Thursday, July 28, 2011

County Files Brief in Pepco Investigation

Despite earlier reports that Montgomery County would withdraw its participation in the Maryland Public Service Commission's (PSC) investigation into Pepco's reliability, you can rest assured we are fully in the game, recently filing a brief in support of improving Pepco's service.

The 57-page brief argues that the PSC should declare that Pepco has been "imprudent" in operating an unreliable electric system in Maryland since at least 2005, and that the PSC should impose the following remedies:

~Require that Pepco/PHI's shareholders, not Pepco's customers, bear the cost of improving the quality of its service to at least a "second quartile" reliability level; 

~Consider reducing Pepco's allowed rate of return on equity and require Pepco to provide certain billing credits to its customers; and 

~Ultimately, consider modifying Pepco's service territory or revoking Pepco’s authority to exercise its franchise.

On August 8, Montgomery County and all other parties may file additional reply briefs answering the arguments contained in each other's initial briefs. The Public Service Commission then will review all the briefs in the hearing record and issue a written order deciding the case.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teens Protest Proposed Curfew

Young people (and quite a few older people) came out in force to express their opposition to a bill to establish a youth curfew in Montgomery County. The bill, introduced by the County Executive and supported by the Police Department, is intended to address issues relating to increased gang activity, violence and crime involving minors. It would impose a curfew of midnight on weekends and 11:00 p.m. on weekdays for people under the age of 18.

There’s a lot to think about in regard to this bill, and I expect we will have detailed discussions about it before taking any action. Regardless of whether this bill passes or how it may change during our deliberations, I must commend our youth for their civic engagement. Several teens spoke extremely eloquently at the public hearing, while dozens more supported them from the gallery. A few wrote us e-mails and thousands expressed their views via Facebook. To our civically active teens, I say: keep up the good work!

Our Public Safety Committee will take up the issue on September 15, and the full Council will consider it after that, so there is still plenty of time to let us know what you think.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Rockville Annexations Approved

Yesterday we approved requests by the City of Rockville to annex two properties. One is located at 15955 Frederick Road and is currently occupied by the Reed Brothers automotive business. The other property is known as the Burgundy Park Center at East Gude Drive and Southlawn Lane.

The city will allow the Reed Brothers property, which is close to the Shady Grove Metro Station, to be redeveloped for affordable housing. Prior to the vote, we debated whether the location would be suitable for housing because it was also adjacent to the Shady Grove Solid Waste Transfer Station. I voted against the annexation for this reason.

The Burgundy Park property annexation passed unanimously, and the property will continue its retail use. Since the property is partially in Rockville already, the annexation will allow the property to be in a single jurisdiction under a single zone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Report on Food in Montgomery Schools

Serving food that is both healthy and tasty (not to mention affordable) challenges not just parents but our school system too.

The food service program of Montgomery County Public Schools complies with or exceeds federal, state and local requirements for school food, and has implemented a variety of practices aimed at encouraging students to eat healthier foods. However, a report released today by our Office of Legislative Oversight also found that when it comes to encouraging healthy eating, the MCPS Department of Food and Nutrition Services (DFNS) “has not pursued these practices as vigorously as some other school systems.”

The report indicates that food service programs, although open to all MCPS students, serve mostly low-income students. MCPS data from the report also show that school meal participation levels are increasing and are close to reaching target school lunch participation rates.

Any MCPS student may purchase a school lunch or school breakfast. Students from low-income families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for free or reduced-price meals (FARMS). Overall, 58 percent of elementary school students and 29 percent of secondary school students participated in the School Lunch Program in Fiscal Year 2011. This reflected a slight increase from Fiscal Year 2010, when 54 percent of elementary and 28 percent of secondary school students participated.
FY11 data indicate that the School Lunch Program served an average of more than 57,000 meals per day. Of students enrolled in FARMS, 78 percent participated in the lunch program compared to 23 percent of students who were required to pay full-price for lunches.

The School Breakfast Program served an average of 21,000 meals per day, with half of these served in the 30 schools that participated in Maryland Meals for Achievement. Of students enrolled in FARMS, 36 percent participated in the breakfast program compared to 5 percent of students who were required to pay full-price for breakfast.

The report looked at 10 trends in school food service practices aimed at encouraging healthy eating and increasing school food program participation. The report finds that MCPS engages “to some degree” in each of the practices. For example, to encourage healthy eating, DFNS offers a salad bar as part of the school lunch in Parkland Middle School, posts menu and calorie information in cafeterias and serves flavored milk with reduced sugar content. To increase participation in the School Breakfast Program, DFNS recently began serving free breakfasts to all students who qualify for FARMS, eliminating the 30 cent charge for a “reduced-price” breakfast.

The report also noted that MCPS received recognition from the USDA’s HealthierUS Schools Challenge program and the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine for nutritious menus that exceed federal requirements.

However, the report also stated, “OLO found that some school districts have done more to encourage students to eat healthier foods.” Examples from other jurisdictions include revising the menu to eliminate all processed foods, offering “all you can eat” fruits and vegetables with school meals and offering in-classroom breakfast district wide.
Additionally, the report cites DFNS data that shows student satisfaction with the food served is not meeting the target set by DFNS, despite increasing participation levels. Specifically, DFNS has fallen short of its target of an 85 percent or higher satisfaction rating from parents or students.

Another factor the report considered was the financial aspect of the food service program. As an enterprise fund, DFNS is designed to be a self-sustaining operation. However, DFNS experienced a deficit in FY10, anticipates a deficit for FY11, and loses 50 cents for each free and reduced-priced lunch it serves.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Committee to Discuss Pepco Tree Trimming

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee will discuss Pepco’s tree trimming program on Monday, July 18, at 2:00. Because vegetation is the primary cause of outages during major storms, Pepco is increasing its tree trimming efforts. But with that increase comes concerns from neighborhoods about loss of tree canopy and resulting changes in the character of neighborhoods (or the character of officially designated rustic roads). Pepco officials, County staff, and community representatives will be on hand to help us sort out the issues. Tune in to County Cable Montgomery (channel 6) to watch the meeting live.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Making the Shady Grove Sector Plan a Reality

Today I joined the County Executive at the groundbreaking for the first new facility to be constructed under the Smart Growth Initiative which is designed to revitalize the old industrial area around the Shady Grove Metro station, transforming it into a modern urban village.

The Equipment and Maintenance Operations Center (EMOC) project is a collection of 13 buildings that will serve administrative functions, bus parking, maintenance, equipment storage and other functions for the Departments of Transportation and General Services.

When we approved the Shady Grove Sector Plan in 2005, we envisioned a modern, vibrant, transit-oriented community centered on the Shady Grove Metro station. With today’s groundbreaking, we’re taking the first step toward making that vision a reality. We’re paving the way to an exciting future—a future that’s full of opportunities for economic development, housing and quality of life.

The Sector Plan calls for transforming the area around the Shady Grove Metro station from light industrial uses to transit-oriented housing by building up to 6,500 new units, including affordable and workforce housing. To accomplish this goal, the County Service Park facilities, which are located in the heart of the planning area along Crabbs Branch Way, must be relocated. The facilities that will be moved include EMOC; the Department of Liquor Control Headquarters and Warehouse; Montgomery County Public Schools Food Distribution Center, Bus Depot and Facilities Maintenance Depot; Crabbs Branch Day Labor Center; County Radio Shop; and Park and Planning Facilities Maintenance Depot.

Of course the EMOC project incorporates many green design elements including a pilot project to reclaim, treat and reuse rainwater for toilet flushing and bus washing, reducing water use by 80 percent. Additionally, 75 percent of the building roofs will be green roofs to decrease stormwater runoff.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sharing My Story, Part 3

On County Cable Montgomery’s County Report This Week, I talk with Susan Kenedy about my breast cancer treatment in the third and final installment of a series entitled Nancy Floreen—The Next Chapter. In this part, I discuss my experiences with radiation and lifestyle changes as well as the conversations I have had people I met along the way. Tune in to channel 6 or watch the program on YouTube.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Budget: Next Year Will Be Bigger Challenge

Last year's fiscal plan projected a very small 0.1 percent increase in funds available for agencies in FY12. The actual number turned out to be very close at 1.4 percent (the inflation rate for 2010 was 1.7 percent). That was valuable information for us to have last June, and we planned accordingly. This year’s projection for FY13 shows a decrease of 2.7 percent, and that means we need all hands on deck. It means that next year looks even more challenging than this year.

We approved our second annual fiscal plan last week. We started requiring a six-year balanced fiscal plan at my urging last year when I was Council President as a way of addressing our structural deficit. While the plan does not constrain future Councils in their year-to-year decision making, it provides valuable information and guidance for sustainability over the long term. The plan gives communities and the County's four agencies--Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and County Government--a realistic view of what they can expect in the upcoming years.

This year's plan makes clear what we already know intuitively--that absent a far more robust economic recovery than has occurred to date, we are facing limited resources for FY13 and beyond. Current projections for FY13 showing a decrease of 2.7 percent in funds (nearly $100 million) available for agency expenditures mean we again are going to have to work together to make difficult decisions. Future years show very modest increases of 2.2 percent, 3.4 percent, 4.8 percent and 3.6 percent.

FY12 began on July 1, 2011, and budget deliberations for FY13 will begin on March 15, 2012, when the County Executive transmits his proposed budget to the Council.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Visit the Farm Tour and Harvest Sale for Local Products

Celebrate our agricultural heritage, visit local farms and indulge in seasonally fresh food at Montgomery County's Annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale the weekend of July 23-24. Every year, this event coincides with the Buy Local Challenge which encourages people to eat locally grown food. The Farm Tour gives you the opportunity to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, plants and other local products. Several farms have hayrides, pony rides, music, demonstrations and other fun and educational activities planned for people of all ages.