It's been a busy time here at the Council, as I am sure it is in your lives too.At least a couple of those warm days were enough to get us thinking about spring, and that is always a good thing.
I have continued to focus on doing what I can to make sure that Pepco's reliability improves quickly and that Pepco is held accountable financially if it doesn't; to move us forward with a Transit First approach to solving our never ending congestion problems; to standing up for our community when our County doesn't act in a transparent manner; and for supporting the County Executive's initiative to reduce trash and litter that threatens our streams and rivers.In a week, we will get the County Executive's proposed budget for the next fiscal year.It will be a very difficult budget.It has become a clich - to say that there will be no good options, no easy choices.While there are some who believe that we should increase taxes, that is not a view that I share -- not in this economy when so many are struggling just to make ends meet.We need to do the same.Everyone will be asked to sacrifice -- every department, every employee, every resident.While there are encouraging signs that the economy is picking up, our County lags going into a recession and it lags coming out.And this wasn't just any recession, it was The Great Recession.Our projected budget gap of $300 million in FY 2012 will not be affected by this latest uptick.My office will keep you posted on our budget deliberations, and I look forward to any suggestions and recommendations you may have.
On that upbeat note (not), I invite you to read the rest of this report .....
An Update on Pepco
When I look at the sign on the left, I just sigh.Progress in improving Pepco's reliability is not for the faint of heart.It is a slow process.Slower than it should be.Their five year plan is too long and doesn't even promise to get us to where we should be -- equivalent to top performing utilities in the country.
I am not alone in being critical of the plan.As the Washington Post reported on its front page, an independent consultant reviewed the plan and concluded it was "cobbled together ....as a quick attempt to throw money at the problem, or more accurately, to quickly promise to throw money at the problem."The report goes on to observe that Pepco doesn't even "know whether the projects in the new plan will actually achieve its reliability goals because it had not fully analyzed them."According to the consultant, the plan is a classic case of a "ready, shoot, aim" approach to solving this crisis.
But there is progress in Annapolis.With the leadership of the Governor and Delegate Feldman, and a host of Montgomery County Delegate and Senate sponsors, I do believe we will get a state law that requires Pepco to adhere to reliability standards that meet your expectations and stiff penalties if they fail to do so.I testified last week before the Economic Matters Committee with Delegate Feldman, Majority Leader Barve, and the Governor's representative in support of the effort.And I expect to be back next week before the Senate when it takes up this matter.
As I have shared with you before, I believe it is critical for our county to move aggressively to create first-class transit options. And so I presented to our Council a transportation priorities letter to our state leaders that reflected a shift towards a Transit First philosophy -- and the obvious need to address the unique and potentially devastating consequences associated with the expansion of National Naval Medical Center. I am pleased that the Council's actions affirmed that shift.
At the same time, the County Executive, building on the great work of my colleague, Marc Elrich, recently appointed a Transit Task Force which is tasked with making a comprehensive rapid transit system a reality in our county. The 20-member group's mission, of which Councilmember Elrich and I are a part, is to advise the County Executive and to be advocates for developing and implementing a world-class, County-wide, rapid transit system that is safe, efficient and effectively moves people throughout the County. I commend the County Executive for pulling together this impressive group that will assist us in achieving first class transit options that will relieve our chronic congestion, improve our quality of life and enhance our economic competitiveness.
The Task Force is a public/private partnership with twenty members appointed by the County Executive and chaired by Mark Winston, a lawyer in private practice with the firm of Glazer Winston Honigman Ellick, PLLC. During his professional career Mr. Winston has been a member of the Maryland State Transportation Commission and State Roads Commission.Additional Task Force members include: Marilyn Balcombe, Corridor Cities Transitway Coalition; Nat Bottingheimer, WMATA; Francoise Carrier, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission; Lisa Fadden, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce; Delegate Brian Feldman (D-15); Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15); Jonathan Genn, Percontee; David Hauck, Sierra Club; Art Holmes, Montgomery County Department of Transportation; David McDonough, Johns Hopkins University; Darrell Mobley, Maryland Department of Transportation; Henry Montes, Latin American Advisory Group; Rich Parsons, Parsons & Associates; Craig Simoneau, City of Rockville; Tina Slater, Action Committee for Transit; U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen (or designee); Francine Waters, Lerner Enterprises; and Dan Wilhelm, Montgomery County Civic Federation. Tom Street, Montgomery County Executive's Office and Steve Silverman, Montgomery County Department of Economic Development; will serve as ex-officio members.
Report of the Organizational Reform Commission
The Montgomery County Organizational Reform Commission (ORC) released their final report on January 31.The Commission was created in July 2010, following the passage of legislation that I sponsored.My goal was to make sure that we look at all the ways we can save money and provide services more efficiently, worthy goals any time, but particularly important when we are struggling with the aftermath of the Great Recession.
The Commission took its responsibility very seriously and worked very hard, holding almost fifty different meetings with various officials and stakeholders from County Government and other agencies.Their work culminated in twenty-eight recommendations and strategies to identify efficiencies and eliminate duplicative services, including blending the delivery of housing related services and restructuring the County's IT systems, for example.I encourage you to take a look at the report here.
The County Executive recently released his response to the ORC's final report, which you can read here.He supports nine of the 28 recommendations, supports others with conditions, and some he opposes.
Next, the Council will hold committee worksessions to review the recommendations and the Executive's responses, and Council staff will prepare legislation when it is necessary to implement changes.The Committees will vote on each recommendation and submit their recommendations to the full Council for its consideration later this spring.
A Montgomery County Bag Fee
As a signator to the Trash Free Potomac Treaty, I am pleased to tell you that Montgomery County is moving one step closer to significantly reducing the number of plastic bags in our streams, trees and parks.
Yesterday, the County Executiveannounced that he would be sending to our Council legislation patterned after the successful program in DC that would impose a five cent per bag fee on all plastic and paper bags distributed by businesses in Montgomery County. As Chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, I joined the County Executive and leaders of the environmental community for this important announcement.
In my remarks supporting this initiative, I described the proposal as an "optional fee" rather than a tax - and it isn't just semantics to avoid the dreaded tax word.We all have a choice here: bring a reusable bag to the store and avoid the fee.The goal of the program isn't to raise money - it is to help us to change our behavior.
And the financial nudge works - in the District of Columbia, the preliminary results are that there is a 50-60% reduction in the use of plastic bags.In addition, the business community, which was obviously wary at first, has found that it isn't an imposition on them after all:businesses are saving money by not having to provide bags and 78% of businesses had a neutral or positive response as to how the bag fee was impacting their business.
I believe this is a win/win that gives everyone the freedom to either carry a bag or buy a bag.A simple solution to a complex problem.
Soccer Fields in Potomac Neighborhood?
You may have heard about a proposal for new soccer fields on the Brickyard school site in Potomac.Currently, the site is leased by Montgomery County Public Schools to an organic farmer, who has farmed the land there for 31 years.I was surprised to see a proposed lease agreement between MCPS and Montgomery County on the Board of Education's agenda for action later today.
I am disappointed that when the County Executive wrote to the school system in November 2009 to request the lease agreement, he did not share his intention to lease the site and issue a Request for Proposal for soccer fields with the community.Montgomery County prides itself on process and transparency - and in my view, the Executive Branch has not fulfilled these fundamental obligations to our residents in this case.
As a former coach, I understand the need for more fields.The scarcity of fields downcounty presents a significant challenge to parents and to athletic organizations.On the other hand, the nature of Brickyard Road, with its winding turns in the heart of a residential area, may not lend itself particularly well to the type of intensive use that is contemplated by four new soccer fields.Others might feel that the organic farming taking place there is the best use for the site.Each perspective is a legitimate point of view - points of view that I believe should be explored in an honest, upfront conversation that engages the community and considers neighborhood concerns while making the best use of the County's asset.
It is in that context that last week Iasked the Board of Education to postpone actionon this item, until there has been more time for meaningful public input.In my view, if the use of this site is going to be modified, the community is owed an open and transparent dialogue from the start.
County Executive's Recommended CIP
Last month, the County Executive submitted his recommended Capital Improvements Program (CIP) Budget Amendments.This is an "off year" in the biannual CIP schedule, but the Council is in the course of considering these amendments now and will take a final vote on them, along with the Operating Budget, in May.
The amendments reflect good news for District 1 schools: all of the CIP projects remain on schedule.For a complete list of school CIP projects in District 1, including information on where your elementary or middle school's capital project stands, click here.Other good news includes new funding for much needed projects related to the White Flint Sector Plan, so that implementation of this important development remains on course.One such project is a traffic study, the results of which will better enable the Department of Transportation to understand the plan's traffic implications and mitigate impacts to existing neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, there are also some disappointments in the Recommended CIP Amendments.The planning and design funding for the Davis and Potomac Library projects have been delayed one year due to fiscal constraints.
The item that I found particularly alarming was the Executive's recommendation to completely close out the North Bethesda Recreation Center project.I know that residents in North Bethesda have been waiting a long time - too long - for a recreation center near their homes.I sent a memo to my colleagues on the PHED Committee urging them to reject the County Executive's recommendation to close out the project, and am pleased that following that PHED Committee worksession, Executive staff agreed to formulate a revised plan that would present an alternative option to having to drive to Chevy Chase or Potomac for the residents of North Bethesda.
Odds and Ends
Congressional Art Competition: Congressman Van Hollen is once again participating in the House of Representatives' Congressional Art Competition for high school students. The winning entry from Maryland's 8th Congressional District will be displayed for one year in the U.S. Capitol. The runners-up will be displayed in Congressman Van Hollen's offices. For more information, click here.
Bethesda Green Workshop Series: Bethesda Green and ecobeco are hosting a series of monthly workshops focused on greening condominiums. The next session will be April 6 on mobilizing a "green team" in condominium buildings. For more information, click here.
2010 Census Data: Montgomery County's population has grown more diverse over the last decade, according to recently-released Census data. To read more, click here.
Public Meetings on Draft Watershed Implementation Plans: DEP is holding a public meeting regarding the draft Countywide Coordinated Implementation Strategy and draft Watershed Implementation Plans on March 10, from 6-9PM at the Rockville Library.
Chevy Chase Library Donations: Did you know that you can donate magazine subscriptions to the Chevy Chase Library? The rules which prohibited such donations in the past have been modified due to the current dire budget situation. See library manager Mildred Nance to find out how. Also, the branch is accepting donations of books, CD's and videos. Donations are tax deductible and help fund library programs.
Maryland Energy Administration Home Performance Program: The MEA Home Performance Rebate Program offers homeowners rebates for home energy efficiency improvements. By combining a 35% rebate (up to $3,100 total) from the Maryland Energy Administration with a 15% rebate from your utility, you can save a total of 50% on home energy improvements. For more information, click here.
Recreation Registration: Registration for spring session programs has begun. You can download the guide or pick up a copy at any recreation facility or library. The quickest way to register is by using RecWeb, the Department of Recreation's online registration system. Don't forget that enrollment in summer camps is ongoing as well.
Free Income Tax Preparation: Volunteers from RSVP/AARP are offering free income tax preparation for low-to-moderate Montgomery County residents with special attention to seniors over 60 at the Davis and Bethesda Libraries.