Friday, February 25, 2011

Town Hall Meeting in Bethesda

Let us know what matters most to you at our Town Hall Meeting for the Bethesda area on Wednesday, March 2. This will be the second Town Hall meeting in 2011, and it will be held at the Westland Middle School (5511 Massachusetts Ave.) beginning at 8 p.m. with a pre-meeting reception at 7:30. You can voice your opinions on specific issues and ask questions of us in an organized, but informal, setting. I hope to see you there.

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.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

County Files Comments with PSC on Reliability Standards

Montgomery County has filed comments with the Maryland Public Service Commission in response to the PSC’s proposed revision of the state regulation regarding service provided by electric companies. This rule making procedure (RM43) is separate from the ongoing investigation into Pepco’s reliability (case 9240). To sort out the different cases and timelines, see the special Pepco edition of my newsletter.

The County’s eight-page response regarding definition of an acceptable level of reliability for Pepco addresses “inadequate” discretionary civil penalties. It says that these penalties in no way compare to the financial hardships experienced by the community. The comments reflect the frustration we have heard loud and clear from our constituents.

Check out the full text of Montgomery County’s response.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pepco Files Major Storm Report for January 26

Pepco has filed its required Major Storm Report (item 6) on the January 26 snowstorm with the Public Service Commission. The report covers the number and causes of outages, the number and type of responses and timetables for restoration. Remember, this case (#9256) is a routine investigation required for all power companies after a major storm. It is separate from the ongoing investigation into Pepco’s reliability (case #9240). On March 3 at 9:30 a.m. the PSC will hold a hearing on the January 26 event. You can watch the hearing live online.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Holiday Schedule for Presidents' Day

Montgomery County government will observe the following holiday schedule for Presidents’ Day on Monday, February 21:

County Offices -- closed
Libraries -- closed
County liquor stores – closed
Ride On – special modified holiday schedule
Metrobus – Saturday schedule with supplemental service
Metrorail – Saturday schedule (5 a.m. to midnight)
TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) – closed
Refuse/recycling pickup – regular collection
Transfer Station – open
Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
State offices & courts – closed

Thursday, February 17, 2011

See Report on Achieving a Structurally Balanced Budget on YouTube

The Office of Legislative Oversight provided a nice synopsis of its report, Achieving a Structurally Balanced Budget, at our February 2 town hall meeting. The 15-minute presentation goes over some of the options detailed in the report, including 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.

I asked the OLO to undertake this study during our operating budget deliberations last year as it became increasingly apparent that quick fixes aren’t going to resolve our long-term, built-in problems. Check out the video on YouTube.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Follow the Bouncing Ball: Pepco Reliability

There's a lot going on when it comes to the efforts to get Pepco to improve its service reliability and communications, and it can be difficult to sort out all the moving pieces and the various players. It is important to understand that Pepco is regulated by the Public Service Commission, which is a State agency. While the County does not have any direct authority over Pepco, we have been strong advocates for reform.

Last year, we asked the PSC to open an investigation into Pepco, and that investigation (Case 9240) is in progress now. But wait, there's more, including a routine investigation of the January 26 snowstorm, pending recommendations from the County's Pepco Work Group and legislation at the State level. Here's what you should know right now:

Montgomery County Special Counsel on Utility Regulation

~Montgomery County hired Stanley Balis, a nationally recognized attorney with more than 30 years specializing in utility regulation and related issues, to represent our interests in a number of cases coming before the Public Service Commission, including those listed here.

Montgomery County Pepco Work Group

~The Pepco Work Group is comprised of community leaders who were appointed to investigate the reliability of Pepco's service in Montgomery County and formulate concrete steps necessary to improve that service. It works in close partnership with Special Counsel Balis. If you wrote to me, I forwarded your comments to the group. The Work Group's final recommendations will be sent to the Maryland Public Service Commission as part of Montgomery County's testimony in Case 9240. To weigh in, e-mail the Office of Consumer Protection or take the online survey.

Public Service Commission Case 9240 (investigation into Pepco reliability)
~The public comment period has been completed and included statements from Montgomery County elected officials in addition to County residents. The County's Pepco Work Group will file its report on behalf of our interests in this case.

~An independent consultant will file a report on March 4.

~Montgomery County will provide direct testimony on the consultant's report on May 6.
The PSC will hold an evidentiary hearing on June 16, 17, 20 and 21. The hearing is open to the public (although no further testimony will be taken), or you can follow it live online.

~The date for a final ruling has not been determined.

Public Service Commission Case 9256 (investigation into January 26 snowstorm)

~This is a routine investigation required for all power companies after a major storm.
A legislative hearing will be held on March 3. The hearing is open to the public (although no public testimony will be taken), or you can follow it live online.

~The date for a final ruling has not been determined.

Public Service Commission Administrative Docket (RM 43)

~This is a Rule Making action in which the PSC seeks comments on its proposed changes to the Code of Maryland Regulations to set standards for all electric utilities.

~The County will submit testimony on this case, but no public testimony will be accepted.


~State Delegate Brian Feldman introduced legislation that would require the PSC to adopt enhanced reliability standards by July 2012. Under Emergency Bill HB391, utilities could be fined for poor performance. The bill was submitted to the Economic Matters Committee, which will decide when to hold a hearing in Annapolis.

Routine Complaints

~You can always file a general complaint with the Public Service Commission or with the Maryland Office of the People's Counsel.

While we work our way through these issues, remember this: when your power goes out, you must call Pepco every day so that they know the lights are still out. In the meantime, I will do everything I can to keep up the pressure on Pepco and the Public Service Commission, and I continue to welcome your input so let me know your thoughts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where Is the Budget Right Now?

These days you hear a lot about the County's budget, particularly in terms of closing a projected $300 million gap for FY12. There are rumors about plans to change salary and benefit structures, to eliminate particular programs or to increase class sizes. So, which of these are currently under consideration by the County Council? The answer is: none.

Right now, the County's four agencies--Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission and County Government--are submitting their budget proposals to us and to the County Executive, who will transmit his Recommended Operating Budget to the Council on March 15. At that time, we will take up his recommendations in addition to our own proposals. We will make final budget decisions at the end of May, and the budget will take effect July 1.

You can let us know your thoughts anytime during the process. You can testify at the public hearings in April, send your written comments to the Council President or drop me a line directly. Contact me any way that works for you; just let me know what you think.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Press Conference on Marriage Equality

I was honored to speak at a press conference today in Annapolis urging the Maryland General Assembly to pass the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act during the 2011 legislative session. I was the lead sponsor of a resolution adopted unanimously by the County Council on Feb. 5 urging the General Assembly to enact marriage equality for all Marylanders.

The current law that denies same-sex couples in Maryland the right to marry is not fair to couples, and it’s not fair to families. Denied the freedom to marry, same-sex couples and their families are deprived of the critical safety-net that comes with marriage especially at times of great vulnerability such as birth, death, illness, disability and unemployment.

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act will allow same-sex couples in Maryland to apply for and receive marriage licenses and would extend to them all state-administered legal benefits, protections and obligations. It would not compel any religious institution or members of the clergy to marry same-sex couples.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard public testimony on the bill following the press conference.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Monday Briefing on Pepco Reliability

Tune in to County Cable Montgomery (channel 6) on February 7 at 2:00 for the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee’s briefing on Pepco reliability. Pepco officials will answer questions posed by the committee and will update us on the status and timing of Pepco-related items before the Maryland Public Service Commission and related State legislation under consideration. If you want to attend in person, come to the Council Office Building’s third floor hearing room.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Eleven Vacancies on Charter Review Commission

Apply before March 2 for a four-year term on the Charter Review Commission.

The County Charter was amended in 1976 to provide that a Charter Review Commission be appointed by the County Council every four years to study the Charter. The Commission researches and evaluates Charter issues raised by the County Executive, County Council, other government officials and the public. Commission reports are submitted no later than May 1 of every even-numbered year. These reports contain recommendations concerning any proposed Charter amendments.

The Commission is composed of 11 County residents, five of whom are appointed from a list of names submitted by the County Executive. Six members will be appointed by the Council. Those applying for Council appointment may also be considered for nomination by the County Executive. The chair is designated by the Council and the vice chair is designated by the County Executive. No more than six members can be from the same political party.

All 11 positions are up for appointment. There is no compensation for members of the commission, which generally will meet once per month in the Council Office Building in Rockville.

Send your letter of interest along with a resume to: Valerie Ervin, President, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Maryland 20850. Your resume should include professional and civic experience, home and office telephone numbers and an e-mail address. Letters and resumes submitted are made public as part of the appointment process. Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time.

For more information call 240-777-7979.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Organizational Reform Commission's Recommendations on Cost Savings and Efficiencies

Let me know what you think about the Organizational Reform Commission’s final report (takes awhile to load) that it presented to us today. The Commission outlined a blueprint for restructuring some agencies and recommended changes in processes and operations that, together, could yield the County savings of at least $30 million per year, and potentially hundreds of millions per year depending on how the recommendations are implemented.

The eight-member citizen commission, consisting of four members named by County Executive and four named by the Council, was charged with helping to address the County’s serious fiscal challenge by proposing ways to reorganize or consolidate functions performed by County government or County-funded agencies.

Over the past six months, the Commission sought suggestions from County stakeholders, held nearly 50 full Commission or work group meetings, and reviewed dozens of reports, including the recent comprehensive report of the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight on the County’s structural budget deficit.

The Commission’s 28 recommendations fall into two groups. The first group deals with changes in structure and organization – for example, merging the Park Police force into the County Police force, combining park and recreational services, and consolidating the information technology functions of the various County agencies. The second group deals with changes in process and operations – for example, requiring greater transparency in the collective bargaining process, adjusting the criteria that arbitrators must consider, and achieving greater efficiency in the use of Information Technology.

According to the Commission’s projections, the changes in structure and organization would result in savings of $6-7 million per year, with future additional savings that are not yet quantifiable. The changes in process and operations would result in savings of at least $22 million per year, with further large future savings possible from modifications to the collective bargaining process.

The Commission concluded that most of its recommendations could be implemented in the short or medium term and that they would not have a large impact on services provided to County residents.

According to the resolution that created the ORC, any organizational proposal for County government in the Commission’s report must take the form of a reorganization plan for the Executive to submit to the Council by Feb. 28. The Council must hold a public hearing on the plan by March 31 and vote on a plan before the FY12 operating budget is adopted.

The Executive may present an alternative reorganization plan that he concludes will produce at least the same level of cost savings, or inform the Council in writing why no reorganization plan is necessary. If the Executive does not present to the Council any reorganization plan or other proposal contained in the Commission report, the Council President must introduce each plan or proposal that can be implemented by County legislation as a bill before the Council.