Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fun with Local Jeopardy! Teen Tournament Champ

If the answer is Raynell Cooper, the question must be: Who is the 16-year old Richard Montgomery High School senior who came from behind to win the ‘Jeopardy!’ Teen Tournament that aired on March 2 and 3? Raynell was very serious during the competition taped over a two-week period in December in Culver City, Calif., but when I presented a proclamation to him on behalf of the Council on March 29, we had a good laugh with a series of trivia questions on Montgomery County facts. Do you know your local trivia? 1. Answer: This is the total square miles of land area in Montgomery County. Question: What is 497? 2. Answer: This is the number of people living in Montgomery Count, according to the 2010 Census. Question: What is 971,777? 3. Answer: They are Layton, Clarke, Poole, Hyatt, Neel, Browning, Clagett, King, Dawson, White, Dickerson, Spencer, Burton, Darne, Brooke and Gaither Question: What are some of the historic families whose names show up on a map of Montgomery County?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Testify at Public Hearings on Budget

Let us know your thoughts on the County budget at one of five public hearings spread over April 5-7.

The public hearings will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5; at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6; and at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 7. All hearings will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The number of speakers for the week is limited due to the number of spots available. To register to speak, call 240-777-7803.

The hearings will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) and also will be available via streaming through the County Web site at

The County Executive presented his recommended budget to the Council on March 15. Over the next 10 weeks, the Council and its six committees will analyze the recommendations and will adopt the FY12 budget in late May. The budget will take effect on July 1.

If you can’t make the public hearing, you can still let us know your views by e-mailing

Monday, March 21, 2011

Op-ed Piece on Bag Tax

Check out my op-ed piece on the proposed bag tax in Sunday's Washington Post. For your convenience, I've included the text below:

A nickel-and-dime distraction from Montgomery’s real problems
By Nancy Floreen, Friday, March 18, 7:09 PM

If I believed taxing carryout bags in Montgomery County would improve local water quality and protect our waterways, I would be the first to sign on. But the five-cent tax on both paper and plastic bags proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett won’t save the Chesapeake Bay. What’s worse, it would have unintended consequences — some silly, some serious.

And if the tax wouldn’t save our streams, then it better save our equally stressed budget. But it wouldn’t do that, either. It would give Montgomery County residents nothing while leaving them, well, holding the bag.

A study by the Alice Ferguson Foundation, an environmental and education group working to clean up the Potomac River, showed a drop in bag use after the District’s bag tax went into effect last year, but it’s important to note that the effect on city waters has not yet been quantified; a reduction in bags does not necessarily mean a reduction in litter.

As a dog owner, I put my old grocery bags to good use a second time, and that makes me one of the 90 percent of consumers who reuse their grocery bags at least once. Taxing people who already exercise good judgment isn’t going to change the attitudes of rogue litterbugs.

My larger concern, though, is that this tax — which will come up for a public hearing on March 31 — is regressive, placing the heaviest burden on those with the lowest incomes. The added expense of paying the tax or buying reusable bags may not be much of a problem for the wealthy; not so for families already having a hard time making ends meet. I foresee scenes in which residents, perhaps senior citizens, overload their shopping bags to save money, only to spill groceries all over the sidewalk on the walk home. That’s not saving anybody’s environment.

And speaking of environments: The one inside a reusable bag is perfect for growing bacteria and cross-contaminating food, so if you opt against paying for disposable bags, you had better remember to wash your reusable ones. Do you really want to carry home unwashed chicken or seafood in a bag you might be carrying apples in later?

But most important, this proposal is a distraction from the fiscal crisis we must face right now. To literally nickel-and-dime residents this way might bring in $1.5 million in revenue under the best-case scenario, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared with the huge shortfall Montgomery County is confronting.

Don’t get me wrong. I have real concerns about the environment, and I agree we should look at viable solutions to our pollution problems. That might mean reexamining the Water Quality Protection Charge that residents already pay as a part of their property tax bill and which has a proven track record of success.

Right now, though, we need to focus our time and attention on how we can maintain needed services, treat employees fairly and invest in our future, all while slashing spending. That’s our real mandate.

I say, bag this tax.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Initial Thoughts on the Proposed Operating Budget

This morning, the County Executive transmitted his Recommended FY12 Operating Budget to the County Council. Next year’s operating budget represents both a continuation of the fiscal challenges we have experienced in recent years and a framework for future budgets. I commend the County Executive and his team for their hard work in developing this proposal.

While the County Executive’s Recommended Budget contains cost-cutting measures that will be difficult for residents and employees in the short term, I am pleased that it includes a balanced long-term fiscal plan. I spearheaded this new approach to budgeting last year, and I’m gratified to see a continued long-term perspective in our budget work. I have asked our Office of Legislative Oversight to look at the plan, particularly in terms of its progress toward resolving our structural deficit. I also plan to look closely at the reserve funds proposed by the County Executive. Last year, we set a policy to increase our reserves as we believed this would greatly improve our ability to handle future downturns and would confirm the historical excellence of our financial management.

I encourage residents to engage in the conversation about the hard decisions we will make in the coming months. As I have said many times before, I remain committed to fairness and equity among stakeholders and will work to make sure no one group shoulders a disproportionate burden. Residents should feel free not only to contact the Council as a whole but also to contact me directly at

Monday, March 14, 2011

Apply Now to the Planning Board

We're now taking applications for two positions on the Planning Board. These are important positions as the Planning Board serves as the Council’s principal adviser on land use planning and community planning. This means the board is responsible for preparation and amendment of the County General Plan; preparation and amendment of Master Plans and functional plans; implementation of the subdivision process and a whole lot more.

The two vacancies are created because the terms of Norman Dreyfuss (Republican) and Joseph Alfandre (Democrat) expire on June 14. No more than three members of the Planning Board may be from the same political party.On average, a Planning Board member can expect to spend at least two full days a week in scheduled and informational meetings. We need some good talent for this position, so remember to get your application in by April 27.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Council Counters Legal Challenge from County Board of Education

The Montgomery County Council will vigorously defend its authority to balance the County operating budget equitably between the public schools and other vital services. That’s why the Council sent a letter to Montgomery Board of Education President Christopher Barclay asking board to withdraw its Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the State Board of Education and avoid the potential for litigation. I've included the full text of the letter at the bottom of this post.

Montgomery County’s Board of Education filed a Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the Maryland State Board of Education on March 2 seeking an order that would interpret the state’s Maintenance of Effort school funding law to effectively eliminate the County Council’s ability to equitably balance the County operating budget.

The voter-approved County Charter assigns final budget and appropriation authority over all County-funded agencies, including Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), to the County Council.

The state educational Maintenance of Effort law requirement for Fiscal Year 2012 would force the County to increase the MCPS budget by $82 million (or 5.8 percent) above last year’s approved funding of $1.4 billion, even though the County faces a $300 million gap in its overall budget. This law ignores the fact that over the last decade the County has funded MCPS at a total of $577 million above the annual Maintenance of Effort requirements.

While we all agree with the intent of the law, it allows no flexibility during a fiscal crisis. We have always supported education, and we always will. We also support the other services funded by Montgomery County. Many of those include services for children outside of school.

This year Montgomery's operating budgets for police, fire, libraries, safety net and other core County services were reduced by levels not seen in more than 40 years, some by more than 20 percent. The coming fiscal year promises more of the same. We need the Board of Education’s help in balancing the budget in a way that preserves core services and does not adversely impact classroom instruction.

We’re all Montgomery County residents, and we’re all in this together. We will continue to work with the Board of Education and other stakeholders as we move through the budget process and as we strive to meet the needs of our nearly one million residents.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Mr. Christopher S. Barclay, President
Montgomery County Board of Education
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear Board President Barclay,

I am writing to express the Council’s extreme disappointment with the Board’s latest legal maneuver to challenging our budget and appropriation authority in the County Charter. The Council will vigorously defend its authority and responsibility under the Charter to balance the County operating budget equitably between the public schools and other vital services.

The Council regrets that you did not consult with any of its members or even notify us about the Board’s March 2 filing for a Petition for Declaratory Ruling with the Maryland State Board of Education. Seeking this order, at a time when we are all attempting to work collaboratively to solve our budget crisis, is a wasteful distraction. It will divert scarce tax dollars to cover MCPS’ legal fees when all our resources are needed to provide direct services to our students and residents.

The voter-approved County Charter assigns final budget and appropriation authority over all County-funded agencies, including MCPS, to the County Council. As we have in the past, we will balance the needs of our students, other County service recipients, and taxpayers in adopting an operating budget that is fair to all. Despite your unprecedented legal action, this Council is committed to balancing the school budget in a way that does not adversely impact classroom instruction.

My hope is that we can continue to collaborate on issues that affect education and that you will roll up your sleeves with us to do what is required to help us equitably balance our operating budget for all of our residents. Montgomery County residents deserve no less from their elected officials. We request that you start by withdrawing your Petition for Declaratory Ruling.

Valerie Ervin Council President

c: Shirley Brandman, Vice President
Philip Kauffman
Judith Docca
Laura Berthiaume
Patricia O’Neill
Michael A. Durso
Alan Xie

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Flash Flood Sarety Tips

We've got some crazy weather heading our way, so I'm passing along the County's severe storm safety tips. Flash floods develop from intense storms dropping large amounts of water in a short time, and they can occur with little or no warning. During periods of urban flooding, streets can become swift moving rivers and basements can fill with water.

Flooding Facts:
• Swiftly moving floodwaters only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet.
• Nearly half of all flash flood fatalities are people in vehicles. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground.
• Roads covered by floodwaters could already be washed away, so don’t drive across roads that are not visible.

After A Flood:
• Do not strike a match or use an open flame when you enter a flooded house. Use a flashlight. Escaping gas could cause an explosion, and flammables may be present.
• Watch for live electrical wires. Do not attempt to turn on electrical appliances or lights until an electrician has checked your system.
• Open doors and windows to let air circulate, remove foul odors, and vent built-up gases.
• Pump out the basement if it is flooded, but do so gradually.
• If fresh food or open medications have come in contact with floodwater, throw them out.
• Boil drinking water for at least one minute before using, or use safe bottled water.
• If your home is supplied by well water and you think your well may be contaminated from flooding, you must disinfect the water before using. Contact the County’s Well and Septic Division for further information at 240-777-6319.
• If you have insured loss, call your insurance company to make a claim. Most insurance policies do not cover flood damage. Purchase flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurance company. For further information, ask your insurance company, call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 1-800-427-4661, or check their website at .

Ways To Mitigate Future Flood Damage:
• Raise your washer and dryer, water heater, oil tank, and furnace on concrete blocks.
• Install and maintain a sump pump system in below-ground floors.
• Install backflow valves on sewer lines to prevent sewer lines from backing up.
• Clear debris from ditches and culverts. For emergencies, call 911 immediately. For information about County programs and services, call 311 between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., or go anytime to the call center’s online portal at

Monday, March 7, 2011

Maryland's Top 100 Women

Thanks, The Daily Record, for naming me one of this year’s Top 100
Women. As a three-time awardee, I’m honored to join the Circle of Excellence this year.

The award recognizes outstanding achievement by women as demonstrated through professional accomplishment, community leadership and mentoring. The annual awards ceremony will be held on May 9 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

I’m honored to be selected as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women. It is important that women share their experiences and talent with one another as a way of mentoring new leadership and highlighting all that women are doing. I am delighted that The Daily Record has included me in such an accomplished group of women who are making a difference in their communities.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Independent Consultant Files Pepco Report

Hot off the press, here's the independent consustant's report in Public Service Commission case 9240--the investigation into Pepco's reliability. According to the executive summary, "if there was any overall theme to the findings from this investigation, it was that Pepco needs to be more proactive, rather than reactive, in dealing with problems." The report also notes, "We found that trees are in fact the primary cause of the most potentially-preventable outages in Pepco's Maryland service area." The County will provide direct testimony on this report on May 6, and the PSC will hold an evidentiary hearing on June 16, 17, 20 and 21. The date for a final ruling has not been determined.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Council to Receive Recommended Budget March 15

The County Executive will forward his Recommended Operating Budget to the County Council on March 15. There has been much speculation on what this budget will contain, particularly in relation to the Office of Legislative Oversight's report on Achieving a Structurally Balanced Budget and the recommendations from the Organizational Reform Commission.
Once we receive the Recommended Budget, we will hold a series of work sessions both in committee and as a full Council, as well as several public hearings. A lot will happen between March 15 and the end of May, so I encourage you to follow along on my blog.

We anticipate cost cutting measures in this year's budget, and many of those will affect residents and employees. As we move forward, I remain committed to fairness and equity among stakeholders and will work to make sure no one group shoulders a disproportionate burden. Please keep me informed of your thoughts as we make our way through these decisions.

The budget will take effect July 1.