I hope this newsletter finds you enjoying some of the beautiful spring days we've had lately. This morning, the Council took a straw vote on the FY13 Operating Budget and FY13-18 Capital Improvements Program. You will find a summary of that, along with other news from the Council, below.
Council Takes Straw Vote on FY13 Operating Budget and FY13-18 CIP
The Council has been hard at work finalizing our Fiscal Year 2013 Operating Budget and the FY 13-18 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). We took our most significant "straw vote" today, essentially finalizing both budgets but for the formal vote a week from today.
It is a budget that, in my view, accurately reflects the tenor of our time, a time of both guarded optimism and lingering effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression. We stayed $32 million under the Charter Limit for property taxes and reduced our energy taxes by $11.4 million. These taxpayer sensitive decisions are even more important given the income tax increases passed by the State Legislature.
Our great school system and premier community college is fully funded; public safety was enhanced with 58 more police officers; and our safety net was strengthened. We have sought to improve the business climate in our county by partnering with the business community to attract and retain jobs for our county; provide more assistance to small businesses; and create more "innovation" to attract "new economy" entrepreneurs.
Our capital budget moves us toward a transit first approach to transportation without stinting on improving our road network; and makes significant investments in Wheaton and beyond. I am very pleased that the Council was able to fulfill the Board of Education's requests for school modernizations, additions, and gymnasiums at all of our District 1 schools:
Bethesda Chevy Chase HS (Anticipated completion TBD)
Bethesda Chevy Chase MS #2 (Anticipated completion 2017)
Bethesda ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
North Chevy Chase ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
North Chevy Chase ES Gymnasium (Anticipated completion 2012)
Rock Creek Forest ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2015)
Rosemary Hills ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2015)
Rosemary Hills ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2021)
Westbrook ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)
Westbrook ES Gymnasium (Anticipated completion 2013)
Hoover MS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2013)
Beverly Farms ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2013)
Potomac ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Wayside ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2016)
Tilden MS Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Ashburton ES Addition (Anticipated completion TBD)
Kensington-Parkwood ES Addition (Anticipated completion TBD)
Luxmanor ES Modernization (Anticipated completion 2018)
Wyngate ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)
Bradley Hills ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2013)
Wood Acres ES Addition (Anticipated completion 2016)
We have approved a budget that is lean but not without substance; a budget that makes strategic investments wisely; and a budget that restores vital services without being reckless. And it was a consensus budget that built upon the solid framework that was provided by the County Executive. A copy of my remarks upon the unanimous vote in favor of the budget can be found here, or check it out on Youtube here.
Great News for Bikeshare
Last week, we got some very, very good news on our pursuit of Bikeshare. Our County was awarded a $1,008,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation, that will help fund bringing the sturdy red bikes across the District line.
Piecing together a financing strategy to get the downcounty network up and running has been a slow and steady effort. A number of my colleagues and I have played significant supporting roles in pursuing funding, including Councilmembers Ervin, Reimer, and Leventhal. I want to thank Governor O'Malley and members of the General Assembly for their critical support of our proposal.
Earlier this year, I convened a meeting of private sector representatives who expressed interest in participating in the County's efforts to expand Bikeshare. As a result of that discussion, I will soon be introducing a package of minor regulatory reforms that make partnering with our County to get stations on the ground an attractive option for the private sector.
I believe our goal should be to have at least the first phase of our network up and running by the end of 2012. Earlier this month, I was joined by Councilmembers Ervin and Reimer in asking DOT to take some ambitious next steps to achieve that goal.
A Chief Innovation Officer
During the Council's recent "Shaping Our Future: Adapting to Change" briefing on the new economy, we heard from an early funder of Twitter and a representative from Google as to what makes communities more attractive to new economy entrepreneurs. They urged us to take concrete steps to "brand" Montgomery County as a community that welcomes tech-savvy entrepreneurs and appeals to graduates of our nation's top schools.
One measure that I believe we can take right now is creating a "Chief Innovation Officer." This position has become more common among private sector companies, but has also been embraced by the cities of San Francisco and Philadelphia. The principal function of the "CIO" would be to put our County's data to work for our residents, capturing and harnessing the creative energies of our residents to create new economic opportunities, and improving service delivery and reducing costs by finding new solutions to old problems.
The work of the "CIO" would go a long way to put Montgomery County on the cutting edge. I am pleased that the budget we just approved contains the funds necessary to move forward with this important position.
Proposed Tree Legislation
Earlier this month I was joined by Councilmember Elrich in introducing legislation aimed at increasing accountability regarding Pepco's vegetation management practices. This measure will help to better protect one of the County's most valuable natural resources - our trees. The trees in our right of way that line our streets and roads serve many valuable purposes which include maintaining the beauty of our suburban/urban landscape. We are mindful that their value extends far wider and protects the quality of our air, water and wildlife. At the same time, the legislation recognizes that tree trimming done properly can play a significant role in increasing Pepco's reliability.
The bill focuses on vegetation management by utilities and continues our work to ensure that our utilities find the balance between delivering reliable service and trimming our trees. It will:
1. Require that vegetation management plans be submitted to the County so that we can know where the trimming is planned, to ensure that best practices will be followed to ensure tree health and that there will be oversight and follow up inspection to make sure these standards have been followed.
2. The legislation provides for a "Customer Bill of Rights" so that homeowners and the utilities will know their rights and responsibilities in a clear, concise and easy to understand manner.
3. We have included a process so that if a tree poses an imminent hazard to the system and thus to our citizens ability to receive electricity and the homeowner withholds consent, the utility may ask the Chief of Tree Maintenance to inspect the tree and, if they agree, the Chief can direct the utility to remove the tree without obtaining the consent of the owner.
4. Along Rural and Rustic Roads and in Historic Districts, trees in the public right of way or within 35' of the road centerline can only be removed with the consent of the Chief of Tree Maintenance.
I recently authored a piece for the Gazette newspaper in response to an editorial that you can find here.
The legislation will go to public hearing on June 12 at 7:30 pm. I invite anyone who has had concerns or issues with Pepco's practices to speak at the public hearing. To sign up, please call (240) 777-7803.
In 2010 the County Executive proposed, and by a 5-4 vote the County Council passed, what is referred to as the "ambulance fee". The fee was to be collected by the county from insurance providers for ambulance service.
The legislation was opposed by the county volunteer fire companies. They mounted a referendum campaign which overturned the law.
This month the County Executive sent a new version of the ambulance fee called the Emergency Medical Services-Insurance Reimbursement Bill #17-12, for County Council consideration. The Bill was introduced, a public hearing held on May 8, and the Public Safety Committee, of which I am a member, voted 2-1 against the measure. I was one of the two members voting against it in committee.
However, by a 6-3 vote, the full Council embraced the measure. The bill was amended in the Public Safety Committee, and the version that became law now makes it explicit that county residents do not pay and that volunteer departments will be held harmless for the loss of any donations resulting from the biil.
Notwithstanding these improvements and others, I voted against the measure in full Council primarily on the grounds that this issue was put to referendum 18 months ago, and was the first and only law ever rejected by the voters. While there are arguments on both sides of the issue, I believe we would have been better served to have respected the will of the people as reflected in the referendum. Now, the people may get to decide once more if there is a successful effort to put it on the ballot in November.