Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Council Approves $54 Million Budget Savings Plan

In response to projected revenue shortfalls, we reduced the FY16 budget by $54 million. Although we have had to make mid-year cuts before, this is the first time we have approved a savings plan so early in the fiscal year. Here's the full press release:

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 28, 2015—The Montgomery County Council today unanimously approved a plan to produce savings of $54.0 million in the County’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget. On July 8, County Executive Isiah Leggett proposed a $50.8 million savings plan in response to a decline in the County’s projected income tax revenue.

The Executive’s plan was in two parts. One part included $40.7 million in operating budget reductions. The other part included $10.1 million in capital budget current revenue reductions. The Council approved FY16 savings of $54.0 million. This consists of $35.8 million of the $50.8 million in reductions proposed by the Executive and $18.2 million from additional adjustments to the FY15-20 Capital Improvements Program.

Both County Executive Leggett and Council President George Leventhal had said a savings plan is needed now because there has been a major change in the County's revenue picture since the Council agreed on the County's operating budget for FY16. The 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Wynne case on May 18, combined with the impact of a shortfall in the County's estimated income tax revenue for FY15 that became clear in late May and June, could reduce the County's revenue by more than $150 million in FY15-17 and $250 million in FY15-18. 

Although the Council's approved reserves for FY16 are at their highest level ever at $383 million (8.2 percent of adjusted governmental revenues), achieving savings now in FY16 will help meet the County's serious revenue challenge in FY17. Further steps in FY16 may also be required.

Among the items that the Executive recommended be reduced, but the Council preserved, were funds to provide permanent housing and needed supports for homeless veterans; to supplement the salaries of workers who help the developmentally disabled; to implement the Child Care Expansion and Quality Enhancement program; for positive youth programming services for the Wheaton High School Wellness Center; increase library materials and increase hours at two libraries; for scholarship awards at Montgomery College; to support the operation of the Piney Branch Elementary School pool; to support pedestrian safety initiatives including raised pavement markings; to fund Fire and Rescue Service operations for Hyattstown Engine 709, Kensington Ambulance 705 and paramedics in Kensington; for removal of tree stumps on public property; and to expand the Bethesda Circulator bus service.

Detailed information about the budget savings plan is available at:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Annual Farm Tour This Weekend

Across the Agricultural Reserve, Montgomery County’s farmers are preparing for the annual Farm Tour and Harvest Sale, which will be held on July 25 and 26, rain or shine. This year’s event is slated to be one of the biggest, and most diverse, in the tour’s 26-year history.

While many farm tour participants have been in business for multiple generations, (such as Lewis Orchards, founded in 1888), this year’s Farm Tour and Harvest Sale will also feature some newer farms, like Soleado, the only lavender farm in the County, and Madison Fields, a 400+ acre enterprise that uses equine therapy and farming to help children and adults with autism and other special needs.

We created the Agricultural Reserve in 1980, and it encompasses more than one-third of the County, or 93,000 acres, ensuring that agriculture and farming remains part of the history and heritage of the County and creating a resource for future food and fiber production.

As always, this year’s farm tour will feature tractor rides, pony rides, pick-your-own produce, music, picnic areas and food booths.

Check the brochure for the time that each farm will open and close.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Council Passes Two Bills to Improve Taxi Service

Here's the full press release:

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 21, 2015—The Montgomery County Council today unanimously approved Bills 33-15 and 53-14 that will improve taxi service in the County by helping the existing taxi structure better compete with new types of services. The bills will provide opportunities to have more taxicabs available to respond to calls and address working conditions in some situations for drivers.

The lead sponsor of Bill 33-15 was Councilmember Roger Berliner, who chairs the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, Sidney Katz, Tom Hucker, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer. The bill will create a Transportation Services Improvement Fund, impose a per-trip surcharge on certain transportation network services to finance the fund and provide for disbursements from the fund to be used to improve the delivery of accessible taxicab services and transportation services to eligible senior citizens and people of limited income.

Expedited Bill 53-14 was sponsored by Councilmembers Berliner, Floreen, Rice and Riemer. The bill was combination of three original bills directed at improving taxi service.

Key provisions of the bill address taxicab regulations for company owners and drivers, including rules for Passenger Vehicle Licenses (PVLs). The bill authorizes the issuance of 50 accessible vehicle licenses to a driver-owned cooperative to help individual drivers and spur innovation in the expansion of accessible transportation. It also creates a centralized dispatch system for all County cabs—an idea strongly promoted by Councilmember Riemer. 

The bill provides for more taxicabs to be available for calls and requires the County’s Department of Transportation to develop a plan to increase the numbers of wheelchair-accessible cabs (vans) that have lifts or ramps, with a goal of having 100 percent accessible taxicabs in the County by 2025.

In its 2015 session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law regulating "transportation network companies" (TNCs), otherwise known as ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. The law, which became effective on July 1, created a new regulatory framework within which TNCs in the State will operate. The law also authorized a county or municipality that licensed or regulated taxicab services on or before Jan. 1, 2015, including Montgomery County, to impose a charge of up to 25 cents on every TNC trip that originates within the county or municipality. The revenue generated from the assessments must be used for "transportation purposes." 

This opened the way for Montgomery Bill 33-15 that will create a Transportation Services Improvement Fund, impose a per-trip surcharge on certain transportation network services to finance the fund and provide for disbursements from the fund to be used to improve the delivery of accessible taxicab services.

“The measures our council passed today will fundamentally reform our County’s regulation of the taxi industry, and these reforms will accrue to the benefit of all – the industry, drivers, consumers, the disabled community, seniors and low-income residents,” said Councilmember Berliner. “These bills address the legitimate issues of our drivers’ working conditions for the first time in our County’s long history of taxi regulation, and support the creation of a new, competitive, low-cost driver cooperative. Our drivers have been exploited have been exploited for too long. It needs to stop. And with this bill, it will stop. The bills also provide new funds and 66 new licenses to support service directly to our disabled residents, who have been poorly served by our existing fleets and remain unserved by the TNCs. And we also have made reforms that help our existing taxicab companies, reducing their costs, eliminating outdated regulations and providing new licenses to our smaller, newer fleets. These bills were truly a win for all stakeholders and our entire riding public.”

Most County taxicab companies lease their vehicles to drivers by the day or the week, and it is up to the driver to meet their expenses and make a living. Taxicab leases are often upward of $100 per day, and the driver keeps their vehicle full time. Under this model, the company has little direct interest in how much business the driver turns over, but if it has many drivers bringing in substantial income, demand to lease its vehicles will increase, and it may collect more money in lease fees. Under a lease system, the driver typically pays for the gas, while the company pays for any repairs. Taxicab companies that run on a lease arrangement make their money on how many vehicles are being used—in effect turning them into car rental companies that provide dispatch, marketing, insurance and credit card payment processing services. 

At present there are five fleets operating in the County holding a total of 549 PVLs. In addition to the fleets that hold the majority of PVLs and engage the services of lessee drivers, there are 221 PVLs held by individuals. Individual PVL holders own their vehicles, but must affiliate with a fleet or association. Affiliation rates are substantially lower than lease rates, as they essentially represent the cost to a driver of using a fleet's dispatch and marketing. 

Among the provisions of amended Expedited Bill 53-14 are a requirement of one-year maximum terms on agreements between licensees and affiliates or drivers and a prohibition on automatic renewal of agreements between licensees and affiliates or drivers. The bill will also require the County Executive to establish standardized lease/affiliation agreements, maximum lease and affiliation rates and permissible ancillary fees that may be charged to drivers.

“While the transportation industry has evolved dramatically over the years, particularly with the introduction of TNCs like Uber and Lyft, our fundamental commitment to ensuring quality service for our residents with disabilities has not wavered,” said Councilmember Floreen, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. “Now, TNCs will be required contribute to improved accessible services through a surcharge they will pay into the Transportation Services Improvement Fund. This is good news for our residents who have mobility challenges and rely on taxi service for their routine transportation needs.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer said: “We are dealing with an industry in crisis. Our challenge was to find a way, in the face of the State’s decision to allow Uber to operate, to ensure the taxi industry remains profitable for drivers and attractive for passengers so that disadvantaged populations can continue to get the service only taxis provide. I am hopeful that we have risen to meet this challenge. I put forward provisions in this bill that will greatly improve service for consumers by applying Uber-like features to the taxi industry through universal digital dispatch apps, drastically improve working conditions for all drivers and provide a framework for a new, driver-owned cooperative to emerge, dedicated to providing service that is universally accessible to all residents of our County. I was glad to support other provisions that reduce outdated regulatory burdens for the industry as a whole. My congratulations to Committee Chair Roger Berliner, who put his heart into this bill, and everyone involved. It is a new day for taxis in Montgomery County.”

Bill 53-14 will require the issuance of 100 new licenses by Jan. 1, 2016. Of these, 25 will be to individuals who do not currently hold a licenses and 25 will go to small fleets operating in the County. Each of these allocations of 25 new licenses will include eight licenses for accessible taxicabs. The remaining 50 licenses will be for accessible vehicles, and will be issued to a driver-owned cooperative fleet, if the cooperative meets the fleet requirements of the law. If the 50 accessible licenses are not issued to the cooperative by June 1, 2016, either because it does not meet the fleet requirements of the law, or because it otherwise declines to apply for them, the licenses must also be issued to individuals who do not currently hold licenses.

Under the bill, all licenses issued on or after Jan. 1, 2016 will be non-transferrable.

Council Passes Predatory Towing Bill

Here's the full press release:

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 21, 2015—The Montgomery County Council today unanimously approved Bill 17-15 that will limit some of the practices that have led to the predatory towing of vehicles parked on private properties.

The lead sponsor of Bill 17-15 was Councilmember Roger Berliner, who chairs the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, George Leventhal, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer. A public hearing was held on the bill on June 16, and the Public Safety Committee held two worksessions on it.

The provisions of Bill 17-15 will:

  • Authorize the County Executive to set flat rates for certain towing services.
  • Require towing companies to have personnel available 24 hours a day at impound lots so vehicle owners can retrieve cars at any time.
  • Require one notice sign per 25 spaces in parking lots with 100 or more parking spaces, in addition to requiring signs at entrances.
  • Require photographic evidence of violations or of events precipitating the towing of a vehicle.
  • Prohibit the use of "spotters" to identify vehicles for towing.
  • Require towing companies to accept credit cards as well as cash for the redemption of vehicles.
The Council made several amendments to the original bill, including those recommended by the Public Safety Committee. Amendments include a prohibition of "patrol towing" of commercial lots by providing that a towing company "must not monitor, patrol or otherwise surveil commercial property for the purposes of identifying unauthorized parked vehicles for towing and removal."

Other amendments included in the bill will: strengthen the Office of Consumer Protection’s ability to enforce the law; require written authorization for each tow in the form of an authorization form provided in person, or via fax, email, or other electronic means; make contracts between property owners and towing companies more informative as to respective parties’ obligations and liability under the law; and make several changes to more closely aligning the County law with State law.

“Every year there are 30,000 tows from private property in our County. Too many residents have been victims of the unscrupulous business practices of predatory towing,” said Councilmember Berliner. “Towing is an extraordinary act, and it should only be done for legitimate reasons. The bill we passed today will better protect consumers. Notably, it will ban the use of spotters, who are used to identify and tow away vehicles as quickly as possible and it will give the Office of Consumer Protection the powers it needs to enforce the law and protect consumers. And at the same time, the bill was amended to ensure that our HOAs and condo associations, which have worked very hard to set the right balance in their parking policies, are treated differently from the commercial lots where we see the most worrisome predatory practices. This bill will not only help our residents but our businesses as well who lose customers as a result of predatory towing."

The bill also will allow vehicle owners to retrieve personal property from a vehicle that has been towed, but has not yet been released. It sets a maximum $25 fee for “incomplete tows” in situations where a vehicle has been hooked up to a tow truck, but the owner then approaches the truck operator and asks for their vehicle to not be towed.

Another provision in the bill requires property owners who wish to engage in non-consensual towing of vehicles for violating their parking policies to first electronically register their commercial lots and provide annual reports on towing activity, unless the director of the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) waives the requirement after a finding that Police Department records meet the OCP’s needs for enforcement of the law.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Council to Start Work on Proposed Savings Plan Next Week

Next week we will start our work on the recommended $51 million FY16 budget savings plan that was transmitted by the County Executive on July 8. The Council is responsible for making the final decisions on the savings plan, which seeks to address anticipated revenue shortfalls and the recent "Wynne" Supreme Court decision that will annually have significant impact on the County budget. You can get committee agendas and full Council agendas on our Web site, and you can watch meetings live on County Cable Montgomery. Weigh in at

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Infants and Toddlers Program Hosts Resource Fair

Check out the free Family Resource Fair on Saturday, July 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Silver Spring Civic Building. You can get free screening for developmental delays; attend mini-workshops on topics such as toilet training, sleeping issues and nutrition for picky eaters; and find out information about resources available in the community for young children. Enjoy free face painting and balloon making as well as fun giveaways.

The resource fair is sponsored by the Infants and Toddlers Program, part of the County’s Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools. The Infants and Toddlers Program provides early intervention services for children birth through kindergarten entry age and their families.

The Silver Spring Civic Building is located at One Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. Parking is available in the Ellsworth Drive parking garage adjacent to the Civic Building. For more information, call 240-777-4809.