Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This Just In: New Census Data

More of Montgomery County’s young adults, likely facing economic challenges, are living with their parents, according to information about households released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau. From 2000 to 2010, the number of adult children living at home in Montgomery grew 36 percent.

Montgomery County also saw a 19.3-percent increase in the past decade of households headed by women. Households led by females with children experienced a 10.6-percent increase over a decade ago.

Another indication of changing local households is a slowing trend of two-parent, traditional couple households. In 2010, the husband-wife family – married with children under-18 years old – made up 26 percent of the county’s population, down from 28 percent in 2000.

Those conclusions were drawn by planners and demographers at the Planning Department in response to Thursday’s 2010 U.S. Census release, Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics. The profiles focus on household characteristics and ages.

They also found that Montgomery County’s population is aging, with more than 12 percent now in the 65 and older category. In the past decade, Montgomery County’s 45-64 age group increased by 28 percent. This group of prime wage earners – the Baby Boom generation – will swell the ranks of the elderly in the coming years.

In 2010, the median age in the county was 38.5, up from 36.8 in 2000.

Montgomery County households reflect the aging trend. Over the past decade, the county saw an increase of 25 percent in households with people over age 65, totaling 86,105 (24 percent of households) in 2010.

The aging population has tremendous implications for local economic development, delivery of social services and community planning. The aging trend reinforces the need to provide a diversity of housing options, transportation options and other services that help the elderly age in place. Current county master planning efforts propose mixed uses in strategic areas near transit that can provide places to live and mobility choices that span generations. Those options include a diversity of housing to serve both the elderly as well as 20-somethings.

The Census release also detailed the changing faces of Montgomery County, with detailed information about residents’ racial background. Asians make up 14 percent of Montgomery County, an increase of 37.3 percent since 2000. The total population of Asians is 135,973, of which the largest Asian group in 2010 is Chinese (38,180), a 33.5-percent increase. Asian Indians (32,979), the second largest group, have grown by 39.6 percent.

For more Montgomery and neighboring county data from today’s U.S. Census demographic profile release, visit montgomeryplanning.org/research/data_library/census/2010/.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Budget: What's In and What's Out

The $4.4 billion total County operating budget for FY12 reflects a 2.2 percent increase over the approved budget for FY11 and includes changes in regard to employee benefits. The budget agreement includes several actions as part of a fiscal protection package to make the budget sustainable in future years and protect the County's AAA bond rating.

Even with this year's increase of 2.2 percent, the budget is less than the approved budget for FY10. The FY11 adopted budget was 4.5 percent less than the approved budget for FY10--marking the first decrease in a total budget since the adoption of the current County Charter in 1968. The FY12 budget is 2.5 percent less than the FY10 budget.

We appropriated $1.951 billion in current tax-supported funds for Montgomery County Public Schools. That is $31 million, or 1.6 percent, more than was appropriated in tax-supported funds for FY11. The funding level is based on an assumption that MCPS will adjust its benefit package for employees as the Council changed benefits for FY12 for County Government employees. Even with those adjustments, MCPS employees will still receive more generous health and retirement benefits than most Federal, County and private sector employees.

Our funding level for MCPS is $45 million below the level recommended by the County Executive, but the only significant differences are reductions in areas that do not affect the classroom. Specifically, the reductions are for employee benefit adjustments and to shift funding for retiree health benefits to a centralized account.

The budget includes reserves of 6.1 percent, consistent with the new reserves policy approved by the Council last year at my urging.

In a budget year complicated by the national and regional economic downturn, the Council’s budget protects core services and safety net programs but does not exceed the County's Charter Limit on property tax revenue. For the second consecutive year, it freezes pay for employees of County government, Montgomery College, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and MCPS. The budget does not include furloughs.

We believed that the Executive's proposed reductions for several County functions were too large and restored limited funds to core departments, including Police, Fire and Rescue and Health and Human Services. The Executive's recommended budgets for the departments of Public Libraries and Recreation were 33.6 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, below the FY08 approved levels, and the proposed position reductions were 35.7 percent and 42.3 percent, respectively, below the FY08 approved levels. The Council restored $1 million for library materials and added back numerous library positions that had been recommended for elimination. The Council also restored funding for recreation programs and staff support at recreation facilities. It also restored significant cuts to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Montgomery College.

The budget includes the Executive’s recommendation to increase the property tax rate by 4.2 cents to 94.6 cents and to provide a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. I preferred a different approach and voted against this measure. Total property taxes increased 0.8 percent.

We took several actions as part of a fiscal protection package to make the budget sustainable in future years and protect the County's AAA bond rating. Among those actions were:

~Included $49.8 million to pre-fund retiree health benefits for all agencies (compared to 0 in FY11)
~Included $31.0 million in PAYGO (cash to replace bonds) in the capital construction program (compared to 0 in FY11)
~Included $5.9 million in a new reserve for storm and snow removal costs (compared to 0 in FY11)
~Made structural changes to employee group insurance and retirement benefits to save $33 million in FY12 and $273 million in FY12-17
~Lowered the annual bond issuance ceiling from the level set last year, $325 million in FY11-16, to $310 million in FY12 and $320 million in FY13-16
~Agreed to create a consolidated retiree health benefits trust for retiree health benefits across County agencies
~Included reserves of 6.1 percent pursuant to the policies adopted last year to strengthen the County's reserves

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Holiday Schedule for Memorial Day

Here's our schedule for Memorial Day on Monday, May 30:

County Offices -- closed

Libraries -- closed

County liquor stores – open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the exception of the following stores, which will be closed: Burtonsville, Cabin John and Diamond Square

Ride On – Sunday schedule

Metrobus – Sunday schedule

Metrorail – Sunday schedule

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

* All collections scheduled on or after the holiday will be made one day later that week.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Thoughts on the FY12 Budget

Today, we reached an agreement on a $4.4 billion total operating budget for FY12. We will formalize this decision next Thursday, and the budget will take effect July 1.

There is no question that many of the cost-saving measures in this budget are difficult, but they are absolutely necessary to ensure our long-term fiscal health. I want to emphasize that this is an act of responsible government.

It is unfortunate that some have characterized this budget as being anti-education. In fact, MCPS will receive an increase in its total budget this year. That’s a clear statement of this Council’s commitment to our world-class education system. Our commitment has not changed and never will. What has changed is the economy.

Like everyone in Montgomery County, we have had to make tough decisions in the face of dramatically reduced resources. And our decision, as always, was to make education our top priority. I have every confidence in the Board of Education’s ability to implement this budget in a way that does not affect classrooms. I know our children will continue to get the top-notch education our residents have come to expect.

What is really worth noting about this budget is that this Council took bold and responsible steps toward addressing our structural deficit and adhering to our six-year fiscal plan, which we implemented at my urging last year. It means that we will be leaner for the foreseeable future, and I am entirely optimistic about Montgomery County’s future thanks in part to the wisdom reflected in this very disciplined budget.

As chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, I applaud the Council for its forethought in restoring funds to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. When so many important programs are on the chopping block, planning doesn’t look very sexy. That is, until you look at what it means for us in the long term.

After years of dramatic cuts to planning, now we can ensure that important master plans, including White Flint II and the East County Science Center, can move forward. We must lay the groundwork now with proper planning for the intense economic development that is targeted for these areas. Only with economic development can we increase our tax base and pay for the programs we value in the future.

Like last year, this budget isn’t cause for celebration since it will have real and personal impacts on residents and employees, but I believe it is responsible because it considers our future as well as our present.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Reconciliation List and Tentative Budget Agreement on Thursday

On Thursday, May 19, we will hold our final scheduled worksessions, and we expect to reach tentative agreement regarding the FY12 total operating budget.

As part of the worksession, we will approve items that have been previously placed on the reconciliation lists for the capital and operating budgets. The lists contain items the Council and its committees set aside during budget worksessions for consideration after other priorities were funded. Reconciliation list items will be approved depending on how much funding remains available.

Thursday’s vote represents the final signal of our intent, although we are scheduled to formally adopt the budget on Thursday, May 26. The adopted budget will go into effect on July 1.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Full Council Budget Worksession May 18

On Wednesday, May 18, we will hold a worksession on group insurance and retirement benefits for employees of all County agencies. In addition, we will hold worksessions on property tax options, funding for the Arts and Humanities Council and issues regarding County facilities. We are scheduled to establish solid waste service charges for FY12—including refuse collection charges for homes that receive County service—and the Water Quality Protection Charge. Wednesday’s session will conclude with an overview of FY12 revenues and expenditures from Council Staff Director Steve Farber.

On a Personal Note

I usually reserve this space for policy discussions, but today I want to share something personal with you. I have been diagnosed recently with early-stage breast cancer. So, I’ll be counting not only on my family and long-time friends but also on the outstanding medical resources available in Montgomery County. Thanks to early detection, my prognosis is excellent. I will undergo treatment in the next couple of months, and I am hopeful there will be little disruption to my work on the Council. No doubt I will have my ups and downs as I find my way through this new chapter in my life, and I thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I also appreciate your respect for my privacy as I deal with the coming challenges. And one more thing--if you haven’t already this year, remember to get a mammogram. I’m sure glad I did.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Full Budget Worksession May 17

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 17, we will continue our discussions on the FY12 operating budget request of Montgomery County Public Schools.

The morning session also will include a discussion about School Resource Officers—members of the Police Department who are assigned to certain schools. We likely will debate whether we think the officers should be funded from the MCPS budget, from County funds or whether the program should be continued at all. The County Executive’s recommended budget proposes to eliminate the program, for a projected savings of $1.05 million. His budget assumes the officers will be reassigned as staffing enhancements in the Silver Spring Central Business District.

We will hold a worksession on the County Executive’s recommended community (discretionary) grants and on Council grants. County Executive Leggett has recommended 74 community grants totaling $2.89 million. We will discuss adding 37 additional staff-recommended grants totaling $1.02 million. Those recommendations may change during the worksession.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Full Council Budget Worksession May 16

On Monday, May 16, we will continue our discussions on department and program budget requests in regard to the FY12 operating budget. Among the budgets we will try to finalize on Monday are the Department of Libraries, the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the proposed Office of Community Engagement (Office of Community Partnerships, Regional Services Centers, Commission for Women and Gilchrist Center).

The Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee will meet at 2:30 p.m. on Monday for a worksession to make recommendations regarding property taxes for FY12. The full Council will take this up on Wednesday.

Monday’s worksessions will move us closer to a tentative agreement on the FY12 budget, which is scheduled to be reached on Thursday, May 19. We are scheduled to formally adopt the budget on May 26. The adopted budget will go into effect on July 1.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Full Council Budget Worksession May 10

On Tuesday, May 10, we will continue our work toward adopting a balanced operating budget for Fiscal Year 2012 as we discuss the budget requests of the Police Department, the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service and Montgomery College. In addition, we are tentatively scheduled to approve 49 budget items as part of our consent agenda.

In the afternoon session scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m., we will hold a worksession on several changes in transportation fees that were included in the County Executive’s recommended budget. Among the proposals to be discussed will be proposed garage and lot parking fee increases for the Bethesda and Silver Spring parking district and the proposed charging for parking in garages and lots on Saturdays in the Bethesda district.

Your Money Matters: Financial Consumer Protection for Today's Economy

Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is co-hosting a public forum with Congressman Chris Van Hollen titled, “Your Money Matters: Financial Consumer Protection for Today’s Economy.” The forum will be held on Tuesday, May 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place, Silver Spring.

Speakers at the forum include special guest, Professor Elizabeth Warren, assistant to the President and special advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy is also scheduled to speak. Representatives from more than 30 federal, state and county agencies will participate in the forum.

Forum attendees will have an opportunity to talk to experts, gather information and learn about a number of topics, including mail fraud, lotteries and sweepstake scams, investment scams, foreclosure prevention, identify theft, Medicare fraud, long-term care issues, benefit advice for veterans and social security recipients, and more.

For more information, call 240-777-3636.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Full Council Budget Worksession May 9

Next week we start our daily full Council budget worksessions. At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, May 9, we will discuss proposed changes to County government employees’ retirement, health and life insurance benefits. We also will address the Collective Bargaining Agreements with the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 35; the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association; the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization; and the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Prior to those discussions, at 11 a.m., we will receive an updated overview of County revenues and expenditures.

We will start at 9 a.m. with worksessions on the budget requests of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Park Police, the Department of Recreation and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

The Park and Planning budget was previously reviewed by the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, which I chair, and which has recommended changes to County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed budget for the department. The committee’s goal was to try to minimize impacts on the Planning Department workprogram and critical services provided by the Department of Parks.

The PHED Committee also previously reviewed the budget request of the Department of Recreation and has made recommendations to restore some items that were not included in the County Executive’s proposed budget. The Executive’s budget recommended a decrease of $1.4 million (5.5 percent) from the FY11 original approved budget.

You can watch it live on County Cable Montgomery, channel 6.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Redistricting Commission to Hold Public Hearing

The Montgomery County Redistricting Commission will hold its first public forum at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, May 26. The Commission will hear public input on the once-in-a-decade task of redistricting the five County Council districts.

Appointed by the County Council in January 2011, the Commission was tasked to present a redistricting plan and report to the County Council by Oct. 3. Within 30 days after receiving the plan, the Council must hold a public hearing on it. If within 90 days after presentation of the commission’s plan no other law reestablishing the boundaries of the Council districts has been enacted, then the plan, as submitted, will become law.

The County Charter requires districts to be substantially equal in population, compact, and contiguous. The new districts will be in effect for the 2014 Council election.

A map of the current Council districts can be viewed at: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/csltmpl.asp?url=/Content/council/mem/district_map.asp

The public forum will be held at the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Those who sign up in advance will speak earliest in the evening. If time permits, others attending will be allowed to offer opinions after the registered speakers are heard. To sign up to speak, call 240-777-7929 or e-mail susan.mabie@montgomerycountymd.gov

Each speaker will be asked to limit their testimony to three minutes.

Written testimony can be provided via e-mail to: redistricting.comments@montgomerycountymd.gov or by sending written comments to: Montgomery County Redistricting Commission, Attn.: Susan Mabie, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850.

The Commission has established a Web page to help residents stay current on its activities. The page can be accessed at: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/csltmpl.asp?url=/content/council/redistricting/index.asp

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Council Approves Bag Tax

We approved Bill 8-11 that will create a five-cent charge on each paper or plastic bag provided by a retail establishment to a customer at point of sale, pickup or delivery. The bill is intended to inspire consumers to use more reusable bags, which proponents say could lead to fewer bags littering the environment. I opposed the legislation.

The tax will not apply to bags provided by a pharmacy containing prescription drugs; a newspaper bag or bag intended for initial use as a garbage, pet waste or yard waste; a bag provided at a seasonal event, such as a farmers market; or a paper bag that a restaurant gives a customer to take prepared food or drinks from the restaurant. The tax also will not apply if the bag is used to package a bulk item (such as small items at a food or hardware store) or to wrap perishable items (such as fresh or frozen food or flowers).

Retail establishments will retain one-cent of each five-cent tax to cover administration fees of collection. The establishment would be required to indicate on a transaction receipt the number of bags provided.

The law will take effect January 1, 2012.