Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What's In and What's Out for 2014

Out -- Low Wages: The Council approved an increase in the county's minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 under Maryland law. The county's minimum wage will increase to $8.40 on October 1, 2014 and will be phased in to $11.50 in 2017. The measure is not perfect, but I'm glad that some Montgomery County families will be able to breathe a little easier.

In -- AAA Bond Rating: All three bond rating agencies reconfirmed the County's AAA bond rating. This is good news because it allows us to issue bonds for our capital borrowing at the most favorable rates, saving taxpayers millions of dollars over the life of the bonds.

In -- Homeowner Associations: Approximately 100 people representing more than 60 organizations and 12 County departments and agencies attended my forum designed specifically for homeowner association and condo board leadership. You can see the entire meeting on YouTube.

Out -- Long Lines: The Montgomery County Board of Elections has increased the number of Early Voting Centers to nine for the 2014 elections. Early voting for the primary election will occur from June 12 to June 19, 2014, and early voting for the general election will occur from October 23 to October 30, 2014.

In -- County Council Anywhere: You can now watch Council sessions and hearings live on your mobile device.

Out -- Invisibility: Montgomery County ranks among counties with the highest median incomes. We take pride in being the economic engine of Maryland, and our schools make the lists of the best in the nation. Yet we have pockets of poverty that are not easily seen. Now, thanks to an award-winning documentary, The Unseen Montgomery, this poverty is no longer invisible.

In -- Chevy Chase Lake: After hearing from many stakeholders concerning changes to the 1990 Bethesda-Chevy Chase Master Plan, we approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which coordinates new development with the construction of the Purple Line while still protecting the character of the community.

Out -- Hunting for Information: The Montgomery Business Development Corporation has launched a new Web site that includes the only tool in operation that enables users to see available sites or leasable space throughout the County. It also features extensive demographic information to help new and existing businesses.

In -- Size: Montgomery County is home to 30 of the 100 largest publicly traded companies as identified by the Washington Business Journal. The County's highest ranking company on the list is Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corporation, coming in at #3 with revenue of more than $47.1 billion.

Out -- Smoking: There is no risk-free level of exposure to second hand smoke, so I’m glad we unanimously passed my bill to ban smoking on most property leased or owned by the County. As stewards of public health, we are responsible for protecting residents, employees and visitors from dangerous exposure.

In -- Population: Do you feel like one in a million? You should because Montgomery County'spopulation has reached the one million mark. Ours has been the largest jurisdiction in the state since 1989, and Montgomery is the first county in Maryland to reach the million-person milestone.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Property Assessments Out This Week

Is your property among the roughly one-third of Maryland properties reassessed this year? Check out this press release from the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. For Montgomery County, the total cash value of assessments is up 11.0 percent, compared with. 4.7 percent statewide. The tables show some very interesting information, including the ups and downs we have experienced since 2002.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

PHED Draft of Zoning Code Rewrite Now Available

The PHED Committee's draft of the Zoning Code Rewrite is now available on the Montgomery Planning Web site. This draft includes all the changes made by the PHED committee in addition to plain language edits, corrections, and clarifications. The full Council will hold worksessions to discuss the PHED draft on January 14, 15 and 16.

Updated: Process for Filling District 5 Vacancy

Here is the most recent press release on our plans to fill the District 5 County Council vacancy:

Montgomery County Council President Craig Rice today outlined the process to appoint a new Councilmember for District 5. On Dec. 10 Councilmember Valerie Ervin announced that she will resign from the Council on Jan. 3, 2014 to become executive director of the Center for Working Families.

As provided in Sections 102 and 106 of the County Charter, the Council intends to appoint a new Councilmember for District 5 by Jan. 31, 2014 to complete Councilmember Ervin’s unexpired term, which ends on Dec. 1, 2014. The new Councilmember must reside in District 5 and be registered to vote in the same political party as Councilmember Ervin (Democrat).

The Council intends to select a person who has shown a clear understanding of the issues that are important to residents of District 5. To assure a level playing field for all persons interested in seeking election to the next full term from District 5, the Council expects to appoint a person who does not plan to run for election to that term.

Applicants should submit letters of interest with a resume to Council President Craig Rice, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850 by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014.  Applications can also be submitted via email to: county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Each applicant must be a registered voter in Montgomery County, registered to vote as a Democrat, and, at the time of appointment, a resident of Council District 5.  Each resume submitted should include the applicant’s professional and civic experience, political party affiliation, home and office telephone numbers, and home and email addresses. Each application letter, recommendation letter, and resume submitted as part of the appointment process will be made available to the public. Each applicant must submit a confidential County financial disclosure statement for Council review. (The form will be transmitted to each applicant for completion.)  Only the financial disclosure statement of the ultimate appointee will be made available to the public.

The Council will decide which applicants to interview. Interviews will be scheduled for 2 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17 at the Council Office Building. Additional interviews, if necessary, will be scheduled for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22 and Friday, Jan. 24.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Process for Filling District 5 Vacancy

Here is the Council President's statement on the process for filling the District 5 vacancy:

Councilmember Valerie Ervin announced on Dec. 10 that she will resign from the Council on Jan. 3, 2014 to become executive director of the Center for Working Families.  We wish her the best in this new position.

Under Section 106 of the County Charter (shown below), the Council intends to appoint a new Councilmember for District 5 by Jan. 31, 2014 to complete Councilmember Ervin’s unexpired term, which ends on Dec. 1, 2014.  The Council intends to select a person who has shown a clear understanding of the issues that are important to residents of District 5.  To assure a level playing field for all persons interested in seeking election to the next full term from District 5, the Council intends to appoint a person who does not intend to run for election to that term.

Excerpt from Section 106 of the County Charter regarding a vacancy on the Council in the final year of a term:

When a vacancy has occurred, a majority of the remaining members of the Council shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy within thirty days. An appointee to fill a vacancy, when succeeding a party member, shall be a member of the same political party as the person elected to such office at the time of election.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Holiday Giving

Montgomery County is known for its affluence, so it is easy to forget that we have many residents who do not have enough money to pay for even their basic needs, let alone the extra expenses associated with the holidays. To learn more about poverty in Montgomery County, take a look at the award-winning program, The Unseen Montgomery, produced by our very own County Cable Montgomery.

In addition to highlighting the hidden poverty in the county, the show identifies nonprofits that provide help to those in need, including Manna, which serves as our local food bank; A Wider Circle, which collects used furniture and household items for those in need; and Interfaith Works, which offers a whole host of programs for our most vulnerable residents.

If you can afford to pick up extra canned or other non-perishable foods, or if you have clothing or furniture you can donate, your gift certainly can go to good use right here in our community. And of course, our nonprofits are also happy to accept money. If you aren’t sure which nonprofit to support, check out Neighbors in Need Montgomery, an umbrella charity campaign that supports many local organizations and enjoys a dollar for dollar match from a generous family.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter Weather Information

Winter weather is expected this weekend, with the possibility of ice and snow.  Montgomery County officials offer residents the following tips for surviving severe weather:

Preparing for the Storm

Emergency preparations should include having enough food, water, medication (if needed) and batteries to last two to three days. Make sure portable radios, smoke detectors and flashlights are working properly. 

Keep a fresh supply of extra batteries on hand, along with a basic first aid kit and a non-electric can opener.

Check with neighbors who may require special assistance to see if they need help in stocking up on supplies or medications, and call them during the storm.

Park vehicles in driveways or off the street, if possible. When parking on-street, pull close to the curb on the even numbered side of the street to clear the way for snowplows.

Be sure your vehicle is ready to drive after the storm by filling the gas tank; checking tires to make sure they have an adequate tread and are fully inflated; checking oil, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid levels; and ensuring windshield wipers, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes and defroster are all working properly. Keep a windshield scraper and small broom in the car for ice and snow removal, and a small sack of sand or kitty litter to improve wheel traction.

If driving during the storm is unavoidable, put together a separate disaster supply kit for the trunk of the car that includes:
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Flares.
  • Blankets or sleeping bags.
  • Dry clothing, mittens, socks, and a wool cap.
  • Newspapers for insulation.
  • Plastic bags.
  • Canned fruit, nuts, or high energy “munchies.”
  • Bottles of water.
  • A small shovel, a pocket knife, and small tools --pliers, a wrench and screwdriver.
  • Jumper cables.
  • First aid kit and necessary medications.
  • Brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna.
During the Storm

During the storm, residents are urged to travel only if absolutely necessary, and to stay indoors.

Residents concerned about the safety and well-being of children, elderly individuals or adults with disabilities should call the County’s Crisis Center at 240-777-4000.

If traveling is hazardous, residents should be prepared to shelter in place.

In the event of a power outage, avoid using candles or outdoor grills indoors, to prevent the risk of a fire.

For downed trees on public property, residents should call 3-1-1 (or 240-777-0311 from a cell phone).  To report trees that have fallen on utility lines, contact local utility companies. Contact information is available on the County’s website at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov. “Hot” wires or sparking wires, especially those across roadways, may be reported by calling 9-1-1. 

After the Storm

In the event of power outages, treat intersections with non-working traffic signals as four-way stops.  If your home is without power, contact your utility company:  PEPCO, 877-737-2662; BG&E, 877-778-2222; or FirstEnergy/Potomac Edison, 1-800-255-3443.

Exercise caution when shoveling snow. Try to shovel snow into the yard rather than into the street. Cold weather puts an extra strain on the body. Individuals with heart disease or high blood pressure should follow their doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Avoid overexertion. Heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow are a leading cause of deaths during winter.

When going outdoors, dress warmly and stay dry. Adults and children should wear a hat, scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth; sleeves that are snug at the wrists, mittens (they are warmer than gloves), a water-resistant coat and boots, and several layers of loose-fitting clothes.

Serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite can be caused by prolonged exposure to the cold. Watch for loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose. Signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. In both cases, residents should get medical attention immediately if symptoms are present.

Do not attempt to drive if you are not comfortable driving on icy or snowy roads. When preparing to drive, be sure to thoroughly clear the snow from the entire car – including roofs, windshields trunks and hoods – to ensure visibility and prevent snow from blowing onto surrounding cars. When driving, do not speed and be sure to leave plenty of space between your car and the one in front of you. Avoid pulling out in front of other vehicles and do not slow down before going up a hill.

For timely severe weather and emergency notifications, go to https://alert.montgomerycountymd.gov and sign up for Alert Montgomery. Warnings and emergency updates will be sent directly to your cell phone and/or email address. The service is free, but text charges may apply, so check with your cell phone carrier before selecting text alerts.  Information is also available on the County’s website at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/snow.

Zoning Code Rewrite Session 14

On Monday the PHED Committee will hold its second worksession to address issues raised at the November public hearings on the Zoning Code Rewrite. The session begins at 1:00, and you can follow along on County Cable Montgomery. Also, check out the recently revised FAQ page. To have your comments on the rewrite included in the public record, e-mail county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Free Screening of Driven to Defraud

Car sales fraud costs U.S. consumers billions each year. To help consumers fight back, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) invite you to attend the Washington area’s first public screening of Driven to Defraud, MCRC’s powerful documentary film on auto sales fraud, on Wednesday, December 18 at 7 p.m. in the Fenton Room of the Silver Spring Civic Center located at 1 Veterans Plaza in Downtown Silver Spring, MD. This event is free and open to all.  Please come early as space is limited.

Driven to Defraud documents the scams some car dealers use to abuse Maryland car purchasers and shows you how to protect yourself when you buy a new or used car. The film explains how yo-yo sales, interest rate mark-ups, rebuilt wrecks, and other scams work through the eyes of car-buyers who have been victimized, consumer advocates, and honest auto dealers working to stop the fraud.

You will have an opportunity to ask Investigator Jim Parks, OCP’s auto expert and a Certified Master Automotive Technician, your car-repair questions. MCRC leaders will also be available to discuss what consumers and policymakers can do to stop auto fraud.

You can see a 90-second preview trailer for the film here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6Lti1UCNPg.

OCP, the County’s consumer protection agency, investigates thousands of complaints each year involving automotive sales and repairs, new home purchases, home improvements, credit issues, retail sales, internet services and most other consumer transactions. OCP provides pre-purchase information to consumers, as well as speakers to the community on consumer issues.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Apply Now to Merit System Protection Board

We’re taking applications for appointment to a three-year term on the Merit System Protection Board. Generally, the board is expected to oversee the Merit System and to protect employee and applicant rights guaranteed under the County Merit System. Get your application in by the new extended deadline of January 15.

By law, no more than two of the three members of the Merit System Protection Board may be of the same political party. The appointee to this term may be a Democrat, a Republican or someone who declines to affiliate with a party. In addition, the appointee may be a member of another party officially recognized by the Board of Elections.

The County Merit System Protection Board's mission is to oversee the Merit System for the protection of employee's and applicant's rights guaranteed under the Merit System. There are two methods in which the board processes appeals:

  • A written decision issued after a review and discussion of a written record
  • A written decision issued after a pre-hearing conference and a formal hearing in cases involving a suspension, demotion or dismissal
The board holds hearings during the day, which can take the full day, with any additional proceedings scheduled for subsequent evening(s). Also, the board normally meets for approximately an hour in the evening once or twice every month. Additional time is also required for preparatory work. Members of the board receive $7,594 per year, which is adjusted annually to reflect 50 percent of the percentage change in the Washington Area Consumer Price Index.

Board members are restricted in political activity while serving. Section 403 of the County Charter states in part "... No member shall hold political office or participate in any campaign for any political or public office during the member's term of office." Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time.

Letters of application are made public as part of the appointment process. Letters expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, should be addressed to: Council President Roger Berliner, Montgomery County Council, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850.

For more information on the Merit System Protection Board appointment, call 240-777-7979.

Council Elects New Leadership

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