Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poverty Statistics in the County

Interfaith Works Executive Director Becky Wagner recently addressed the organization’s corporate sponsors and discussed some startling statistics. Interfaith Works, formerly Community Ministries, offers a wide range of services to meet the needs of the poor in Montgomery County. Given this perspective, I consider Becky to be an expert on the subject of poverty in the county. Here are some of the statistics she shared:

  • Food stamps requests increased 34% to 15,700
  • Medicaid recipients increased by 17% to 35,900
  • MANNA gave groceries to 35,400 households, a 43% increase over last year
  • Interfaith's clothing centers clients shopping trips have increase by 48% (more than half of the 6,000 households are new to the Center)
  • Holiday baskets were provided to 14,600 families, a 20% increase
  • 17,000 households are on the waiting list for section 8 vouchers (an average 300 are available every year)
  • Our 70 bed women's shelter is full; more than 50% are first time homeless
  • We are seeing utility bills three times higher than historically
  • We received 4,500 calls for assistance and information, a 48% increase
  • 43,000 children in Montgomery County qualify for and receive breakfast and lunch at school (during the recent blizzards, these students went without this food benefit for 9 days)

Friday, March 26, 2010

40 Environmentalists in 40 Years Awards

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we at the County Council will recognize 40 individuals that have made a green imprint in Montgomery County in the past 40 years.

Starting with Silver Spring resident Rachel Carson, who is widely considered the mother of the modern environmental movement, Montgomery County has a rich history of environmental advancement. The “40 Environmentalists in 40 Years” awards will pay homage to that history and to the individuals who shaped it.

To be eligible for the award, a nominee must have made a significant impact on climate policies, energy efficiency, renewable energy or other environmental goals in Montgomery County in the last 40 years. Individuals may be living or deceased and must be nominated by someone who lives or works in Montgomery County. Individuals may not nominate themselves.

Nominations must include contact information for both the nominator and the nominee and must include a description of the nominee’s contribution to the environment. The “40 Environmentalists in 40 Years” tribute will be held on April 20.

Nominations should be submitted by April 9 to with the subject line “40 in 40.” Nominations also can be sent to the Montgomery County Council/40 in 40 Award, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850. For more information about the 40 in 40 awards, call 240-777-7959.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

White Flint Sector Plan Passes Unanimously

Today we unanimously approved the White Flint Sector Plan that will transform the North Bethesda area around Rockville Pike into a denser, more urban community strongly supported by public transit and designed to make residents and workers less dependent on automobiles.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This plan was truly collaborative. We heard from a lot of stakeholders and saw cordial work among those involved. I think that gave us a good product in the end, and I am pleased we were able to reach a resolution that works for everyone. It would be great to see this type of collaboration in future plans.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Town Hall Meeting for Kensington/Garrett Park

Join us for a Town Hall Meeting for the Kensington/Garrett Park area on Wednesday, March 24. Voice your opinions on specific issues and ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting. The meeting at the Housing Opportunities Commission Office Building will start at 8 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 7:30 p.m.

As the County approaches the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, we are facing an unprecedented $779 million shortfall due to decreasing revenues. We must all work together to produce a balanced budget, but it is clear that we will be making very difficult decisions that will impact every resident of this County. The timing of this meeting allows us to hear from residents about their priorities and their concerns. It also gives us the opportunity to explain some of the issues that are before us.

This Council has made a priority of having better direct communication with residents, and Town Hall Meetings have proven to be an excellent way to do just that. For the citizens, these meetings provide a forum where they can see their elected officials in a different format than a televised meeting or through a news release.

The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.

The Housing Opportunities Commission Office Building is located at 10400 Detrick Avenue in Kensington.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Addressing our Structural Deficit

I’m asking my fellow Councilmembers to initiate a legislative branch assessment of the structural deficit that has created large annual operating budget gaps in recent years—gaps that are projected to persist in future years.

The County Executive’s recommended FY11 budget includes significant service reductions, no pay increases for County government employees, elimination of more than 450 positions including more than 230 that are currently filled, 10 days of furloughs for many employees and a withdrawal of about $102 million from the County’s “Rainy Day Fund.” This was necessary to close a $779 million gap to achieve a balanced budget.

That’s just next year. Budget gaps projected for FY12-16, respectively, are currently estimated to exceed $212, $303, $417, $464 and $514 million. I, along with other Councilmembers, believe we need to address the County’s structural budget deficit.

Besides resolving the acute FY11 budget challenge that is now before us we need to address the chronic budget challenges that lie ahead. I believe that we must address at least three central questions.
What are the assumptions behind the Executive’s future year gap projections?
What are the cost drivers associated with the structural deficit in future years?
What policy and budget options are available going forward to address the structural deficit?”

I want to start the process by asking the County’s Office of Legislative Oversight to develop a recommended scope of work to address those questions with a completion date of early December. I believe that this project has the potential to produce not only useful information but real results.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Thoughts on the Proposed Operating Budget

This morning, the County Executive transmitted his Proposed FY11 Operating Budget to the County Council. Next year's operating budget presents the County’s greatest fiscal challenge in decades. I commend the County Executive and his team for their hard work in developing his budget proposal.

State and local governments across the nation, like the American people, have felt the severe impact of the Great Recession. Although the County’s economy is stronger than in many other jurisdictions, we are not immune. Revenues are down, and demands for services are up. To balance the FY11 budget we must close a $779 million gap between projected expenditures and resources – by far the largest gap in our history. But for the $100 million in spending cuts the Council has made in the current year’s budget – which itself was the leanest in 18 years – the gap would have been that much larger.

The facts are inescapable, and we must now deal with them. All of us must contribute to the solution. The Executive has given us his best judgment on how to proceed. The Council must now determine the right balance among difficult options.

I am committed to fully engaging the community in these hard decisions. The Council welcomes input from all County residents – through our public hearings on April 5-8 (sign up to speak at 240-777-7803), email (at, regular mail (at 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850), or our budget hotline (call 240-777-7802). Residents can also follow the Council’s daily work on the budget by going to our Web site (www.montgomerycountymd/council) and clicking on ‘budget update.’ With the community’s help we will make the best decisions we can in this challenging year.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Census Forms Next Week

Census forms arrive next week. Please remember to fill yours out and return it by April 1.
Why is it so important? Census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states; to make decisions about what community services to provide; to distribute $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year; and to allocate state legislative districts and draw County Council districts. Did I mention the $400 billion in federal funds? If that’s not motivation enough, completing the form on time helps you avoid visits from Census enumerators.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blizzard Recap Answers Questions

“During the course of snow removal activities, the County removed 45 million cubic yards of snow. If this snow had been concentrated on a single football field, the snow would have risen to 40,000 feet.” This is according to a report presented at Tuesday’s Blizzard of 2010 Recap attended by the State Highway Administration, PEPCO, Comcast, Verizon and County Departments of Transportation, Police, Fire and Rescue Services, and Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

We compiled a list of questions gleaned directly from the calls and e-mail we received from residents across the county. This was our chance to discuss both best practices and lessons learned from the unprecedented storms.

By all accounts, collaboration among departments and agencies accounted for much of the success throughout the storms. For example, DOT worked with PEPCO in the effort to access downed wires. Humvees borrowed from the State of Maryland helped County employees reach residents with critical needs.

Mostly the system for snow removal worked well, although DOT discovered a few missing streets from its GIS program and is making corrections. Several residents asked if plowing could begin on neighborhoods streets once primary roads are passable (as opposed to completely cleared, as is the policy). Officials said they remain confident that the current system is better for residents because providing access to inadequately plowed arterial roads would present significant safety hazards. On the plus side, Ride On was running sooner and for longer hours than bus systems in neighboring jurisdictions.

About 25 percent of residents experienced power outages, making this the worst weather event for PEPCO since Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Workers walked through unplowed snow and worked in the extreme cold and wind in order to restore power. The first priority for PEPCO workers was to address downed wires. Then workers moved to main artery lines and lines that serve critical facilities. PEPCO is in the process of converting to “smart meters” which will be a significant diagnostic tool in future storms.

These are only a few of the highlights of yesterday’s session. To learn more, read the report, or check out the entire briefing which will be available on the Council’s Web site shortly.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Blizzard of 2010 Recap on Tuesday

Tune in to the County Council meeting on Tuesday for the Blizzard of 2010 Recap. Representatives from the State Highway Administration, PEPCO, Comcast, Verizon, County Departments of Transportation, Police, Fire and Rescue Services, and Offices of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will discuss best practices and lessons learned from the unprecedented storms.

I received numerous calls and e-mails about snow removal, utility outages and communication—both critical and complimentary. I expect that many residents’ questions will be answered on Tuesday and that all of the agencies involved will use the best practices and lessons learned for future planning.

The briefing is scheduled for 1:30, and the meeting will be broadcast live on CCM channels Comcast 6, RCN 6 and Verizon 30. It will be repeated on March 12 at 9 p.m.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Council Takes Bioscience 101

At the end of a session full of our usual business, like land use and budgeting, we had the rare treat of a science lesson. Our professor, Dr. Scott Zeger, Vice Provost for Research at Johns Hopkins University, taught us about the scientific and research vision Johns Hopkins has for Montgomery County. He gave us a basic overview of bioscience and how research in the field makes its way to patient care and ultimately into public health. I learned that scientists have discovered that my telomeres are shortening, and that’s not good news for me, so I really am grateful for the important work going on at Johns Hopkins.

Today’s briefing provided a context for much of the conversations we’ve been having about Johns Hopkins lately. The university announced recently they will build two connecting buildings on their Montgomery County Campus to house the National Cancer Institute Headquarters. This project will initially result in 2,100 jobs, which is fantastic news for Montgomery County.

Johns Hopkins also plans a state-of-the art research campus for its 138-acre Belward Farm property. This project plays an important role in the county’s broader economic strategy and served as an impetus for a memorandum of understanding that was signed last week between Johns Hopkins and the County spelling out a shared vision for decades to come. We in Montgomery County have long been committed to the advancement of biosciences and higher education as evidenced by the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center and our biotech incubators. The MOU is just one more step in developing the synergies we need for a really exciting future.

We will discuss all of this much more as we work through the Gaithersburg West Master Plan, which encompasses the Belward property, so stay tuned.