The Montgomery County Council today unanimously approved a $4.8 billion County total operating budget for Fiscal Year 2014. The FY14 operating budget, and adjustments to the Fiscal Years 2013-18 six-year Capital Improvements Program, will go into effect on July 1.
After some debate about cutting the energy tax, the Council tentatively agreed to the budget last week.
County Executive Isiah Leggett said there are many complex issues at play when he addressed the 20-plus member group during its first ever meeting on Monday in Silver Spring.
Leggett, who assembled the Task Force to deliver recommendations for improving the county’s nightlife, offered a sobering political reality he said must be considered when talking looser alcohol laws, later bar closing times or higher density development around Metro stations.
“Most people in this county, when you ask them the question about, ‘Should we improve the nighttime economy,’ intellectually, on-paper they’ll probably say, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea,’” Leggett said. “But their view of what that means is we can generate the economic benefits of that all in isolation, that it’s totally removed from their lives. People say, ‘I like the benefits of that, but I don’t want to deal with the practical effects of that.’”
In suburban Montgomery, long associated with wealthy single-family home neighborhoods, a prized school system and an older population, that’s a tough line to cross. But county leaders, seeing young tax-paying professionals flock to the District and Arlington, want in on the action.
“People say, ‘Oh my gosh, well now we’re going to have 23-year-olds driving down the streets of Bethesda at 70 miles an hour and screaming out their windows and kicking over trash cans,’” Task Force Chair and Bethesda land use attorney Heather Dlholopolsky told the group. “That’s not what it means. The key thing to remember is that nighttime economy is so many things and don’t be too exclusive in terms of the things that you’re looking for.”
That means activities for empty-nesters, middle-aged residents and the young urban professionals Leggett said he’s tired of seeing get away.
“We pay a huge investment in our school system, one of the best in the entire country. Many of them go off to college and once they’ve completed college and they are now thinking about settling down, they’re more likely to go to Adams Morgan, other locations in the District, Arlington or, god forbid, Fairfax,” Leggett said. “They’ve taken that investment that we made, that education that we started and they are utilizing that in some other location. We’re not going to capture 100 percent of the people, but there’s a reason as to why they’re not thinking of us as a first choice.”
Community Profits Montgomery, an organization created by Bethesda Magazine and a local communications firm, will kickoff its effort to encourage philanthropy from area business owners at an event next week in Bethesda.
The panel discussion, called Dollars & Change, will look into how Montgomery County businesses are giving back and the state of need in the county today.
The event will take place on May 23 at the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce with Honest Tea founder and CEO Seth Goldman, Bethesda attorney Nancy Fax and Bethesda Magazine editor-in-chief and publisher Steve Hull, who helped found Community Profits Montgomery last year.
Silver Spring-based communications pro Carrie Fox and Hull put together the group with the goal to provide more positive recognition to local companies that give back, with the thinking those efforts would provide motivation for more philanthropy.
Members of the organization must contribute at least two percent (with a minimum of $5,000) of their operating income to charitable organizations supporting Montgomery County.
The event next week will offer examples of charity efforts and pro bono support that area companies are offering.
For more information on the group, visit its website.
The county today announced an online purchasing option for all monthly Parking Convenience Stickers, known as PCS permits, and AM/PM permits for parking in non-metered spaces from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.
That means you won’t have to head to the Cheltenham Drive garage office for a new sticker each month.
The county will mail the permits out. You can still visit the Cheltenham parking office to get permits right away.
For more information on the county’s permit system, visit the county’s parking management website.
Many have criticized Montgomery’s business climate because of perceived regulatory hurdles in the zoning approval process and Virginia’s willingness to provide tax incentives to major companies. The release notes the 3.6 percent job growth rate in Fairfax City and County and the 2.8 percent job growth rate in D.C.
The Department of Economic Development made the announcement, using data from consultant Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.
“The positive job growth in the county from 2010-2012 is good, but we can’t stop there,” County Executive Isiah Leggett said in the release. “We can do even better.”
He said the county’s Economic Development staff is working proactively with large, small, public and private businesses and entities to help with grants, loans and assistance with permits, zoning and site selection.
Professional, scientific and technical services accounted for a boost of almost 5,300 jobs, making it Montgomery’s top job-gaining sector. Government, retail trade and health care/social assistance each added more than 3,000 jobs during the three-year period.
Capitol One, which has offices in Bethesda, added almost 300 jobs, according to the county. The Bethesda-based Henry M. Jackson Foundation added more than 200 jobs.
The Department of Economic Development and the Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County recently partnered to produce a three-minute promotional video that aired last month on US Airways and American Airlines flights.
County Faces Potential $300 Million Budget Deficit In FY 15 — Pay raises that would cost Montgomery $100 million over two years and uncertain tax revenues could put the county in a tough spot next budget season. The County Council is weighing the pay increases for county employees proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). [Washington Examiner]
The New Wall Park — Known for its aquatics center, Wall Park in North Bethesda (at Nicholson Lane and Executive Boulevard) is set to become the “primary recreational destination” for a redeveloped White Flint. [Friends of White Flint]
Montgomery Community Media Capturing “A Day In The Life” — Montgomery Community Media is asking county residents to submit photos and video from Monday, April 22 to help capture what a day in the life of Montgomery County is. [MyMCMedia]
Flickr pool photo by AmyMarieMoore
An organization named NewDEAL, which “champions pro-growth progressive ideas,” today announced it has chosen Hans Reimer (D-At large) as one of 11 new rising elected officials from across the country. According to a release from the Montgomery County Council, Riemer was chosen by co-chairs Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) because of his work to attract younger people to the county.
Riemer has taken a prominent role in the county’s yet-to-be revealed Task Force. County officials hope to attract younger people to stimulate the economy and not fall too far behind D.C. and Arlington. In a video for NewDEAL, Riemer said part of that movement could come in the form of new liquor laws to enhance night life, changes in street design or planning and a focus on affordable housing issues.
In a March forum entitled “Can Young People Live In MoCo,” Riemer led a discussion in which many said they’d rather pay comparable or even slightly higher rents to live in areas such as D.C. with better nightlife, walkability, transit access and access to jobs.
“Montgomery County, Maryland, which has a greet suburban community, hasn’t attracted many of these younger workers who are powering these new companies, which are the innovation hubs of the economy,” Riemer said in the video. “So we need to focus on how to urbanize some of the pockets of growth areas, and make them the kind of place that young people want to live and spend their money and go out.”
Montgomery County state senators and delegates today touted the transportation bill, death penalty repeal and new gun control law that came out of the just completed 90-day 2013 state legislative session during a press conference in Rockville.
Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) said finding transportation funding was priority No. 1, 2 and 3 for the Montgomery County delegation. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who led the press conference, has long advocated for a gas tax increase to provide funding for transportation projects in the county, including the state’s Purple Line light rail.
In March, the House and Senate approved a gas tax hike from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that will raise gas taxes by 4 cents in July and 13 to 20 cents by July 2016.
Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) said a gas tax hike in Virginia helped get the transportation bill the votes necessary.
“For legislators who don’t represent transit-dependent areas, it was a tough sell,” Leventhal said. “So when it was clear when we were losing in competition to Virginia, that won a lot of votes from suburban and rural Democrats. …From the governor’s perspective, it was absolutely decisive. It created the political space that he needed to make it happen.”
The Montgomery delegation also brought back more than $28 million in state grants for MCPS construction, including $137,000 for improvements at Walt Whitman High School, $898,000 for Thomas W. Pyle Middle School and $332,000 for Strathmore Elementary School. Education aid to the county grew by almost $14 million.
Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase was key in the state’s gun control bill, leading the effort soon after the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting.
The State Senate last week approved an O’Malley-backed bill 28-19 one day after the House of Delegates ushered it through. It’s one of the most restrictive gun control bills in the county, with a ban on assault weapons, an ammunition limit of 10 rounds, a license and fingerprint requirement for all new handgun sales and a ban on gun ownership by the mentally ill.
District 16 Del. Susan Lee and District 18 Del. Al Carr and Sen. Richard Madaleno joined the gathering, which included Leggett, Leventhal, Councilmembers Nancy Navarro, Nancy Floreen, Craig Rice, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer. Roger Berliner was at another meeting.
“This is a very special moment for us, because the elected officials in Montgomery County are a famously opinionated and contentious lot,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park. “We fight about a lot of things and have a lot of conflict, but the point of this is when we get together and we have our eyes on the prize, we are absolutely unstoppable.”
A decision on controversial legislation that would force homeowners to pay for tree canopy lost in new home or home addition projects won’t come until the summer.
Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) said at a meeting of the Transportation & Environment Committee this morning that final recommendations from the Committee to the full Council won’t come until after work on the FY 14 budget is finished.
Certain aspects of the Tree Canopy Protection bill, as proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), were made more clear in a memo used at this morning’s worksession.
Leggett and officials from the county’s Department of Environmental Protection proposed the measure as a counter to new home building on existing residential lots they say has meant the loss of much tree canopy in many of Bethesda’s older neighborhoods. In an earlier presentation, they showed satellite imagery of a neighborhood along Fairfax Road from 2002 and 2012 with noticeably less tree cover because of take-down home construction projects.
The bill would require property owners who get rid of tree canopy in any building process that requires a sediment control plan to pay into a county fund. That fund would work to replace that tree canopy nearby using a sliding scale of fees based on the amount of tree canopy lost.
The building industry quickly came out against the proposed fees and council members still want to see how the legislation compares with other jurisdictions.
“I’m pleased that we’ve closed the gaps with our various stakeholders and I think know we are within range of making this happen for our community,” Berliner said. “I’m hoping we are coming to the end.”
The Committee did agree to exempt Park and Planning property from the legislation, which the Department of Environmental Protection did not object.
Also on the table is a credit that would lower the cost of removing tree canopy if a property owner protected 25 percent of the tree canopy on-site or made “unusual” efforts to save trees. Builders opposed to the bill have argued that existing stormwater management laws make it difficult to protect trees even if the builder and property owner would prefer to.
Photos via Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection
Through its engageMontgomery website, Montgomery County is asking residents to chime in on two issues that might inspire some form of County Council legislation in the next year.
County Councilmembers last week were very open with their distaste for certain aspects of the county’s roughly year-old bag tax, a 5-cent tax to consumers per plastic or paper bag used in all grocery store and retail purchases. While all agree the tax is important for grocery stores, Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) and others argued the tax hurts certain retail businesses.
Councilman Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said the use of re-useable bags, which the tax is meant to encourage, leads to racial profiling because shopkeepers are wary of customers who use the bags to lift goods.
On Thursday, engageMontgomery added a bag tax prompt to the website: If the carryout bag fee law is modified, what are your suggestions to change it, or should it be kept as it is now?
So far, only user RichardH24 has responded and he says to keep the tax the way it is: “The five cents seems to make people use fewer bags. Leaving it alone makes sense to me. The level of accepted waste and trash is astonishing.”
The other question added yesterday deals with a recent debate sparked by the Council’s Education Committee on the fairness of allowing private donations to certain public schools through booster clubs. Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) recently argued that allowing schools in wealthier areas to raise money for improvements to athletic fields or classrooms is unfair to schools in poorer areas.
EngageMontgomery asks: “Recently, public schools have purchased scoreboards and artificial turf using funds from booster clubs and private sources. Is this acceptable, and if so, what amenities should public schools be able to provide using private funds?”
Like the bag tax issue, no legislation has yet been proposed on public school donations.
But many of the 20 and 30 somethings who attended a Montgomery County Young Democrats forum on the question Tuesday night in Silver Spring said millenials choose D.C. and Arlington over Montgomery because of better nightlife, walkability, transit access and access to jobs.
The discussion covered a range of issues tied to attracting more young people to Montgomery, including finding space to grow a family and, of course, Montgomery’s relative lack of nightlife activity, a topic that’s been in the news recently.
Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) is working with County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) on a night time economy initiative. He led the discussion.
“When we look at young people that we educate in this county, we spend, the average is $180,000. That’s what it costs us to educate a person all the way through our public schools, which is a testament to our commitment to education. But when our young people graduate from Montgomery County Public Schools, do they stay in Montgomery County or do they go to college and move to some other part of the country or some other part of the region,” Riemer asked. “The unfortunate news is that they are not staying in Montgomery County. They are moving to other parts of our region. They are moving to other parts of the county. We have to do a better job, absolutely in my opinion, at least capturing our share of young people who want to move to the Washington region.”
MCDOT’s Community Outreach Meeting Guide lists dates and times for the meetings, which are coordinated with the Transportation Management Districts of Bethesda, North Bethesda, Friendship Heights and Advisory Boards dedicated to bikes, pedestrians and taxis.
The Bethesda Transportation Solutions Advisory Committee usually meets on the third Friday of every other month, from 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m., at the Bethesda Urban Partnership headquarters at 7700 Old Georgetown Rd. The next meeting is scheduled for July 19.
Some residents of Friendship Heights are hoping for a more direct bus route to downtown Bethesda, which sparked the discussion of a Friendship Heights-Bethesda shuttle at a recent community meeting.
The planned installation of Bikeshare stations this year around Metro stations in Friendship Heights and Bethesda has already led to much discussion about bike safety and pedestrian safety on sidewalks where bikes might roam.
Montgomery County Department of Transportation officials hope to the success of a four-month “smart” parking meter pilot last year means money in the budget to install the meters permanently throughout downtown Bethesda.
County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY 14 Operating Budget includes $277,200 for the replacement of existing on-street parking meters with Single Space Smart Meters, the same kind the county tested out starting last March on Norfolk Avenue between Woodmont and Del Ray Avenues.
The meters, from San Diego-based IPS Group, allow drivers to use their credit and debit cards at the machines and see parking rates, hours and time limits on an illuminated display.
The meters use a solar-powered battery and will display how much time remains when a driver pays by cell phone. Drivers now must rely on their cell phones to know how much time remains if they pay through the county-chosen pay by cell phone application.
The meters could also allow the county “the opportunity for future advances in performance pricing of parking based on demonstrated demand,” according to the Parking District Services Budget Overview.
The total recommended FY 14 Operating Budget for the Parking Districts Funds is $25,856,395, an increase of $425,638 or 1.7 percent form last year’s approved total.
Parking fees in downtown Bethesda range from 85 cents to $1.25 per hour and much of the revenue goes toward funding the Bethesda Urban Partnership, responsible for maintaining and marketing downtown Bethesda.
The MetLife Foundation and Generations United presented the honors at a ceremony attended by county officials and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).
The designation means the organizations think Montgomery County is one of the top places to live for people of all ages. The awards are meant to highlight the importance of solidarity between residents of different generations.
“We congratulate Montgomery County for earning this designation,” executive director of Generations United Donna Butts said. ”It takes a great deal of effort and forward thinking to create a community where members of every generation want to live. Montgomery County has worked to ensure its residents enjoy a vibrant, meaningful place to live, are treated with respect and caring, and have ample opportunity to work together for the betterment of all.”
Dunedin, Fla., Itta Bena, Miss., and Westchester County, N.Y., also received the award.
Generations United is a D.C.-based lobbying group for intergenerational programs.
Montgomery County was honored in part because of its Intergenerational Resource Center and nonprofit Interages, created in 1986. Programming from the group includes seniors mentoring immigrant students, a shared site adult and child day care facility in Silver Spring, activities in senior centers and other arts and tutoring programs.
“Prior to joining the County Council, I worked in advocacy related positions on behalf of younger people and also seniors, and I love serving in a County that takes pride in building a better future for all generations,” Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) said. “This award honors our progress. We actively work to serve our seniors and young families by planning more walkable communities, improving public transportation, providing great recreation services, libraries and health care, boosting affordable housing and valuing inclusiveness.”
Board of Education President Christopher Barclay and Office of Community Partnerships director Bruce Adams were also in attendance.
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) on Monday told a group of Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents it’s unlikely Montgomery County will ever implement rent control and that advocates of the measure sometimes use inaccurate information to make their case.
A Friendship Heights resident and member of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board asked Floreen, of Garrett Park, about renters’ rights.
The issue has been prominent among seniors in Friendship Heights, where residents of the Willard apartments have faced a pair of five percent rent increases since last fall. They are unhappy Montgomery County’s volunteer guideline for a 2.8 percent rent increase last year was disregarded.
“Is there going to be rent control in Montgomery County? I think not,” Floreen said. “The traditional challenge is that to the extent that rents are controlled, the history is disinvestment in those buildings or minimal investment. But after a while, the buildings get worse and worse and the government has to step in. …And that’s expensive and costly to everyone.”
Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) who helped institute rent control in Takoma Park, said at a Montgomery County Renters Alliance forum last year in Bethesda that he received no support for a similar measure he proposed a few years ago at the county level. Takoma Park’s rent stabilization limits rent increases to the rate of inflation.
“I did not and have not yet had a single council member come to my door and even say, ‘Can we talk about this?’ I was told it’s dead on arrival,” Elrich said.
Elrich said he was contemplating a modified proposal that would require building owners to submit a request for why they need to increase rents by more than 150 percent of the inflation rate.
Renters now make up roughly 30 percent of Montgomery County’s population, a number that should increase as the county continues its gradual shift toward higher-density, urban-style development.
And while Floreen agreed with renters’ advocates that tenants need more of a voice in the political process, she said the county’s existing regulations protecting against landlord abuse may already be enough.
“There are a bunch of recommendations that the county executive is implementing on tenants’ rights,” Floreen said. “I’m not sure they’re not working.”