Thursday, May 31, 2012

Improve Your Home Improvement Experience

Join me and Montgomery County's Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection for a public forum entitled Improve Your Home Improvement Experience. Topics include everything from avoiding scams to state licensing requirements. The expert panel discussion will be held on Wednesday, June 20 from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, 1st floor Auditorium. 

This free forum will be moderated by Eric Friedman, director of the County’s Office of Consumer Protection. He will lead a discussion with experts on home improvements, including Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition; Steven Smitson, executive director of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (a division of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation); the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services; and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

As we approach the summer building season, our Office of Consumer Protection generally sees a rise in complaints involving home improvement, so I look forward to having an opportunity to help educate our residents on ways to avoid getting scammed. The Office of Consumer Protection is such a valuable resource for our residents, and I am pleased to be able to participate in this important forum.

The forum will address a number of topics including common scams, how to be sure your contractor is properly licensed, how to structure your home improvement contract, permitting requirements for homeowners, and what remedies are available for consumers. Light refreshments will be served.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Holiday Schedule for Memorial Day

Here’s our holiday schedule for Memorial Day on Monday, May 28:

~ County Offices – closed

~ Libraries – closed

~ County liquor stores – closed

~ Recreation – administrative offices, senior centers and community centers are closed; all classes, including aquatics classes are cancelled. Indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be opened as scheduled.

~ 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.

Monday, May 21, 2012

More than Play

Rebuilding Together, a longtime partner and local nonprofit that repairs homes for vulnerable families to keep them living in safety, is delighting children of all ages with their fundraiser: Rebuilding Hope: The RTMC Playhouse Project. Eight local builders have crafted one-of-a-kind playhouses and donated them to RTMC, and RTMC plans to auction them off at a live event on May 31st in Chevy Chase. If you are interested in a playhouse for the little ones in your life, or for your school or neighborhood, you can learn more at They are also trying to raise $15,000 in community donations to give one of the playhouses to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, for the children of veterans receiving treatment there. Every dollar counts, and you can also make your donation at

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Council Approves FY13 Budget

Today we unanimously reached tentative agreement on a $4.6 billion total County operating budget for Fiscal Year 2013. The budget, which reflects a 5.6 percent increase over the approved budget for FY 2012, restores some of the cuts we made in recent years but still reflects our constrained circumstances. In a budget year that continues to be complicated by the national and regional economic downturn, this budget protects core services and “safety net” programs. We will formally adopt the budget on May 24, and it will go into effect on July 1.

Education continues to be our top priority, and we appropriated $2.0 billion in tax-supported funds for Montgomery County Public Schools, funding 100 percent of the Board of Education’s request and meeting the County’s Maintenance of Effort obligation. That is an increase of $50.7 million, or 2.6 percent, over FY 2012, and does not include the $27.2 million for the pension cost shift. The tax-supported budget for Montgomery College grows by $0.4 million to $218.4 million, a 0.2 percent increase, and funds 100 percent of the College’s request.

Over the last three years, the County Government workforce has been reduced by 998 positions—approximately 10 percent. The FY 2013 budget restores 92 positions, including 58 in the Police Department through increased staffing and the consolidation of 911 call-takers, and 15 in libraries.

The budget shows reductions totaling $14 million in current County Government spending. The County is expected to save $6.4 million in electricity costs as a result of newly negotiated electricity supply rates for County Government accounts.

Funding for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will increase by $5.4 million to $102.2 million, a 5.3 percent increase and 100 percent of the agency’s request. M-NCPPC had been hit hard by budget cuts in recent years, so I’m pleased we were able to provide this finding. We sometimes forget that our master plans are an important part of our economic development, so it is critical that we keep these updates on track for our long term future.

We approved the County Executive’s recommendation to implement an Emergency Medical Services Transport reimbursement program, which is expected to generate $18 million in annual revenue in future years. We created a dedicated account for this reimbursement revenue so that the funds will be used solely for needed improvements to the Fire and Rescue Service. This funding could be used to purchase replacement apparatus; restore Fire and Rescue services; purchase portable Fire and Rescue equipment for career and volunteer personnel; or improve and maintain Fire and Rescue facilities.

We added or restored a number of significant items related to Health and Human Services, including funds for health care for the uninsured, an increase in child care subsidies, an increase in energy assistance rebates and an increase in dental care for low-income patients. We also restored funding to restart the Conservation Corps job training program.

Economic development remained a priority for the entire Council and for me personally. We appropriated funds to partner with the Montgomery Business Development Corporation to market Montgomery County as a compelling place to conduct business and to attract and retain businesses. We created the position of Chief Innovation Officer to assist in transforming the County’s service delivery and government operations. We also added two positions to the Department of Economic Development to implement Bill 5-12 that created a Small Business Navigator to help small business owners start and maintain their businesses. I’m very pleased that even with constrained resources, we made the decision to invest in our future. Only through job creation will our residents and our county as a whole be able to achieve the future we envision.

To aid both residents and businesses, we took a significant first step in rolling back the energy tax increase, approved as an emergency measure two years ago, by reducing revenue from the 2010 tax increase by 10 percent for FY 2013.

The budget also maintains property tax revenue at the current level, which is $32.7 million below the Charter limit, and includes a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. Because of declining property assessments, the weighted property tax rate will increase by 4.5 cents to 99.1 cents.

We continued our commitment to restore recent reductions to the County Libraries budget. The approved budget of $31.4 million is an increase of $2.9 million (10.3 percent from the approved FY 2012 level). We added $200,000 to the Executive’s recommendation to increase purchases of library materials.

The budget includes funding for all the economic provisions in the negotiated collective bargaining agreements with County employees represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. The budget includes funding for most County employees to receive a $2,000 one-time lump sum payment that will not increase the employee’s base salary. The budget also includes funds to reinstate longevity raises for eligible long-time County employees and to reinstate limited tuition assistance for all County employees. Our employees really have been great throughout the economic downturn, and I’m glad that we finally are able to provide some measure of increased compensation this year. It is certainly overdue and well deserved.

M-NCPPC is taking the same one-time lump sum approach. Montgomery College provided a one-time lump sum payment to its employees in FY 2012 and will not be making a payment in FY 2013. MCPS plans to provide increases to base pay.

The budget maintains the County’s commitment to prudent fiscal policies that the Council and Executive mutually agreed are critical to maintaining sound fiscal management. The budget increases County reserve levels to $302 million to cushion the County against any additional unanticipated economic setbacks. It also more than doubles the pre-funding of retiree health benefits.

The County’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) that is the focus of major review every two years was updated for Fiscal Years 2013-18. The plan includes funding of $4.3 billion. The six-year CIP for all agencies (excluding the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission) addresses major projects.

Among the notable items funded in the CIP is approval for the Wheaton Redevelopment Program that will guide revitalization of Wheaton’s downtown area. We also restored funding for the Bethesda South Metro entrance to demonstrate its commitment to the Purple Line, and included funds for the Capital Crescent Trail. Traffic projects that continue the implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan also remain funded and on schedule. Planning for a proposed County-wide rapid transit system continues.

The CIP also includes funding for sciences and student services buildings and a new parking garage at Montgomery College; a long-awaited North Potomac Recreation Center; and critical pieces of bike infrastructure, such as the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

The CIP for Montgomery Public Schools includes funding for 20 new schools and/or additions, including nine projects new to the CIP.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bike to Work Day this Friday

Have you ever wondered if you could make your commute by bike? Here's your chance to give it a try with a little help from Montgomery County Commuter Services. Montgomery County is joining jurisdictions nationwide for Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 18, and I'll be at the White Flint and Rockville pit stops, so I hope to see you there. Bike commuting not only has exercise benefits; it also is an effective way to improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and noise, and conserve energy. For most trips of less than five miles, commuting by bicycle may take about the same amount of time as traditional transportation options. For longer trips, you can combine Ride On, which has bike racks on the front of all buses, with bicycle commuting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Welcome Christopher Cihlar

Good news. Christopher Cihlar will join us as the next Director of the Office of Legislative Oversight. OLO is an independent Legislative Branch office that conducts program evaluations, fiscal analyses, audits, and policy research projects assigned by the Council.

Since January 2008 Mr. Cihlar has served as Manager of CountyStat, the highly regarded program started in 2007 by County Executive Isiah Leggett to monitor and improve the performance of County Government departments. Mr. Cihlar previously served as an evaluator and consultant, providing analytical work for the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office, the Points of Light Foundation, and other organizations. He received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University’s Department of Policy Analysis and Management.

By law the Council appoints the OLO Director to a renewable four-year term. The term of Mr. Cihlar’s current appointment will end in January 2016. He will begin his new job as OLO Director on June 4.

Mr. Cihlar will succeed Karen Orlansky, who plans to attend a two-year graduate program at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University Law School. Ms. Orlansky joined the Council staff in 1981 and became an OLO staff member in 1985. She has served as OLO Director since 1994 and is only the second person to hold that position since OLO was established in 1976.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Governor Chooses Locally Preferred Alternative for Corridor Cities Transitway

Today Governor Martin O’Malley announced that the locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) will be a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. This will make the CCT Maryland’s first BRT system. Following Governor O’Malley’s announcement, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will submit the project to the Federal Transit Administration under its New Starts Program for federal funding.

Earlier this year, the Council recommended BRT for the CCT in light of a study showing a greater economic benefit to the County if the project is built sooner. This marked a change from our earlier decision to support light rail transit (LRT).

Given the huge boost our economy will get from the BRT, I’m glad to see the project moving along. We need the CCT, and we need it sooner rather than later.

Here’s the full text of the Governor’s press release:


New Bus Rapid Transit System to be a First for Maryland

HANOVER, MD (May 11, 2012) – Governor Martin O’Malley announced today that the locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) will be Maryland’s first Bus Rapid Transit system operating along a 15-mile north-south corridor from the Shady Grove Metrorail station to the COMSAT facility near Clarksburg in Montgomery County. The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will now submit the project to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) under its New Starts Program as the MTA prepares for the preliminary engineering phase of the project.

“The CCT Bus Rapid Transit line will provide easy, accessible, cost efficient transportation for Montgomery County’s neighborhoods” said Governor O’Malley. “This north-south transitway line will reduce our dependence on cars as we continue our goal to double public transit use by 2020. The CCT will support nearly 15,000 jobs in the corridor, help facilitate smart growth through mixed used development and it can be built in a timely manner."

The preferred alternative will connect major employment, residential and activity centers in the corridor including Shady Grove, King Farm, Crown Farm, Life Sciences Center (LSC), Kentlands, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Metropolitan Grove, Germantown, and COMSAT. There will be direct connections to the Red Line at Shady Grove, the MARC Brunswick Line at Metropolitan Grove and local bus service throughout the corridor. The CCT has the support of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, as well as the Montgomery County Council, the Mayors of Gaithersburg and Rockville and many others along the 15-mile corridor.

“The significant economic advantages of implementing Bus Rapid Transit is not lost on Montgomery County,” said County Executive Leggett. “Bus Rapid Transit can be built sooner and at a significantly lower cost while complementing our master plan. The design and construction of the CCT project is vital for the county and state, and we must collectively move forward to bring it into service as soon as possible.”

Under this preferred alternative, the CCT, as proposed, will be a pedestrian friendly system with a total of 16 stations. It is projected to carry 47,700 boardings a day by 2035. The CCT will operate at street level on a fully dedicated right-of-way separate from existing traffic, allowing for fast and reliable operation. CCT stations will be located in or near dense residential communities or commercial and business centers putting the system within walking distance for many and making it easy to access. Parking will be available through existing and/or new Park and Rides at Shady Grove, Crown Farm, LSC West, Metropolitan Grove, Germantown, and COMSAT. The transitway is being designed to accommodate a future hiker/biker trail over its entire length.

“Modern, smart and efficient transportation infrastructure is critical to growing our communities, expanding our economy, creating jobs and protecting our environment,” said Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown, who earlier this month spoke at the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute Forum in College Park. “The CCT Bus Rapid Transit project will provide fast dependable travel time on a dedicated transitway while offering the flexibility for buses to directly serve surrounding communities. The choice of BRT is a good fit for the needs and resources of the corridor’s communities, and it will help ensure that Montgomery County has a robust and diverse transportation infrastructure.”

The CCT BRT service will feature innovative, stylized vehicles with low floors and multiple doors opening at sidewalk level allowing people to walk on and off as they do on the Metro subway. The vehicles use alternative clean fuels and state-of-the-art technology. Fares will be purchased before boarding, not onboard the vehicle. Concepts showing bus rapid transit can be found at

The CCT will be constructed in two phases. Phase I will involve a 9-mile segment between Shady Grove and Metropolitan Grove. Phase II will be 6-miles long from Metropolitan Grove to COMSAT. The area encompassed by the Phase I segment has seen significant development over the past 20 years and has reserved transitway rights-of-way and will support the ridership to begin this service. Additional information on the CCT can be found at

Planning for this project has included extensive public participation and the MTA has worked with local communities to develop a plan that provides the greatest benefits while minimizing adverse impacts. Public outreach and agency coordination will continue to be an integral part of the development of the final environmental impact statement, providing opportunities for local residents and stakeholders to contribute to the planning and design of the project.

CCT Bus Rapid Transit Key Facts

• Mode: Bus Rapid Transit

• Overall Length: 15 miles

• Stations: 16 proposed

• Average Daily Ridership: 47,700

• Maintenance Facility: Near Metropolitan Grove

• Bus Rapid Transit Vehicles: 68

Projected Capital Cost

• Total Project: $828 million

• Phase I: $545 million

• Phase II: $283 million

One-way Travel Time

• COMSAT to Shady Grove: 49 minutes

• Metropolitan Grove to Shady Grove: 33 minutes

• Frequency of service: 6 minutes during peak periods and 10 minutes off peak


• Summer 2012 – begin New Starts process

• Spring 2013 – FTA Approval to Enter Preliminary Engineering

Dependent on Funding

• Winter 2014/2015: Initiate Final Design Activities

• Summer 2017: Receive Full Funding Grant Agreement from FTA

• Summer 2017: Begin Right-of-Way Acquisitions/Permitting/Agreements

• Fall 2018: Begin Construction

• 2020: Service begins

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Flu Outbreak Traced to Grocery Bag

I’ve been saying this for awhile--make sure you wash your reusable grocery bags. According to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, an Oregon outbreak of norovirus has been traced to a reusable grocery bag. See the full article.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Twilight Tuesdays on Veterans Plaza

Check out Twilight Tuesdays performance series on Veterans Plaza every Tuesday 7-9 p.m. through October. Here are some of the upcoming events:
May 8: The 2nd Story Band
May 15: Cafe y Caribe with Poet Vladimir Monge
May 22: Lucky Punches
May 29: Wendy and the Lost Boys
June 5: Lara Family & Friends Steel Drum Ensembble

Friday, May 4, 2012

Groundbreaking for Germantown Town Center Urban Park

I was pleased to attend this week’s groundbreaking ceremony for the future Germantown Town Center Urban Park. The park is slated for completion in 2014 and will be located on 8.8 acres of land adjacent to the Germantown Library on Century Blvd. The park will create plenty of inviting open space, as well as interpretive trails and boardwalks, gathering areas and enhanced wetland areas for education.

The park will also feature public art components created by artist David Hess that will inspire the imagination and complement the cultural setting of the Library and Black Rock Arts Center while serving as gathering spaces.

Hess will create three large pergolas using over 14,000 feet of twisted stainless steel material formed atop six large natural boulders. The pergolas will create gathering places within a raised plaza overlooking a formal lawn and the existing wetlands. Hess will also build sculptural handrails and benches within the Park.

The Germantown Town Center Urban Park will be passive in nature and ADA compliant for universal access. The park will feature a fully integrated stormwater management system and improvements to the pond and naturalized wetlands to nurture and protect the various plant and animal wildlife native to the region.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Charter Review Commision Wants Your Views

The Montgomery County Charter Review Commission wants your comments on a variety of issues to determine if the current system of County Government adequately addresses the needs of County residents. The Commission is requesting comments be submitted no later than June 30.

General comments are also welcome, but the Commission is seeking community input on the following issues: (1) if the Charter should allow a special hiring authority for people with disabilities; (2) whether the Charter should be amended to provide for the removal of a Councilmember for a serious violation of the Ethics law; and (3) if the Council should have a Council President that is elected by the voters to a four-year term.

Special Hiring Authority

Persons with disabilities face persistent barriers to employment, including some employers’ presumptions about persons with disabilities, the structure of jobs and the personal circumstances of the job seeker. The Commission is considering whether to amend the Charter to allow a special hiring authority for people with disabilities. Under the special hiring authority, a hiring manager could directly hire a person with a disability into a merit system position and bypass the typical merit system hiring process. Applicants would still need to possess the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the position.

Removal of a Councilmember

The Charter provides for the removal of a Councilmember, after a public hearing is held, if at least six Councilmembers find that the Councilmember is unable to perform the duties of the office because of a physical or mental disability. The Commission is considering whether to expand the reasons for removal to include removal for a serious violation of the ethics law.

Council President Election and Term

Currently, the Council President is elected to a one-year term and the Charter requires the Council to elect a President from among its members. The Commission is considering whether the President should be elected by the voters and whether the term should be longer than one year. Related issues, such as whether a popularly elected President should be a district or at-large member, have arisen.

Mission of the Charter Review Commission

The Charter is the constitutional framework for County government. Charter Section 509 provides for an 11-member Charter Review Commission to study the Montgomery County Charter. The Commission must report to the Council in May 2014 with recommendations for possible Charter revisions. These recommendations may lead to proposed Charter amendments that are voted on by the electorate in November 2014.
The current members of the Commission are: Molly Mahoney Matthews, Chair; Mark Feinroth, Vice Chair; Jeannie Cho; Diane Nash Dillon; Wendell Holloway; Guled Kassim; Thomas King; and Albert Pearce.

If you want to present your opinions on the issues listed above or are interested in recommending additional issues for the Commission, submit your recommendations to: Charter Review Commission, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, 5th Floor, Rockville, MD 20850. You can also e-mail your comments to Get your comments in by June 30.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Girls Changing the World Through Information Technology

A couple of years ago, I chaired the Girls in Technology Task Force—a group of public sector, private industry and education professionals committed to increasing the number if girls involved in technology studies. We learned that seven out of 10 of the fastest growing occupations projected from 2004-2014 are technology-related professions. However, by grade eight, half as many girls as boys show interest in careers that require math, science and technology knowledge and skills. As a result, far fewer girls are positioned for technology professions, and there is no evidence that numbers will increase under current conditions without a concerted effort to improve the situation. So, get your girl over to Montgomery College for the Girls Changing the World Through Information Technology: A Conference for Middle School Girls on May 12 from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Montgomery College’s HTSC Building on the Germantown Campus. This free conference will give middle school girls the opportunity to explore careers in information technology through exciting hands-on workshops, inspiring keynote speakers and games.