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