Friday, June 29, 2012

Small Business Plus! Program to Launch

I am very pleased that Montgomery County will be investing with our local community banks so that they will be able to make small business loans to help with job creation and economic development in our County. I’ve been a strong supporter of this program, so I’m glad it is now hitting the ground.

Montgomery County today announced an early July launch of the Small Business Plus! program. Through a unique collaboration between Montgomery County and community banks headquartered in the County, Small Business Plus! was developed to promote job growth through small business lending and earn a competitive rate of return for the County on its investment. Ten million dollars in County funds will be invested in participating community banks which will commit an equal amount, with the result that $20 million will be lent to local small businesses to further promote the creation of new jobs.

Banks are eligible to participate if they meet the following criteria: they must be headquartered in Montgomery County; must have assets greater than $200 million and less than $5 billion; and meet certain safety and soundness standards established by the County.

Under the program, a participating bank must originate the loans within 12 calendar months of the commitment by the County to make a program related deposit in that bank. All of the funds deposited will be covered by FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insurance. Montgomery County will produce an annual report documenting the loan activity and estimating the number of jobs created through the program. This program is similar to a very effective program that has been successful in the State of Massachusetts and another program for which legislation has been introduced in the District of Columbia. Earlier this year the Maryland General Assembly approved a “Lend Local Act” to boost small business lending.

Among the banks who have agreed to partner with the County are Capital Bank, Congressional Bank, EagleBank, Monument Bank, and OBA Bank.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

County Now Recycles More Plastics

Now you can start recycling your clam shell containers and packaging for fruits, vetetables, cakes and pies. Further enhancing its reputation as a leader in recycling, the County is now accepting PET thermofoam plastics in the blue bins.

PET plastic is used to make items such as cups and rigid packaging. It is a transparent, lightweight, strong, safe, shatterproof and recyclable packaging material suitable for many products. PET is commonly used to package fresh fruits and vegetables, bakery items, prepared foods and salads, and deli items. PET containers are easily identified by the #1 code on or near the bottom.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fourth of July Events

Montgomery County will again host two fireworks displays on July 4 -- Germantown Glory at the SoccerPlex in the South Germantown Recreational Park, 18041 Central Park Circle, Boyds and Mid-County Sparkles at Albert Einstein High School, 11135 Newport Road, Kensington. Both fireworks displays will begin at approximately 9:15 p.m.

Germantown Glory will kick off at 7 p.m. with a concert by Bobby and the Believers. Ample, free parking is available. Mid-County Sparkles activities begin at 7:30 p.m. with a concert by Quiet Fire Soul. Since there will be no on-site parking at the school or at adjacent properties, except for handicapped parking, shuttle buses will pick up passengers, beginning at 6:15 p.m., at Westfield Wheaton Metro Parking Garage adjacent to the JC Penney. Overflow parking will be available in the south parking lot by JC Penney. Low lawn chairs, blankets and coolers are welcome at both events. Food vendors will be on site. No alcoholic beverages are permitted. The rain date for fireworks only is July 5. No shuttle service will be available on the 5th.

In addition to the County’s two events, a number of neighborhoods and municipalities are hosting celebrations. I’ll be at Leisure World, Takoma Park, Wood Acres, Somerset and Friendship Heights, so stop by and say hello.

To find out what’s open and what’s closed as well as parking and trash pick-up information for the County, see the holiday schedule in my June 25 post.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Improve Your Home Improvement Experience

Eager participants in the Improve Your Home Improvement Experience forum, which I co-hosted, went home with answers to their questions as well as questions they didn’t even know to ask. Representatives from the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, our own Department of Permitting Services and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition presented various perspectives and advice for those undertaking home improvements.

The County’s Office of Consumer Protection reported that they get more complaints about home improvements than any other category except trespass towing. That’s disturbing, but the good news is that there are a lot of resources to help homeowners. Panelists encouraged people to get the facts before starting a project; pay no more than 1/3 of the total in advance; check a company’s credit with suppliers like TW Perry; and resist high-pressure or door-to-door sales tactics.

If things still go wrong, there are more options. In fact, the MHIC has a Guarantee Fund that protects you up to $20,000 for actual losses if you use a licensed contractor. Panelists couldn’t stress enough how important it is to check the license. Also, avoid signing a contract with an arbitration clause, as this limits your options if you are dissatisfied with the work.

For more information, check out the 12 Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor in in my June 21 post. We owe a big thank you to the Office of Consumer Protection and the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Holiday Schedule for Fourth of July

Here's our holiday schedule for the Fourth of July:

~ County Offices – closed
~ Libraries – closed
~ County liquor stores – open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
~ Recreation – indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be open as scheduled. Administrative offices, senior centers and community centers are closed; all classes, including aquatics classes, are cancelled.
~ Ride On – Saturday schedule
~ Metrobus – Saturday schedule
~ Metrorail – 4th of July special service
~ 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, June 21, 2012

12 Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Here’s some great information from our Office of Consumer Protection. Stay tuned for more on this important topic.

12 Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

1. Check to confirm if the contractor and any subcontractors are licensed or required to be licensed.

2. Read and understand all terms of the contract. Insure that all verbal promises are reduced to writing. Does your contract include:
~ Three day right of cancellation (Door-to-door Sales Act)
~ Arbitration clause/procedure for handling disputed issues
~ Starting and completion dates
~ Work schedule and payment schedule
~ Warranties to cover both labor and materials
~ Contractor’s liability coverage
~ Site preparation and site clean up
~ Signature of the applicable parties.

3. Check to determine if all necessary permits are obtained; this could include building, zoning, plumbing, electrical and/or environmental permits.

4. Check to ascertain if there are any quasi-governmental requirements such as approval from homeowners’ associations and/or historic preservation requirements.

5. Obtain more than one written estimate.

6. Ask for references and check them.

7. Check with your local consumer protection office or other governmental regulatory agency regarding complaints and building codes/permits.

8. Determine if there will be a site supervisor. If subcontractors are used, require a release of liens.

9. Know how to reach your contractor in the event of an emergency, or in the event you have to file a lawsuit.

10. Do not hire an unlicensed contractor.

11. Be cautious of individuals going door to door soliciting/selling.

12. Never allow a contractor to pressure you into accepting a job, and be leery of special/secret/one day/take-it-or-leave-it offers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Proud to Honor ScienceMONTGOMERY Winners

What a treat it was to recognize four exceptionally bright students from ScienceMONTGOMERY who went on to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

ScienceMONTGOMERY is a non-profit organization that uses the strength of about 200 volunteers to provide Montgomery County youth with the opportunity to compete in one of the largest science fairs in the country. The fair offers cash awards for middle and high school levels in categories including behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physics.

ScienceMONTGOMERY is associated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science fair, and this year sponsored four grand prize winners to compete at ISEF in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The grand prize winners who competed in ISEF and who received the County Council proclamation today were:
~ Pavleen Thurkal with a project in Computer Science: Hierarchical Automatic Image Based Human Age Estimation Using Relevance Vector Machine Regression and Multi-Classifier Fusion
~ Vinay Sriram with a project in Computer Science: Quantitative Modeling of Processing Cost and Energy Consumption for Cryptographically Enhanced Secure Internet Routing Protocol
~ Nina Jessica Lu with a project in Biology: Determination of Binding Energy Hotspots on a Broadly Neutralizing Antibody Against HIV-1
~ And David Zhang with a project in Physics: Sodium Abundance of Sungrazing Comets from Multi-Spacecraft Photometric and Morphological Analysis.

The students told me that participating in ScienceMONTGOMERY, and the subsequent trip to meet and compete with over 1,500 students from 68 nations, cemented their interest in pursuing further STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics) research and studies.

ScienceMONTGOMERY president Gary Cahn and volunteers Kate Baldwin and Ellen Kominers also accepted the proclamation today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

County Raises Recycling Goal to 70 Percent

Upholding its reputation as a local leader in recycling efforts, Montgomery County is stepping up again with the establishment of a new, higher recycling goal--70 percent of the waste stream being recycled by the end of 2020.

The new goal is the first to be established since the original goal of recycling 50 percent of the waste stream was established nearly 20 years ago. It puts Montgomery County in an elite group of major jurisdictions which have the highest recycling goals in the United States. Both Florida and California have recycling rate goals of 75 percent, while the City of Seattle's recycling rate goal is 70 percent. Maryland's recycling rate goal is 35 percent with an additional waste reduction goal of 5 percent. For more information about recycling in Montgomery County, visit

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Council Discusses Transit

Congestion is the number one quality of life issue in Montgomery County, and it significantly impacts our competitiveness. Check out this week’s Council discussion focused on the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway and a proposed County-wide rapid transit vehicle network. This discussion is on June 12, agenda item 5.

Friday, June 8, 2012

PHED to Consider Gaithersburg's Annexation Petition

At 2 p.m. on Monday, The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee (PHED) will hold a worksession on the City of Gaithersburg’s petition to annex approximately 27.9 acres of land located near Frederick Road (Route 355) and Shady Grove Road. The City of Rockville, which is basically separated from Gaithersburg by Shady Grove Road, opposes the annexation because of the potential uses Gaithersburg may consider.

You can attend the worksession in the Seventh Floor Council Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville or watch it live on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also will be available via streaming through the County Web site at

The property, which is addressed by the County’s Shady Grove Sector Plan, currently includes commercial enterprises owned by Sears. The property is included in the potential maximum expansion limits of both Gaithersburg and Rockville.

There is concern about requests for rezoning that could lead to residential development. The County Executive sent a letter to me as chair of the PHED Committee that he would not support an annexation and rezoning plan that includes residential development because the property is located near the County’s Solid Waste Transfer Station.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Apply Now for Property Tax Credits

Montgomery County homeowners who have a limited income or are at least 70 years of age may be eligible for property tax credits that will limit the amount of taxes they must pay. One application will determine eligibility for three programs -- the Maryland Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit Program; the Montgomery County Supplemental Property Tax Credit; and the Montgomery County Senior Property Tax Credit.

Property owners who have applied for a tax credit previously and been denied are encouraged to apply again, since the tax credit programs have changed and been improved over the years, and your income situation may have changed.

In order to be eligible for the Maryland Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit and the County Supplemental Property Tax Credit, a homeowner must:

• Have an annual household income of up to $60,000;
• Own and live in their home in Montgomery County;
• Must have lived in that home for at least six months, or will live in it for six of the next 12 months;
• The combined net worth of everyone in the household must not exceed $200,000. This does not include the value of the principal residence or the cash value of any qualified retirement savings or individual retirement accounts. It does include any other real estate or investments that are owned;
• Only the first $300,000 of the home’s assessed value counts towards these credits;
• The cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville provide additional tax credits to their homeowners under similar programs.

Homeowners who are at least 70 years of age will automatically receive the Montgomery County Senior Property Tax Credit if they already receive either or both of the Maryland and Montgomery County Tax Credits.

Homeowners who file and qualify after May 1 but before the September 1, 2012 deadline will receive either a “revised” tax bill that reflects the credit amount or a refund if the taxes have already been paid in full.

To apply for these tax credits, homeowners must fill out one application form each year. Application forms are available by calling the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) at 1-800-944-7403, or by downloading the form and instructions from the SDAT website at

Friday, June 1, 2012

Is Rapid Transit Right for Montgomery?

The Montgomery County Transit Task Force released its recommendations for establishing a 160-mile, innovative, best-in-class rapid transit system that creates a comprehensive transit network. The Task Force recommends that the system be built in three phases over the next nine to 20 years to mitigate both construction and affordability issues.

The proposed rapid transit system would use vehicles that would operate like “light rail on rubber tires” and is more typically referred to as bus rapid transit. To the maximum extent possible, the network would have separate, dedicated rapid transit vehicle (RTV) lanes, with an emphasis on creating a network with both north-south and east-west connections.

The report states that an RTV network is essential if the County wants to achieve its smart growth vision and successfully compete for its fair share of the projected job growth in the region. Although still a rough estimate, the Task Force estimates capital costs for the RTV system to be $1.83 billion. Annual operating costs for the system are estimated to be $1.1 million per mile.

While I think it is great to think big about our future, I continue to ask myself what is economically feasible and manageable for us long term, especially in light of our already extensive backlog of unfunded transportation projects. A recent staff report to the Planning Board raises several issues, including a concern that the proposed network could create a huge amount if transportation capacity beyond that needed to support our current planned land uses. Also, The Gazette has a nice article in addition to an interesting editorial about the report. Check these out and let me know what you think.