Friday, December 28, 2012

What's In and What's Out for 2013

OUT – Smoking: Secondhand smoke is classified as a “known human carcinogen,” and it is responsible for about 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults in the U.S. each year. That’s why I proposed a ban on smoking on property owned or leased by Montgomery County. We will have a public hearing on my plan on January 15, so you still have time to weigh in.

IN – Business: The Montgomery Business Development Corporation named Holly Sears as its first president. The quasi-public, nonprofit organization seeks to engage executive level business leaders to establish a vision for the County’s long-term economic future; to develop and articulate strategies to achieve that vision; to advocate for strategic changes in practices and policies; and to set performance metrics and report on its achievement. It delivered its first report to the County Council in October.

IN – Bicycles: With bikeshare coming to Montgomery County, I am advocating for more bike lanes.

OUT – Complicated Zoning: Planners at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission have undertaken an ambitious effort to rewrite the Zoning Code to modernize antiquated, redundant zoning regulations and create new tools to help achieve goals in community plans. The County Council will consider the revised code in the early 2013.

OUT – Rip Offs: Residents made a lot of home improvements this year thanks to the derecho and superstorm Sandy. Many turned to these twelve tips for hiring a home improvement contractor for guidance.

IN – Wheaton: The Wheaton Redevelopment Program will guide revitalization of Wheaton’s downtown area with more than $66.1 million committed to create a civic core in the heart of downtown Wheaton. This plan gets Wheaton moving by providing a new employment presence, green space and a long-term commitment to doing what it takes to make Wheaton shine.

IN – Kensington: The Kensington Sector Plan will guide the long-term redevelopment of the Town of Kensington and surrounding area. Because of collaboration among neighbors, planners and municipal and county elected officials, we created and approved a plan that will achieve the two goals everyone agreed on—revitalizing the area’s commercial core and preserving residential communities.

IN – New County Council Districts: As an at-large Councilmember, I still represent you if you live anywhere in Montgomery County. However, you may have a different district Councilmember.

IN – Girl Power: Thanks to the Talk With a Teen Girl Today forum put on by Crittenton Services, we now have clearer insight into the real lives of girls who live in our community. I was proud to serve on the discussion panel with Crittenton participants and board members.

OUT – Light Rail on the CCT: We changed our recommendation from light rail to bus rapid transit for the Corridor Cities Transitway in response to a study showing a greater economic benefit to the County if the project is built sooner.

OUT – Delays: The good-faith, collaborative, cross-agency effort to streamline our complicated and unwieldy development approval process makes it easier to do business in the county.

IN – Maintenance of Effort: Although MOE was on my out list last year, our analysts project that new State maintenance of effort requirements will mean that spending for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and County Government will have to be reduced by 4.9 percent next year.

IN – Size: With a population of 971,777, Montgomery County isn’t just the biggest county in Maryland. It also boasts more residents than many states, including Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota and Vermont. In fact, our county is nearly twice as populous as Wyoming which is home to just 563,526 people.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Schedule for Christmas Eve

Montgomery County Government Offices will close Monday, December 24 in addition to December 25. Here's the holiday schedule.

~ County Offices – closed

~ Libraries – closed on December 24 and 25.

~ County liquor stores – open on December 24 until 7 p.m., and closed on December 25

~ Recreation – all facilities closed December 24 and 25

~ Ride On – on December 24, will operate on a regular weekday schedule, ending service early with last trips departing at 10 p.m. On December 25, will operate on a Sunday schedule.

~ Metrobus – on December 24, regular service; on December 25, Sunday schedule

~ Metrorail – on December 24, regular service; on December 25, Sunday schedule

~ Refuse/recycling pickup – on December 24, regular collection; on December 25, no collection*

~ Transfer Station – on December 24, open until 5 p.m.; on December 25, closed

~ Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free on December 24 and 25.

*Collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday).

How to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

You can recycle your Christmas tree by placing the entire tree at the curb by 7:00 a.m. on your recycling collection day. Just keep your tree in its natural state and remember to remove the stand and all decorations, including lights, ornaments, tinsel and garlands. There should be nothing attached to the tree. Do not place your tree in a plastic bag. Trees with root balls are considered “live” and therefore cannot be collected as part of this recycling program. In addition, artificial trees cannot be collected as part of the recycling program.

Wreaths, garlands and roping made from evergreen trees are typically bound together with wire and cannot be recycled unless the wire is removed from the greens. If there is no wiring attached, place the greens in paper bags or in reusable containers or bundled as yard trim and place them at the curb for collection on recycling day.

You can also recycle branches and needles at home by placing them under outdoor trees and shrubs as temporary winter mulch, or you can chop them up and add them to a backyard compost pile or compost bin.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Apply Now for Homestead Tax Credit

Remember to submit your one-time application with the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) by Dec. 31 to establish eligibility to the Homestead Property Tax Credit. The credit limits the amount of assessment on which a homeowner actually pays taxes on their principal residence. The credit does NOT apply to rental or vacation properties.

The Homestead Tax Credit was created to assist homeowners with the fiscal impact from large assessment increases. The program limits the annual taxable assessment increase to 10 percent a year in Maryland. For example, if the annual phase-in of assessment growth is 25 percent, the homestead credit will reflect 15 percent while the remaining 10 percent is reflected in taxable assessment growth that year.

If an application is not submitted by Dec. 31, 2012, the Homestead Tax Credit will be disallowed beginning with the July 1 2013 tax year bill. Homeowners who have already applied for the tax credit do not have to apply again.

Homeowners who purchased their dwellings before Jan. 1, 2008 (including those who received the credit in the past) must file to continue receiving the credit.
The application form was included in the assessment notice mailed to one-third of the homeowners at the end of December in each of 2008, 2009 and 2010, as their assessments came up for renewal. Homeowners received their credits through December 31, 2012, via a grace period.

SDAT offers three choices to apply for the tax credit:

A. File electronically: Call 410-767-2165 or toll free 1-866-650-8783 or e-mail to requesting an application be mailed out to you. Be sure to include in your e-mail your street address for the property and the specific County where the property is located. This form will include the Property Account Number and a special “Access Number” that will enable you to file the form electronically and receive back an e-mail confirmation receipt. To access the form, go to:

B. Mail the application: You may also mail in the completed paper application the Department sends you, but will not receive a confirmation receipt. Print and mail the completed application that can be found on the web site at Applications must be postmarked by Dec. 31, 2012.

C. Fax the application: Fax in the completed paper application to SDAT at 410-225-9344. Applications must be faxed by Dec. 31, 2012.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Schedule for Christmas and New Year

Here’s our holiday schedule for Christmas and New Year:

Montgomery County government will observe the following holiday schedule for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays on Tuesday, December 25 and Tuesday, January 1

~ County Offices – closed

~ Libraries – closed on December 25 and January 1; all branches will close at 6 p.m. on December 24 and 31; Olney Express Service will be closed December 23 through January 1; Gaithersburg Interim Library will be closed December 24, 25, 31 and January 1

~ County liquor stores – closed on December 25 and January 1; will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on December 24 and 31

~ Recreation – all facilities closed December 25 and January 1; all community and neighborhood recreation centers will be closed December 24 through January 1; senior centers will be closed December 23 through January 1

~ Ride On – Sunday schedule; Christmas Eve - Will end service early with last trips departing terminals at around 10 PM

~ 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

Sodexo Inc. Staying in Gaithersburg

Here’s some great news from our Department of Economic Development:

Sodexo Inc. has re-signed the lease on its Gaithersburg North American headquarters building, ensuring the company and its current 567 full-time jobs will remain at the site for the next decade. In addition, the company--the leader in Quality of Life services and part of the Global Fortune 500 Sodexo Group--plans to add 50 new jobs over the next three years. To learn more, see the full press release.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nonprofits: Apply Now for a Council Grant

Attention, Montgomery County nonprofits, the deadline to submit your application for a FY14 County Council grant is Thursday, January 17.

We believe that a strong partnership with nonprofit organizations is critical to meeting the needs of County residents. To request funding through the County Council’s grants process, you must submit a grant application for each funding request. The grants are for one year only, although you may reapply in subsequent years.

I encourage you to attend the informational workshop on Monday, January 7, at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Third Floor Hearing Room, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Conference and Visitors Bureau Features Holiday Events

Are you looking for holiday activities right here in Montgomery County? From light festivals to ice skating to giving opportunities, check out the Montgomery County Conference and Visitors Bureau. While you are there, click the things to do tab for enjoyment all year long.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Update on Fiscal Plan and Economic Indicators

Tomorrow we will get our six-month update on the County’s fiscal plan and economic indicators. We expect to hear that compared to the June 2012 edition, current fiscal projections for FY13-14 are essentially unchanged. Therefore, a balanced County budget in FY14 would require a 1.0 percent reduction in overall agency spending, but because of State maintenance of effort requirements for MCPS and Montgomery College, spending for M-NCPPC and County Government would decline by 4.9 percent. In the June update this decline was slightly larger, 5.2 percent. To hear the full report, tune in to County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon) at 10:00 tomorrow morning. The meeting also will be streamed through the County Web site.

Friday, December 7, 2012

High School Student Joins our Team for a Day

Yesterday we had the privilege of hosting high school student Amanda Cohen in my office as a part of a job shadowing program. She wrote me this terriffic letter about her day. Do you agree she'll make a good public servant some day? She certainly has the diplomacy skills. Here are her experiences in her own words:

Dear Council Member Floreen,

Thank you so much for giving me a sneak peek into the world of local government. When I first arrived at the County Council building the large glass doors and sleek elevators easily intimidated me and as I waited in the sixth floor lobby my anxiety grew. I tried to think of everything I could remember from my AP Government class last year, hoping that the reason I began to love government would come to my rescue. Luckily a friendly face came to wake me out of my nervous trance. She introduced herself as Jocelyn and as she showed me around the sixth floor offices my nerves began to ease and I began to realize, once again, how much I enjoyed public service.

Very few students have the opportunity to experience such an amazing and insightful day of real world government. I was first sent to a meeting in the smaller council room where the newly elected Montgomery County President, Nancy Navarro and Council Member George Leventhal questioned an expert on the effects of Obama Care on Montgomery County. During my second meeting, on the affects of Hurricane Sandy, Jocelyn took me out early and I finally had the chance to meet you. The first thing I noticed when we met was the air of optimism and joy that radiated from around the office. Everyone was smiling and laughing. It seemed my preconceived notions of government workers being dull and dreary were completely wrong. Your staff is absolutely amazing! They welcomed me in excitedly and laughed every time someone walked by and recognized that I wasn't your regular office aide.

Everyone at the council was genuinely interested in my perspective of education and teaching, and asked many questions about my interest in local government. I learned so much about the Council and how it impacts the one million people it serves for that I now recognize the trivial role of local government. The men and women of the Montgomery County Council are the people who make the laws that directly and immediately impact all of its constituents. I am so greatful for this experience and can never thank you enough for letting me come and shadow the council for a day.

Amanda Cohen
Bethesda-chevy Chase High School

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letter to The Gazette on Smoking Ban

Check out my letter in today’s Gazette in response to their November 20 editorial about my proposed smoking ban. For your convenience, I have reprinted the letter here:

Secondhand smoke is classified as a “known human carcinogen,” and it is responsible for about 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults in the U.S. each year. So when The Gazette asks, “How far are Montgomery County’s overprotective overseers willing to go?” [Nov. 20, “Kicking Montgomery’s smokers to the curb”] I say, as far as the county’s property line. As elected officials, we at the County Council are stewards for public health, and it is our responsibility to make sure our public facilities are healthy and safe.

The Gazette correctly states that smoking is banned in most public spaces already, and my bill would extend the ban to property owned or leased by Montgomery County, not including public rights of way. The ban also would not include parks.

Some may say that’s going too far, but according to the Surgeon General, secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds of them are toxic and about 70 are known to cause cancer. Secondhand smoke especially affects children and women who are pregnant. According to the American Cancer Society, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

I want parents to be able to take children to the library; county employees to be able to go to work; and people who are sick to be able to enter our health clinics without passing through a hazardous cloud of smoke. My proposal is not about taking away the rights of smokers. It is about providing safe and healthy access to public facilities for everyone.

Nancy Floreen, Garrett Park

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Council Elects New Leadership

Congratulations to our new Council president, Nancy Navarro and our new Council vice president, Craig Rice. We have two very talented leaders at the helm this year, and I feel optimistic about our future. Best wishes, Nancy and Craig!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Apply Now to Study Compensation of Elected Officials

This post has been updated to reflect the new closing date of January 9.

Apply by January 9 to the citizens’ advisory committee to study compensation of the County’s elected officials. The County Council believes that there is a need to examine present compensation levels for the Sheriff, the State’s Attorney, the County Executive and members of the County Council.

State law authorizes the County Council to establish the salary of the Sheriff and State’s Attorney for Montgomery County. The County Charter authorizes the County Council to set the compensation of the County Council and the County Executive for the succeeding terms of office. Changes in compensation levels apply only to future terms of these elected offices.

Currently, Councilmembers receive annual compensation of $99,069 (the Council President receives 10 percent additional compensation), the Executive receives $180,250, the Sheriff receives $154,000, and the State’s Attorney receives $199,000. These salaries are increased each year by the annual average percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers for the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area.

The Committee consists of five to seven members appointed by the Council. The Council will strive to appoint no more than a majority of members from one political party, and therefore encourages Democrats, Republicans and those who decline to affiliate with a party to apply.

Send your letter of interest with a resume by January 9 at 5 p.m. to Council President Roger Berliner, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Md. 20850. Letters can also be sent by email to