. There have been many assumptions about the structural deficit and what drives it. The first part of OLO’s report supplies us with the facts we need to consider as we plan for long-term fiscal balance. The second part of the report, to be released December 7, will lay out options for new ways of doing business.

Achieving a Structurally Balanced Budget in Montgomery County examines the County’s tax-supported revenue and spending trends over the past 10 years and projected spending for the next six. It includes the budgets of Montgomery County Government, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The report states: “The traditional scenario for making annual budget decisions no longer works when a jurisdiction faces a structural budget problem… Looking ahead, the County’s budget decisions will increasingly be dominated by costs that are resistant to change.”

The report reveals that quick fixes are not going to resolve this long-term built-in problem. The facts in the report will give all of the decision makers a meaningful starting place for the conversation about where we go from here.

The report shows that from FY02 to FY11, the tax-supported agency budgets in the County collectively increased 59 percent from $2.1 billion to $3.4 billion. The macro-cost curve shows annual increases of 7-9 percent between FY02 and FY08. Total tax-supported spending leveled off in FY09 and posted actual declines in FY10 and FY11. During the same 10-year period, inflation was 29 percent, the County’s population grew 12 percent, median household income increased 21 percent, and the County’s assessable property tax base increased 114 percent.

Trends in costs identified in the report show that personnel costs (pay and benefits) account for 82 percent of all tax-supported spending. Between FY02 and FY11, personnel costs increased 64 percent while the total number of work years increased 10 percent. The report states: “Between FY02 and FY11, the primary driver behind higher personnel costs was not an increase in the size of the workforce but rather the increase in the average cost per employee.” I find this to be a particularly interesting finding.

The report notes that “across the four agencies, employee salaries grew by 50 percent in the aggregate and by higher amounts (up to 80 percent) for individual employees, while the costs of health and retirement/pension benefits increased upwards of 120 percent… As one example, for County Government, the aggregate cost of employee benefits as a percent of salary increased from 35 percent in FY02 to 52 percent in FY11. This means that for every $1 the County spends on salary, it now pays 52 cents for benefits. The drivers behind these rising costs are the overall rise in health care costs, and major increases in annual pension/retirement plan contributions.”

There is a lot more important information in the report that will provide a backdrop to the ongoing negations with our labor unions in the four agencies, so check out the full report. I’m confident that part two will give us even more insight.

While it is true that jurisdictions across the nation are grappling with similar problems, I feel good that we are taking such a proactive and data-driven approach to our budget challenges. The County Executive will transmit his proposed FY12 budget to us on March 15, and we will pass a final budget at the end of May. I expect this report to inform these decisions as well as those that extend well into the future.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Schedule for Thanksgiving

Here's our holiday schedule for Thanksgiving:

County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – closed
Ride On – Sunday service
Metrobus – Sunday service
Metrorail – Sunday service
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 & courts – closed

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One Position Open on Commission on Redistricting

We're looking to fill one position on the County's nine-member Commission on Redistricting, so apply by November 15. The Montgomery County Charter states that the County shall be divided into five Council districts for the purpose of nominating and electing five members of the Council. Each district shall be compact in form and be composed of adjoining territory. The new districts will be in effect for the 2014 Council election. The one Council appointee will join eight other members--four from each party. Those appointees are selected by the Council from a list of eight individuals submitted by each political party. Send your letter, with resume, expressing interest in a position on the Commission on Redistricting to the Office of the Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, 5th Floor, Rockville, Maryland 20850.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Apply Now to Clarksburg Infrastructure Working Group

We’re looking for people to serve on a new Clarksburg Infrastructure Working Group that will review and prioritize the necessary infrastructure items for the Clarksburg area and propose suitable mechanisms to finance the recommended infrastructure for the emerging Upcounty community.

We approved creation of the task force when we terminated the Clarksburg Town Center Development District on October 19. Implementation of the development district would have levied a special annual assessment on the community’s residents to fund specific public infrastructure. If you are interested, submit your application by Friday, Nov. 19.

The group will have 11 members who are scheduled to be appointed by the Council on Nov. 30. The group will start meeting soon after its creation, with a report expected to be delivered by April 1 for review by the Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett.

The working group is designed to have one member who has expertise or significant background in municipal financing; four members of the Clarksburg community; two representatives of the building industry; two representatives of the County Executive; one representative from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission; and one additional member.

The Oct. 19 vote did not directly affect two other development districts proposed for Clarksburg—the Clarksburg Village and Clarksburg Skylark development districts. However, it decreases the likelihood of them going forward.

The County’s development district law was enacted in 1994 and rewritten in 2008. The concept would dedicate special assessments from property owners to pay for specific infrastructure (streets, libraries, parks etc.) for those communities. By dedicating the funds, development districts would allow new communities to get infrastructure built more quickly, rather than competing with all parts of the County for limited funds.

The Clarksburg Town Center Development District was created in 2003 to cover residences built over an unincorporated area of approximately 247 acres. Resolution 15-87, which created the district, listed specific infrastructure items that it would finance, including road improvements, a library, enhancements for the planned Clarksburg Village South local park and improvements to local trails. Assessments collected were to be paid to a special fund used to pay off bonds that would pay for those items.

It was originally estimated that property owners in the Clarksburg Town Center Development District would pay an annual assessment of about $1,200.

Send your letter and resume to: Clarksburg Infrastructure Working Group, c/o Council President Nancy Floreen, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850. Applications must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19. It is the Council’s policy not to consider applications received after the deadline.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Residential Parking Legislation

Last week, the Council approved Zoning Text Amendment 09-03, which was part of a package of code enforcement legislation sent to the Council by the County Executive. Parking was the main focus of the ZTA, which limits the amount of parking on a front yard based on its zone. In the R-200, R-150 and R-90 zones, 30 percent of the yard may be covered by surfaced parking; in R-60 and R-40 zones, 35 percent of the yard may be covered, and on houses on major streets, 50 percent of the yard may be covered. These requirements may be waived if necessary for public safety.

The parking regulations have a grandfather clause that allows properties with surfaced parking that exceeds the new limits to remain in place, but homeowners may not expand that area. The ZTA also includes a six month amortization clause: simply put, this means that at the conclusion of the six month period after the law goes into effect, homeowners may not park their cars on grass or dirt on their front yards and must install a parking surface such as asphalt or wood chips.

The ZTA also places a limit on the number of cars that can be parked on a front yard. All lots are allowed a minimum of 320 square feet of area for parking in the front yard, roughly sufficient for two cars. Each additional vehicle requires at least 160 square feet of surface area.

The ZTA made two other changes to current County law: it requires home business operators to prove they live where the business is taking place and it allows light commercial vehicles (such as smaller tow trucks which are shorter than 21 feet long and lower than 8 feet high) to be parked on residentially zoned lots.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Holiday Schedule for Veterans Day

Here's a listing of County services for Veterans Day:
County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – all stores open regular hours
Ride On – special modified holiday schedule
Metrobus – special service
Metrorail – 5 a.m. to midnight
Refuse/recycling pickup – regular collection
Transfer Station – open
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
MCPS Administrative Offices – open
State offices & courts – closed

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vote on November 2

Remember to vote in the General Election on November 2.

In addition to national, state and local races, there will be a question on the Emergency Medical Transport Fee (ambulance fee). I voted in favor of Question A because I'm confident there will be no adverse effects of the fee. No County resident will ever get a bill for ambulance transport, co-pays or deductibles. Insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid will pay the fee for covered patients, and those without insurance will get a waiver. With so much at stake in the County budget, we can't afford to leave insurance money on the table.

The question will appear on the ballot as follows:

"Shall the Act to require the collection of an emergency medical services transport (ambulance) fee from: (1) County residents to the extent of the resident's insurance coverage; and (2) non-County residents subject to a hardship waiver become law?"

If you are in favor of establishing the ambulance fee, you should for "for." If you are opposed to establishing an ambulance fee, you should vote "against."

Council Terminates Clarksburg Development District

This week we voted to terminate the Clarksburg Town Center Development District by approving a resolution I co-sponsored. I believe this action will finally allow Clarksburg residents to move forward and build the community they want and deserve. The Council created the development district in 2003, but it was never implemented. Clarksburg homeowners raised concerns about how they were notified of the development district tax and the burden it would impose. As a result, the County never issued any bonds to fund infrastructure improvements, and the residents and businesses in the Town Center continued to lack the roads and community buildings that would make their community the vibrant one they envision.

The resolution terminating the development district calls for the creation of an infrastructure working group which will meet to identify infrastructure items for Clarksburg and recommend how to finance them by April 2011. By passing this resolution, we have laid the groundwork for the creation of an Upcounty retail center that will benefit local residents and help create a thriving town center.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Early Voting Happening Now

Five Early Voting Centers are now open (October 22 – 28, excluding Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.) You can vote on the same voting equipment used on Election Day, but at a time that is more convenient. Early Voting Centers are located at:

~Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center, 14625 Bauer Drive, Rockville
~Germantown Recreation Center, 18905 Kingsview Road, Germantown
~Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center, 14906 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville
~Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville
~Silver Spring Civic Building, 8525 Fenton Street, Silver Spring 20910

Monday, October 18, 2010

Welcome International Baccalaureate Americas Global Center

I look forward to attending (and offering a toast at) Wednesday’s ribbon cutting for the International Baccalaureate’s new headquarters in Bethesda. The organization services nearly 2,000 schools in North, Central and South America and provides global services to 139 countries worldwide.

The IB announced its selection of Montgomery County for its Americas Global Centre in February 2009. The Center will grow to more than 100 employees over the next few years as part of the organization’s plan to expand capacity over the next 12 years in preparation for an estimated 2.5 million students and 10,000 IB programs worldwide by 2020.

The IB encourages students to be active learners, well-rounded individuals and engaged world citizens. It also serves in an educational advisory capacity to other educational organizations. I'm proud to welcome International Baccalaureate to Montgomery County.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Council Designates Montgomery Business Development Corporation

I’m please that today we designated the Montgomery Business Development Corporation that will advise us on economic development issues and work toward retaining businesses and attracting new ones to the County. I was the chief sponsor of the bill that authorized this group, and I expect that this apolitical organization will focus on the jobs we need for a robust future.

The Board members are Robert Brewer, Bryant Foulger, Brian Gragnolati, Deborah Marriott Harrison, Douglas Liu, Brett McMahon, Matthew Mohebbi, Susana Nemes, Ron Paul, Lawrence Shulman and Daisy Wallace. This group represents a good mix of businesses and expertise. I thank all of the members for their hard work up to this point and for the hard work they still have ahead of them. For more information on the business development corporation, see my July 20 blog post.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

$14 Million in Proposed Cuts if Ambulance Fee is Rejected

The County Executive has sent us his proposed $14.1 million in operating budget reductions for the current fiscal year. These cuts would be needed to offset the amount of estimated revenue that would not be generated if the Emergency Medical Services Transport fee (ambulance fee) is rejected by voters through the Nov. 2 referendum. We included the estimated revenue from the fee in the budget we adopted in May.

Given our already tight budget, any further cuts will echo across the County. Our obligation is to maintain a balanced budget. If residents vote against the ambulance fee, they will be voting for $14 million in cuts to services. We will await the results of the referendum and take action on the proposed cuts before December if the fee is defeated.

The question will appear on the ballot as follows:

“Shall the Act to require the collection of an emergency medical services transport (ambulance) fee from: (1) County residents to the extent of the resident’s insurance coverage; and (2) non-County residents subject to a hardship waiver become law?”

A voter in favor of establishing the ambulance fee should for “for”; a voter opposed to establishing an ambulance fee should vote “against.”

Monday, October 4, 2010

Apply Now to Grants Advisory Group

Apply by November 12 for the FY12 Grants Advisory Group. We will appoint the volunteer community panel to review grant applications and advise us on proposals received from the non-profit community.

We believe that a strong partnership with non-profit organizations is critical in meeting the County’s needs. We have established a grants process in which we accept applications from non-profit organizations seeking funds, forward proposals to the Grants Advisory Group for advice and comments and then make funding decisions during our spring budget deliberations.

We anticipate that the Grants Advisory Group will be appointed in December and will be asked to report to the Council by the end of April 2011. Panel members will need to attend training sessions and review relevant materials during late January nd February. The applications review will take place between March 1 and April 15.

The Grants Advisory Group will be asked to provide us with comments on each of the grant proposals. The workload will vary based on the number of applications received and panel members appointed; however, it is expected that each member would review approximately 20 applications. Panel member should anticipate approximately six to eight meetings between the beginning of February and mid-April with the potential for weekly meetings in March.

Volunteers for the Grants Advisory Group can come from panels reviewing Community Development Block Grants or Community Service Grants, as well as from other advisory boards or community groups. Applicants for the Advisory Group cannot be employees of, or members of a board of, a nonprofit group applying for grant funding.

Submit your letter of interest and a resume to: Council President Nancy Floreen, Montgomery County Council Office, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850 or via e-mail to

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Columbus Day Not a County Holiday

Remember, Columbus Day is not an official Montgomery County holiday. Most County services will operate on October 11. However, the State of Maryland and the Federal Government do observe this holiday, so federal and state offices and courts in the County will be closed. Remember that you will still have to pay parking fees at County garages, lots and meters. Ride On, trash/recycling pickups, and liquor stores will operate as normal. County libraries will be closed on October 11 for staff development (which is not related to Columbus Day).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

County's Economic Outlook Remains Flat

Although experts have declared the recession over, economic indicators in Montgomery County (like other parts of the country) remain flat, according to Tuesday’s briefing on our financial outlook. Unemployment in the County is currently at 5.5 percent, well below the national average but above our November 2007 rate of 2.5 percent.

This, along with other indicators like home sales, inflation and the stock market, means governmental revenues will remain weak for the next fiscal year. Right now, the County’s major known commitments for FY12 are projected to increase by 4.3 percent. However, the fiscal plan we approved in June permits growth in expenditures of only 0.1 percent. In other words, there is a lot to think about as agencies, the County Executive and we at the County Council move through the budget this year.

It is still early in the process, and a lot can change. We will get more accurate revenue numbers in November. Then in December, we will get a report from the Office of Legislative Oversight on the County’s structural deficit as well as recommendations from the Cross Agency Resource Sharing Committee. In January, we will get the final report from the Organizational Reform Commission. The County Executive will send us his proposed budget by March 15, and we will pass a final budget at the end of May.

Essentially, Montgomery County remains fiscally strong, and we will continue to provide the services that constituents expect, including top-notch education, public safety and programs for the most vulnerable. But this is a new era, and we are going to have to be more disciplined for the foreseeable future. Achieving that balance will be the topic of much discussion over the next eight months.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Montgomery Organizational Reform Commission to Hold Public Forum

Do you have a good idea on ways Montgomery County can consolidate or reorganize to improve efficiency? If so, let the Montgomery County Organizational Reform Commission know your thoughts on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the group’s public forum.

The eight-member commission, which was appointed by the Montgomery County Council and the County Executive this July, is composed of County residents who are experienced in government, business and non-profit service delivery. The volunteer commission, which is scheduled to provide recommendations to the Council and the Executive by Jan. 31, has been gathering information in its initial phase in order to provide the County Council with a status report by Sept. 30.

The commission will ask residents to help fulfill its mission by holding a public forum at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, in the Third Floor Hearing Room of Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Residents can sign up in advance to speak by calling 240-777-7814 or 240-777-7938. If time allows, speakers who do not sign up in advance will also be able to offer suggestions. The committee said that items in writing will be most helpful.

Since starting its work, the commission has been soliciting ideas and suggestions for potential reorganization or consolidation from elected officials; residents; business and community leaders; County and agency employees; bargaining unit representatives; and other stakeholders.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Apply for Inspector General Nominating Panel

Apply now for the Inspector General Nominating Panel. The three to five-member nominating panel will review applications for the position of Inspector General and submit a list of at least three qualified candidates to the Council, which will make the appointment. We will interview applicants for this panel on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

Send your letters of interest, including a resume, by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13. Remember to include an e-mail address.

The current Inspector General, Thomas Dagley, has informed the Council that he will be resigning in early December.

The Office of the Inspector General was established by law in 1997. The goals of the Inspector General are to review the effectiveness and efficiency of programs and operations of County Government and independent County agencies; prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in government activities; and propose ways to increase the legal, fiscal and ethical accountability of County government departments and County-funded agencies.

The nominating panel consists of three to five County residents appointed by the County Council. Members of the nominating panel must not be employed by the County or any independent County agency during their service on the panel.

County residents who have knowledge of and interest in assuring effective and efficient operations of local government should send a letter of interest with resume to the Council Office. There is no political affiliation requirement with the position, and it is non-compensated. Letters of interest should be addressed to: Council President Nancy Floreen, Montgomery County Council, Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Maryland 20850.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Council Returns Tuesday

The Council is back in session starting on Tuesday, September 21 (committees meetings begin on Monday). Remember, you can get Council and committee agendas sent to you electronically through eSubscription. You can also follow the Council’s work on our Web page.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

See the ICC and Do Good Too

The Maryland Transportation Authority has informed us of a rare opportunity to see a portion of the first segment of the Intercounty Connector (ICC) up close.

On October 17, you can travel it by foot during the ICC 5K Walk/Run, all while raising funds to support Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD). The Walk/Run begins at 9 a.m. and will take participants on an out-and-back course over paved travel lanes of the ICC, beginning at Shady Grove.

To register for this unique event or to sponsor a registered runner/walker, visit Awards will be presented in various categories, and the first 500 registrants will receive a commemorative event t-shirt from SOMD. The entry fee is $25 during pre-registration and $30 on race day.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Testimony to the Public Service Commission regarding Pepco

Here is the testimony I delivered to the Public Service Commission at last night’s hearing in Rockville:

Testimony to the Public Service Commission

By Nancy Floreen, President of the Montgomery County Council

August 30, 2010

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Nancy Floreen, and I am President of the Montgomery County Council. Thank you for coming to Montgomery County tonight to hear our concerns. Thank you also for the significant work you have already done in this investigation. I especially appreciate last week’s order directing Pepco to produce a large range of documents and prepare for a consultant to make recommendations to the Commission.

I’m submitting along with my testimony copies of the e-mails and letters the County Council has received from residents and business owners about Pepco’s reliability and communications.

You will find common themes in these letters and I’m sure in tonight’s testimony.

You will see in the letters that many Montgomery County residents face numerous small-scale outages even when there is no severe weather. One woman told me if a squirrel sneezes in her back yard, her lights go out.

There has been a lot of talk about the tree canopy causing problems, but I have to say we have heard from many people whose lines are underground that they experience problems too.

These outages are more than just an inconvenience to families. They create dangerous conditions for vulnerable populations. And they disrupt business, which means everyone’s bottom line.

You will hear my colleagues address this all in more detail.

We understand that there are acts of god and nature that Pepco cannot control.

But what we do not understand is why Pepco’s promises to improve their communication system after Hurricane Isabel were apparently never implemented.

What we do not understand is how the Public Service Commission could have allowed Pepco to fall into the bottom quartile for frequency of outages in good weather.

And what we do not understand is what standards you are holding Pepco to justify their rates.

We, as public servants, are obligated to fulfill our mission of serving the public to the fullest.

You are required, under the law, to “promote the adequate, economical, and efficient delivery of utility services.”

I ask that you take aggressive action to do that in this proceeding, because, in the view of Montgomery County residents, Pepco has unquestionably failed to meet these standards.

I ask you to set clear accountability measures, order Pepco to adhere to them, and order that Pepco be accountable to you for achieving them.

I appreciate voluntary standards, and Pepco’s own internal plans and statement of willingness to cooperate, but we want the Public Service Commission to be in charge of ensuring that Pepco meet its goals, not Pepco.

I understand that the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has come up with standards that many power companies are already using. They measure and provide a basis for evaluating:

the frequency of power interruptions;

the duration of interruptions;

and the percentage of customers who experience multiple interruptions.

I’m not an expert, but this seems to me to be a good place to start. I’d like to know how Pepco measures up compared with utility companies nationwide.

Then I would like to see these measures used as a part of considerations for future rate increases and Return on Investment levels requested by Pepco.

As a diverse and bustling community of nearly one million people, we absolutely must have reliable public utilities. I urge you to complete this investigation thoroughly and then to take aggressive and enforceable steps to make sure the lights stay on in Montgomery County.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Groundbreaking for Silver Spring Library

Join me for the groundbreaking for the new Silver Spring Library. This library will be a real gem right in the heart of Silver Spring, and I'm pleased that community members have been an integral part of the planning process since day one. The new library is designed to meet the unique needs of a diverse and growing community and to be a cornerstone of a very bustling area. It will be there not just to serve the community but to be an integral part of the community, and I think that’s pretty exciting. I hope to see you there.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Public Hearing on Pepco Reliability, Aug. 30

I encourage our residents to write to the Public Service Commission with their experiences and to sign up to speak at the upcoming public hearing. There must be a change in the way Pepco is held accountable for its service delivery failures. We need residents to tell their stories on how these continued power outages are impacting their lives.

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) will continue its investigation into “the reliability of Potomac Electric Power Company’s (Pepco) electric distribution system and the quality of electric distribution service that Pepco is providing its customers” by holding a public hearing at the Montgomery County Council’s Stella Werner Office Building in Rockville at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 30.

The public hearing will be held in the third floor hearing room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. Elected officials who wish to speak should contact the PSC’s director of legislative affairs by Aug. 27. Others wishing to speak must sign in at the hearing room starting at 5:30 p.m. Speakers will be limited to a maximum of five minutes. All attending must bring photo identification to enter the hearing room.

Written comments may be filed by Aug. 31. Originally signed comments on paper may be submitted to Terry J. Romine, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202. Comments must reference “Case No. 9240—Public Comment.” To ensure comments are entered into the PSC docket system, all comments must be mailed or hand-delivered. Comments sent via e-mail or fax will not be entered into the Commission’s docket system.

The public hearing will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also can be viewed via streaming through the County Web site at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Deeply Disappointed by Pepco's Responses at Hearing

I was deeply disappointed in the responses Pepco gave this morning in the first hearing the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) held in its investigation of the electricity provider’s reliability. Pepco officials were unprepared for many of the Commission’s questions, and it was clear the company does not have a verifiable plan for ensuring reliable service for the future. Today’s hearing proved that the PSC must establish accountability standards that will measure the performance of state utilities, including Pepco.

The PSC had ordered Pepco’s chief operating officer and the company’s senior officers responsible for system reliability and construction of maintenance, storm restoration and customer service and communications to appear at today’s hearing. The PSC is working on other aspects of its investigation, including a likely public hearing to be held within the next several weeks in Rockville.

I call upon the PSC to require a reliability plan from Pepco with accountability measures that Montgomery County residents can count on in the future. I also call upon the PSC to require Pepco to prepare an emergency communications and priorities plan. It is increasingly clear that Pepco's actions have been ad hoc, uncoordinated and undercapitalized.

The PSC announced on Aug. 12 that it would begin the investigation after morning and afternoon storms that day left more than 90,000 customers without power. On July 29, following a storm that left more than 200,000 residents without power, we at the Montgomery County Council unanimously sent a letter to the Public Service Commission asking for just such an investigation.

On Aug. 14, I spoke with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and told him that the continual series of outages year-round in Montgomery County has made establishing more reliable electric service from the utility a top priority.

We know that sudden winter and summer storms are not always predictable, but having a more reliable system established so we are not paralyzed by these events—and having a better system of response and communication with residents when they do occur—are things that must be addressed. After each of these events, we hear from Pepco about their challenges in delivering better service. Now it is time we hear a plan on what they are going to do to help prevent these problems.

Our letter of July 29 asking for an investigation cited many of the same concerns the PSC identified in deciding to act. In our letter, we wrote: “We are writing to ask the Commission to open an investigation into the reliability of electricity in Pepco’s Montgomery County’s service territory. Our residents and businesses have suffered an unacceptable number and duration of outages for many years, outages that have harmed public health, public safety and the County’s economy. As a distribution-only utility, the quality and reliability of Pepco’s service is exclusively within your authority. We ask you to invoke that authority to ensure our citizens of acceptable levels of reliability.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Public Service Commission Investigating Pepco

The Maryland Public Service Commission has launched an investigation into Pepco's reliability problems. The Commission has ordered that Pepco management appear for a public hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 17. The hearing will be broadcast on the PSC Web site.

I, along with all the members of the County Council, have been hearing from frustrated residents and business owners, particularly as power outages have stretched into days. I have been frustrated, too, as my house is dark right now and was out of power for four days after the big storm. While I recognize that Montgomery County presents an especially challenging problem for utilities because we have some of the densest tree cover in the nation (and we love our trees!), I can't help but wonder if there is a better way. That's why we sent a letter, signed by every member of the Council, to the Public Service Commission asking for the state agency's assistance. I’m glad to see the PSC’s quick response.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Disposing of Tree Debris

Trees or branches may be disposed as follows:

On Private Property:

  • Tree debris on private property will be collected on a residents’ regular recycling day if it is no more than four-feet in length and four inches in diameter.
  • Bag, bundle, or containerize tree branches and limbs, keeping bundles less than 45 pounds and less than 30 inches in diameter.
  • Tree debris that is too large for curbside collection, or cannot be bagged, bundled, or containerized can be recycled at no charge to single family home residents (up to 500 pounds) at the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station, located at 16101 Frederick Road, Derwood. Check the County’s website at for hours of operation.
  • Another option is to contact a private company, such a tree service, landscaping or lawn service, for assistance in removing and disposing of storm debris.
  • Residents may want to check with their home insurance company, which may cover storm debris removal and disposal.

In the Public Right-of-Way:

  • Montgomery County Department of Transportation crews are collecting trees and branches that have fallen into the public right-of-way.
  • To report tree debris in the public right-of-way, call 3-1-1.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comcast Outdoor Film Festival

Join me for the Comcast Outdoor Film Festival. This year, it will be my honor to introduce the movie on opening night.

The festival is celebrating its fourteenth anniversary August 13-20, 2010, with eight nights of hit movies that include a mix of box office hits, classics, family favorites. New this year, this annual summer favorite is moving to the grounds of the Universities at Shady Grove. As in the past, the Comcast Outdoor Film Festival is presented by 97.1 WASH-FM and benefits National Institutes of Health (NIH) Children’s Charities.

Over the past ten years the Comcast Outdoor Film Festival has raised more than $250,000 for NIH Children’s Charities.

The festival features an inflatable four-story screen, one of the two largest in the United States, and state of the art projection with Dolby Digital® Surround Sound. The films begin each night at dusk, grounds open at 6:30 p.m. Festival patrons are encouraged to come early to enjoy a variety of foods from local restaurants and family activities provided by the festival sponsors.

The 2010 Comcast Outdoor Film Festival lineup includes:

Friday, August 13 ~ The Blind Side ~ 129 minutes ~ PG-13
Saturday, August 14 ~ New Moon ~ 130 minutes ~ PG-13
Sunday, August 15 ~ Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ~ 150 minutes ~ PG-13
Monday, August 16 ~ Jerry McGuire ~ 139 minutes ~ R
Tuesday, August 17 ~ Valentine’s Day ~ 125 minutes ~ PG-13
Wednesday, August 18 ~ Up in the Air ~ 108 minutes ~ R
Thursday, August 19 ~ Julie & Julia ~ 123 minutes ~ PG-13
Friday, August 20 ~ Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs ~ 90 minutes - PG

Moviegoers are encouraged to purchase food at the festival from popular vendors and area restaurants. A portion of the proceeds will go towards NIH Children’s Charities: Children’s Inn, Camp Fantastic/Special Love and Friends of the Clinical Center.

The Comcast Outdoor Film Festival provides accommodations for people with disabilities. Wheelchair Access and Escort Service, seating area and restroom will be provided. Assisted Listening Devices of various types are provided at the projection booth and are available on request. AAudio Descriptors for the blind are available with ten days notice by calling 301-496-6061.

Moviegoers are encouraged to bring blankets or low beach chairs. The Universities at Shady Grove are located at 9630 Gudelsky Drive in Rockville, MD. Free parking is available. More information is available at or 301-816-6958.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Maryland Homeowner's Property Tax Credit

Eligible Montgomery County residents are encouraged to apply for the Maryland Homeowner’s Property Tax Credit program, which limits the amount of property taxes a homeowner must pay based on income. The deadline is September 1, 2010. In order to be eligible, a homeowner must have:
A combined household income of less than $64,000;
Lived in their home for at least six months, or will live in it for the next 12 months; and
A combined net worth (of everyone in the applicant’s household) of no more than $200,000.

To apply for the property tax credit program, eligible homeowners must fill out an application form each year. To get an application form, call the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) at 1-800-944-7403, or download the form and instructions from the SDAT web site at .

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Joint Statement with County Executive on Fiscal Steps

Joint statement by Nancy Floreen and Ike Leggett:

The Great Recession has wreaked havoc on state and local governments nationwide, and Montgomery County is no exception. Plummeting revenues have forced many painful choices including pay freezes, furloughs, service reductions, and increased taxes.

This may be a "wake-up call" for some local jurisdictions -- but not to Montgomery. The work of putting Montgomery’s fiscal house in order – cutting unsustainable spending trends and responding to the economic downturn -- began several years ago.
But times remain tough, and in just the past two months we have taken five more decisive steps to meet our fiscal challenges.

Step 1. We passed a County budget unlike any other in County history. For the fiscal year that started July 1, the Executive Branch and the County Council closed a budget gap of nearly $1 billion, or about one-fourth of our total budget. We reduced overall spending by 4.5 percent, the first year-over-year decline in four decades. While this required a pay freeze and furloughs for our employees, as well as service reductions for our residents, we preserved our highest priority services in education, public safety, and the needs of our most vulnerable. We kept property taxes at the Charter limit, providing a $692 credit to all owner-occupied homes. The higher taxes we did approve, on energy and wireless phones, were just 17 percent of our total gap-closing plan. They were a last resort in order to avoid even more crippling cuts in critical services.

Step 2. We strengthened County reserve funds, which fell sharply as the recession deepened. Our new policy will gradually raise reserves to 10 percent of adjusted governmental revenue, greatly improving our ability to handle future downturns and confirming the historical excellence of our financial management.

Step 3. We pulled together all our agencies -- Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, the Park and Planning Commission, County Government, Housing Opportunities Commission, and WSSC -- to aggressively seek savings from joint interagency efforts in technology, utilities, benefits, procurement, facilities management, and other areas. We've also asked an expert group of County residents to propose more efficient and innovative ways to deliver County services.

Step 4. We are reexamining the County's structural budget challenges by analyzing the "cost drivers" that create spending pressures and the policy options to address them.

Step 5. We approved a six-year fiscal plan that outlines the spending limits needed to achieve balanced annual budgets. This will help us prevent future budget gaps and lessen the impact of severe downturns. It marks a new era in the County’s fiscal stewardship.

All these steps will help make us leaner, more productive, and better able to meet the needs of our one million residents. We have also taken important steps to expand the County’s tax base by approving the White Flint Sector Plan, the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan, the nation’s first local biotech tax credit, and a new Montgomery Business Development Corporation.

Already these moves are bearing fruit. Just two weeks ago, all three bond rating agencies affirmed Montgomery County’s "Triple-A" bond rating with a "stable" outlook, which allows the County to borrow for future schools, road, and other construction needs at the most favorable interest rates -- saving County taxpayers millions of dollars a year.
One of the three agencies had put the County on a "watch" list due to the economic downturn and falling County tax revenues. Due to the actions we've taken, the County is now off that list -- and that's great news.

Our fiscal challenges are far from over, but these steps -- added to the work we’ve already done over the past several years -- will make our great County even stronger.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Food Safety During Prolonged Power Outage

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman today urged residents who remain without power to take steps to ensure that food left in the refrigerator and freezer is safe.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, meat, poultry, fish and eggs should be refrigerated at 40° F and frozen food at or below 0° F, which may be difficult with a prolonged power outage.

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. A refrigerator will only keep food safely cold for about four hours if it is unopened.
  • A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Obtain dry ice or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if there is a prolonged power outage. Residents should check with local retailers for ice supplies.
  • Digital, dial or instant-read thermometers and appliance thermometers will help determine if the food is at safe temperatures. The refrigerator temperature should be at 40°F or below; the freezer, 0°or lower.
  • To be sure a particular food is cold enough; take its temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety!
  • Food may be safely refrozen if the food still contains ice crystal or is at 40°F or below. Evaluate each food item separately. Be sure to discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  • Food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, soft cheeses, butter and leftover cooked meats, casseroles and pizza should be thrown out if they have been held above 40° F for over two hours.

    For a complete chart and when to save and when to throw out certain foods, please visit the USDA’s food safety website.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kudos to Drivers

I want to give a shout-out to all the drivers on Montgomery County roadways today. I’ve been to many areas of the County, beginning very early this morning. Drivers have acted responsibly and courteously. Without fail, I’ve seen drivers treat major intersections as four-way stops when the signals are out and yield right of way to others who are waiting. Keep up the good work, drivers.

What Does "Tornado Warning" Mean?

In light of yesterday’s tornado warning, I want to remind everyone exactly what that means. It is not to be confused with a tornado watch.

A tornado warning means that a tornado may be imminent. It can be issued after either a tornado or funnel cloud has already been spotted, or if there are radar indications that a tornado may be possible.

During a tornado warning, you should seek shelter immediately. The safest place to be during a tornado is in a basement. If no basement is available, seek shelter on the lowest floor in a hallway or closet. Use blankets or pillows to cover your body and always stay away from windows.

Evacuate mobile homes and vehicles immediately. Do not use highway overpasses as shelters. If no shelter is available, lie flat in the nearest ditch or other low spot and cover your head with your hands.

Do not wait to hear or see this tornado before you take action. Tornadoes that form at night and those that are rain wrapped may not be visible.

If you want to receive alerts about emergency weather conditions or other local developments, sign up for Alert Montgomery.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Council Approves Creation of Business Development Corporation

We unanimously approved Bill 28-10 that establishes a Business Development Corporation (BDC) that could provide the County with strategic planning and advice, legislative and regulatory advocacy and evaluation of County government’s economic development performance. The group also can join the County Executive and Department of Economic Development in attempting to persuade specific businesses to move to or stay in the County. I am proud to have sponsored this bill which evolved from my pledge to make economic development the top priority during my term as Council President.

The nation, and the Washington region, are currently in an economic era unprecedented in our lifetimes. Throughout this downturn, Montgomery County has remained one of the nation’s economic engines, and we have to send out the word that we are open for business. It is one thing for government to send that message, but when we team with some of the nation’s, and the world’s, top companies to roll out the welcome mat, it becomes quite an inspiring invitation. That is what we are creating with the Business Development Corporation.

The redrafted bill authorizes the Council to designate a quasi-public, nonprofit corporation that is not an instrumentality of the County to act as the County’s local management board.

The designated corporation’s board of directors, which will not be appointed by the County, will be made up of 11 voting members, including a Chamber of Commerce representative, a small business owner, an owner or manager of a medium sized business and up to eight senior managers of major companies in the County. The board also will include, as non-voting ex-officio members, the director of the Department of Economic Development, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, the president of Montgomery College and either the Planning Board chair or the planning director.

Business leaders themselves will create a proposed BDC that follows the provisions of Bill 28-10. It is conceivable that more than one BDC will be organized. If that occurs, the County Council will select one BDC.

The redrafted bill also provided that members of the board will not be County officials or employees and will not be subject to the County’s Ethics Law. The corporation’s bylaws will regulate conflicts of interest by board members and staff. The board’s meetings will be required to comply with the state Open Meetings Law. This approach is similar to that of the Bethesda Urban District Corporation.

Through the BDC, we are going to be paying attention to the business community on how to handle important issues. I am not going to tell this group what to do. I am going to listen to what it recommends.

The bill received strong support from business leaders who pledged to be involved in the Business Development Corporation to attract businesses of various interests and sizes to join them in Montgomery County.

“There are reasons of many kinds that Montgomery County is a premiere place for major corporations to locate,” said Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Debbie Marriott Harrison of Marriott International, whose international headquarters is located in Bethesda. “We are all stronger when we have more businesses nearby. We are pledging our support of the BDC because the County government and the private businesses located in this County are in position to be a powerful team in developing business in Montgomery. Like the other major businesses committed to the goals of the BDC, we are here to help.”

Discovery Communications, whose headquarters is in Silver Spring, also has pledged its support to the BDC.

“Discovery’s impact as the cornerstone of Silver Spring’s revitalization, along with the ongoing efforts of the nearly 2,000 employees working and living in the County to give back to the local community, are examples of the vital role that large employers can play in building vibrant and diverse communities and ensuring a healthy and growing economy for Montgomery County,” said Joe LaSala, general counsel for Discovery Communications. “Discovery applauds the efforts of Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen in introducing this bill to develop a vision for the County’s economic future and to ensure that we have a business-friendly environment that can attract industry leaders to Montgomery County.”

I hope the corporation will be officially designated before the start of the next state legislative session that begins in December. The group is expected to issue its first report within a year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Montgomery County Snapshot

Did you know that 29 percent of Montgomery County’s 971,600 residents have earned an advanced degree, placing us highest among large counties nationwide in educational attainment? Or that 38 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home? Or that the Gross County Product—total earnings of all industries in the County—is about $43 billion annually? Learn more interesting facts in M-NCPPC’s Montgomery County Snapshot.

Farm Tour and Harvest Sale

This weekend Montgomery County will celebrate its agricultural heritage, promote local farms, and provide residents the opportunity to indulge in seasonally fresh fruit during the 21st Annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale. Fourteen farms will participate this year on Saturday July 24 and ten will reopen for a second day on Sunday July 25. The farms will be open to visitors from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shaken not Stirred

Our Fire Chief has posted some interesting earthquake information on his blog. Chief Bowers says, "I am assuming that the events of this morning may have left a few of you out there a bit “shaken.” Bad joke aside, I want to provide all of you out there some good information from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) web site so that you can take steps to prepare and handle any future tremors that may occur. For more information go to:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Participating in U.S. Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Reauthorization Event

I look forward to participating in a panel discussion held by the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., on the reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program.

The July 14 meeting is part of a series of sessions across the country designed to bring together federal, state and local officials, as well as transportation providers, users, and other stakeholders, to discuss the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization.

On the panel, I will represent the National Association of Counties (NACO), where I serves as vice-chair for transit. The discussion is entitled “The Needs of State, Local and Tribal Governments” and will focus on the surface transportation program’s importance to local governments, particularly as it affects planning, programming and the ability of counties to respond to transportation needs. We need all hands on deck to move our transportation agenda forward, so I’m glad to be a part of these important conversations.

Several projects planned for Montgomery County by the Maryland Department of Transportation cannot proceed to construction due to a current lack of federal funding. They include the Purple Line; the Corridor Cities Transitway; the widening of the western portion of the Beltway (I-495) over the American Legion Bridge; and the addition of reversible high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on I-270. This year, the County Council decided to use local dollars to fund one such project—a $60 million segment of the Montrose Parkway.

I will present NACO’s view that congestion in metropolitan areas is the single most important issue in American transportation today. On behalf of the organization, I will advocate for federal funding for projects such as those in Montgomery County and also for a congestion management program and streamlined processes.

Montgomery is Top Digital County

Montgomery County is number one, according to the Center for Digital Government which just posted the results of the 2010 Digital Counties Survey. The ranking takes into account not just information technology alone, but also how use of the technology benefits the organization and its citizens. That includes cost effectiveness and ease of use—both high priorities as we strive to do more with less. Check out the article.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

County Retains Triple-A Bond Rating

We learned today that Montgomery County has retained its Triple-A bond rating from Moody’s, coming off a “watch list” from that agency in April that reflected concern over falling County revenues. Moody’s rating moved Montgomery County to a “stable outlook” category.

The Triple-A bond rating allows Montgomery County to issue bonds for its capital borrowing at the most favorable rates, saving County taxpayers millions of dollars a year. The County had already received Triple-A Stable ratings from the other two bond rating agencies, Fitch and S&P, on $325 million of General Obligation bonds it is issuing tomorrow, July 8th.

I was pleased to join the County Executive and Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg at today’s announcement and celebration of a real team effort. We responded quickly to changed forecasts, adjusted projections, and made structural changes to build a better fiscal future. At my urging, the Council adopted a requirement for a six-year fiscal plan that will contribute enormously to our future success. Today's announcement is welcome news indeed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

See You There

I hope to see you this Fourth of July weekend. I plan to participate in a number of community celebrations, starting with the Takoma Park parade at 10 a.m. on the Fourth. Then I will go to the Woodacres parade at 11 a.m., followed by the Town of Chevy Chase parade and celebration (where I’ll read from the Declaration of Independence) and the Town of Sommerset picnic in the afternoon. Then I’ll go to the Friendship Heights celebration at 3 p.m. and finally to the fireworks at Einstein High School. On Monday the fifth, I’ll participate in the Leisure World and Montgomery Village parades.

If you plan to celebrate at any of these events, please say hello. I’ll be traveling with my trusty assistant, Lady (my schnoodle—that’s half schnauzer, half poodle). Whether I see you or not, I hope you have a great holiday weekend.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Report on June Traffic Signal Failure

The Director of the Department of Transportation has provided us with an incident report briefing on the traffic signal problems that occurred on the morning of June 29. The good news is that this incident was not directly related to the failure that we experienced in November 2009 in which the signal computer failed. I've reprinted the report her.


July 1, 2010

TO: Nancy Floreen, President
Montgomery County Council

FROM: Arthur C. Holmes, Jr., Director
Department of Transportation

RE: June 29, 2010 Incident with the County’s Traffic Signal System

The purpose of this memorandum is to provide an incident report briefing with respect to the problems with the County’s traffic signal system that occurred on the morning of June 29, 2010.

At 7:01 AM on the subject date, a fire alarm went off in the traffic signal computer room on the 11th floor of the Executive Office Building (EOB). Fire personnel were on scene by 7:05 AM, and Facilities Maintenance personnel responded by 7:08 AM. At the same time, technicians in the Traffic Management Center (TMC) realized that the traffic signal system stopped operating, and began dispatching personnel to the EOB and the lane control systems on Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue (to manually implement those systems to coincide with static signing that directs drivers to use the AM inbound lane configurations).

By approximately 7:10 AM, the response team had completed their emergency response assessment and had confirmed that there was no fire or smoke in the room. However, as a result of the alarm, all electrical power to the room was automatically shut down and water was confirmed to be pooling under the computer room’s raised floor. The computer room is designed so that when certain critical alarms are activated, such as a smoke detector, the electrical power (both house and emergency power) is immediately and automatically shut down as a failsafe to prevent catastrophic damage to critical equipment. This shut down of the electrical power caused the traffic signal system computer to immediately power down (analogous to pulling the electrical cord from one’s PC from a power outlet).

Facilities Maintenance personnel then began an assessment of the building support systems in the computer room and on the 11th Floor of the EOB and had determined that the source of the water was the dedicated air conditioning (AC) unit. Specifically, the water leak was caused by a failure of the AC unit’s condensation pump. Work immediately commenced to clean up the water, while technicians began troubleshooting the AC unit to stop and repair the leak. Once the leak was stopped, the remaining water was cleaned up and action taken to dry the floor and electrical systems as quickly as possible so that electrical power could be safely restored. Power was restored to the computer room at approximately 9:10 AM, and the signal system was powered back up and all traffic signals in the field were restored to central control by 9:20 AM. In fact, the signal system was restored to operation before the faulty AC unit was fully repaired. Facilities personnel continued working on the AC unit until it was back in service about an hour after the signal computer was restored to operation.

While the traffic signal system was inoperative between 7:00 AM and 9:20 AM, all signalized intersections in the County operated on color, and there were no safety hazards to motorists or pedestrians. The signals operated using their local intersection programming, but there were no coordinated cycle lengths or synchronization that is controlled from the central computer. Traffic management technicians were monitoring traffic flow around the County using the traffic surveillance cameras and our aerial observation capabilities. Using that information, traffic signal technicians were dispatched to selected intersections to manually adjust local signal timings in an attempt to mitigate isolated congestion issues. In general, traffic volumes were lighter than a typical weekday morning commute due to the summer period, although the US 29 corridor was experiencing heavier than usual traffic volumes due to an accident on I-95 in Howard County that caused traffic to divert to US 29.

I want to assure you that the June 29 problem was not a repeat of or directly related to the failure that we experienced in November 2009. The traffic signal computer did not fail. As described above, the issue was related to the building support systems. I have been in communication with David Dise, Director of the Department of General Services, and we will be working cooperatively to assess these support systems and undertake actions as appropriate to minimize the possibility of similar problems. It should be noted that all responding departments (Fire & Rescue, General Services, Police – including both EOB Security and at the ECC) responded as quickly as possible and the incident was handled swiftly and professionally. This situation could not have been resolved more quickly without endangering the very computer equipment the fire suppression system is designed to protect.

On a closing note, I am happy to report to you that not all of the approximately 800 signalized intersections in the County were affected by this issue. Approximately 50 intersections have been converted to the new traffic signal system, and those locations operated without incident or issue. We remain on schedule and within budget to convert all of the remaining signalized intersections to the new system and deactivate the existing system by the summer of 2012.

Please feel free to contact me or Emil Wolanin, Chief of our Traffic Engineering & Operations Division should you have any questions or need additional information.

Arthur Holmes, Jr., Director
Department of Transportation
Montgomery County, Maryland