Montgomery in Focus Masthead
May 2011


New Superintendent of Schools

Change is in the air. Although he still has to be approved by the State Board of Education, we're welcoming Joshua Starr to Montgomery County now that he has been appointed by our Board of Education as its candidate for superintendent of schools. Dr. Starr is currently the superintendent of the Stamford, Connecticut, public school system where he has served for the past six years.

Dr. Starr is a passionate champion for all students and is committed to ensuring that Montgomery County Public Schools meets the needs of students across the spectrum. This appointment builds upon the work Dr. Starr began as a teacher in 1993 and has spanned a variety of educational positions. Dr. Starr has been the superintendent in Stamford since 2005, where he has distinguished himself by increasing student achievement for all subgroups, emphasizing increased academic rigor, standardizing curriculum, advancing the use of technology, creating business and civic partnerships, and emphasizing community and family engagement efforts aimed at supporting all children in the classroom.

We're looking forward to having Dr. Starr's expertise here in Montgomery County.


Budget Deliberations Continue - back to top

Floreen at daisThe Council committees will continue to hold intense worksessions on the FY12 budget through the first week of May, and we will begin our daily full Council deliberations on May 9.  You can see my blog for weekly schedules, or check the Council's Web site for committee agendas, full Council agendas, and background materials (usually available two days in advance).  Also remember, many of the committee meetings and all of the full Council meetings are broadcast live on County Cable Montgomery (channel 6).

Although we are well into the budget process, there is still time to let us know your thoughts by e-mailing the Council President.  We will adopt the FY12 budget on May 26, and the budget will take effect on July 1.


Council Approves Changes to Housing Element of General Plan - back to top

We unanimously approved revisions to the Housing Element of the County's "General Plan," making changes that will guide the development of new housing and redevelopment of existing housing over the next two decades while also seeking to protect the character of existing neighborhoods.

The Housing Element of the General Plan is intended to be a 20-year policy document that drives decisions made in the formulating and updating of master plans, sector plans and zoning text amendments. The Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, which I chair, has been holding worksessions on updating the Housing Element over the past couple of months.

The Montgomery County Planning Board previously proposed updates to the Housing Element. As part of their worksessions, the PHED Committee discussed the Planning Board's intent to describe how most future new development in the County will create communities that have higher density housing, depend more on residents using public transit and less on using automobiles. These communities would likely be mixed use, with office, retail, entertainment and recreation opportunities nearby to residences--lending themselves to being walkable.

The Housing Element continues to emphasize the County's goals for all types of housing for ranges of household income.

The amendments that the Council adopted put stronger emphasis than did the Planning Board draft in regard to protecting existing neighborhoods that will be adjoined by newer, high-density neighborhoods. The Council's amendments also encourage the County to diligently enforce housing codes to prevent deterioration of housing in existing neighborhoods and to prevent overcrowding in those neighborhoods.

PHED Committee recommendations that the Council adopted include policies to strengthen established neighborhoods through targeted programs that improve schools, parks, safety and new or upgraded pedestrian and bicycling facilities. Other policy revisions would ensure that infill development complements existing houses and neighborhoods and protects residential neighborhoods from excessive traffic that could result from new development.

I believe the amended Housing Element provides needed and reachable guidelines for the type of new development that will come to Montgomery County over the next 20 years. In addition, we made sure that the existing neighborhoods--neighborhoods that have given Montgomery County its character and helped make it such a desirable place to live--will continue to not only sustain, but also to thrive in a way that will continue to give us variety in the types of housing available in our communities.

The PHED Committee also recommended amending the Housing Element to reflect actions the County is already taking to require and encourage the use of green design and materials and to improve energy efficiency.

I am looking forward to speaking about this and other housing issues at the Affordable Housing Conference on May 2.


Pepco Work Group Releases Survey Results - back to top

fallen tree on power linesThe results are in. The County's Pepco Work Group received nearly 12,000 responses to the survey it conducted in January and February. A total of 10,895 residents responded, while 654 businesses completed the survey. Among the findings reported by Pepco customers taking the survey are:

  • Almost 95 percent reported they had experienced at least one outage of more than five hours in the past year. Just over 50 percent also reported that they had experienced non-major-event-related outages of more than one hour in the past year.
  • The economic costs of long outages experienced in the past year can be estimated, based on reports obtained from survey respondents, from $22.9 to $114.6 million for residents in Montgomery County and $21.1 to $211 million for businesses. Pepco's Montgomery County customers appear to be incurring outage-related costs that are on the same magnitude as Pepco's 2010 earnings of $139 million.
  • Of the respondents who experienced outages of longer than five hours, almost 65 percent reported calling Pepco more than twice to check the status of the outage. Only 5 percent of Pepco's residential customers reported that they did not attempt to call Pepco at all. Of those who experienced long outages, 85.5 percent incurred costs or other economic losses that they otherwise would not have incurred.
  • A full 609 commercial respondents, or 94.9 percent, experienced one or more outages of longer than five hours in the past year. Of those who experienced long outages, 83.3 percent incurred costs or other economic losses that they otherwise would not have incurred.

Progress on reliability continues to be complicated, so here's a refresher:

  • Last summer, Pepco disclosed that it ranked in the bottom 25 percent of utilities for two common measures of day-to-day reliability, and the company released a Reliability Enhancement Plan.
  • On August 12, the Maryland Public Service Commission opened an investigation into the reliability and quality of the electric distribution service of Pepco.  A key element of the investigation was an independent consultant's review of Pepco's system reliability.
  • In the recent State legislative session, legislation was adopted requiring the PSC to establish reliability standards for the delivery of electricity to retain customers and to establish penalties for poor performance.
  • The Pepco Work Group's Report, which was issued on April 20, will be conveyed to the PSC to inform its work over the next year on the reliability standards and other issues associated with its oversight of Pepco.
  • We hired Stanley Balis, a nationally recognized attorney with more than 30 years specializing in utility regulation and related issues, to represent our interests in a number of cases coming before the Public Service Commission, including the investigation into Pepco's reliability.

For more background information, see the Pepco Special Edition of my newsletter.


Welcome Inspector General - back to top

Welcome Edward Blansitt, who we unanimously appointed as the County's new inspector general. Mr. Blansitt retired one year ago as deputy inspector general for the U.S. Department of Commerce, as the County's new inspector general.

The inspector general leads the County's independent Office of the Inspector General, which was established in 1997 and is responsible for enhancing the productivity, effectiveness and efficiency of County government, including the independent County agencies.

Mr. Blansitt's 40 years as a federal government employee included service as acting assistant inspector general for audits at the Department of Commerce and as acting deputy inspector general at the U.S. National Science Foundation. Mr. Blansitt, who is a certified public accountant and a certified government financial manager, was appointed for the remainder of the current unexpired term that ends on June 30, 2013.


Fast Fact - back to top

We're making slow but steady progress on reducing our unemployment rate. Montgomery County's March unemployment rate was 5.0 percent. That's down from 5.1 percent in February. Our unemployment rate remains well below the national average and shows a nice drop from our January 2010 rate, which spiked to 6.2 percent. We still have a way to go, though, to get back to our November 2007 rate of 2.5 percent.


Green Tip of the Month - back to top

The Commercial/Multi-Family Rebate Program, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helps businesses, non-profit, faith based organizations and multi-family communities overcome the financial barriers to implementing improvements that can save energy and reduce operating costs.  Organizations may apply for up to 50 percent of project costs or $75,000, whichever is less.  Funding can be used for a wide variety of energy-efficiency building improvements and equipment.  Projects are selected competitively based on their merits. Get your application in by May 15.


Note to Newsletter Editors - back to top

Did you find something useful in this e-letter? Some people have asked me if they can use the material from my newsletter in their own civic association or HOA newsletters. The answer is yes. I provide this information to help residents find what they need and participate in the legislative process, so feel free to use it.