I hope this newsletter finds you enjoying the warmer days, or maybe even gearing up for an exciting Spring Break adventure. Since my last newsletter, the Council has received the County Executive's Recommended Fiscal Year 2012 Operating Budget and has continued its work on other important items as well. I will be back in touch in the next few weeks with a more detailed look at the FY12 Operating Budget, but for now you will find a budget overview and updates on several other items the Council has been working on below.
County Executive's Recommended Fiscal Year 2012 Operating Budget
On March 15th, the County Executive presented the Council with his recommended operating budget for Fiscal Year 2012.Since then, my colleagues and I have been busy digesting it and preparing for our ongoing budget deliberations in the weeks ahead.
The Council held three days and nights of public hearings where we heard from over 180 residents who took the time to come out to Rockville to share their priorities with us.In addition to the public hearings, we have heard from scores of residents via email and/or snail mail on a wide array of budget priorities including libraries, schools, various heath initiatives, economic development, our planning department, recreation services, parks, and employee compensation and benefits.The public hearings went very smoothly and the public testimony seemed to demonstrate an understanding in the community that resources are indeed scarce and that budgetary decisions will be harder than ever this spring.
That said, I believe this Council is up to the challenge.We entered into this budget season facing a three hundred million dollar budget deficit, and this came on the heels of three difficult budget years resulting in pay freezes for our employees, furloughs for county government, significant cuts to our libraries, parks, recreation centers, and more.This year will not be any different.
While the decisions ahead will be difficult to say the least, you have my pledge that I will do my best to be thoughtful and diligent in all my budget deliberations and approve a FY12 budgetthat is balanced and fair to our residents, our tax payers, and our public employees.
As I noted above, I will be sending out another newsletter in the coming weeks dedicated to the Council's budget deliberations.At that point, I will be ina better position to share a more detailed picture with you and give you a sense of all the moving parts.In the meantime, please feel free to contact my office with your budget priorities if you haven't done so already.
News on BRAC
Neighbors -- Team Maryland produced big time. In an environment that is, to put it mildly, hostile to federal spending, our superb Congressional delegation, led by Congressman Chris Van Hollen and our two stalwart Senators, Cardin and Milkulski, funding ($100-$150 million) to address the traffic impacts of the expansion of the new National Naval Medical Center on our community was included in the FY 11 appropriations bill going to the President. Join me in thanking them and congratulating them on their good work. This was a heavy lift and they got it done!
As you may know, our County and State transportation officials have done considerable work to plan for upgraded transportation options for the large influx of workers and visitors that is expected to begin this September when the expanded facility is completed.You can read about all the projects: the intersection plans, sidewalks, bike paths and the planned changes for the crossings of Rockville Pike between NIH and National Naval Medical Centerhere.
You may already have noticed activity as the County has been hard at work on the sidewalk and bike path projects.The Cedar Lane Bridge over Rock Creek improvements are moving forward and will cause traffic changes beginning on or about April 14th.
As each project begins, this website will be alerting all of us to traffic pattern changes and it should prove very helpful as we manage these changes and the influx of visitors and workers at National Naval Medical Center.
These two facilities along with the Howard Hughes Medical Center as well as Suburban Hospital constitute a national treasure in medical research and in services, especially to our wounded soldiers.I am so pleased that our community has welcomed this expansion and has worked diligently with our transportation officials to ensure that the changes that are needed are developed to the highest standards and appropriate for the neighborhoods they will serve. Going forward in the immediate term it will be difficult as we maneuver between increases in traffic and construction disruptions.In the end, I know we will have a vibrant community we can all be proud to be a part of.
State Legislation Requires Reliability Standards
I am pleased to report that our state legislature, led by Delegate Feldman and Senators Frosh, Madaleno and Garagiola, did, in the closing hours, pass legislation that will, for the first time, require the Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC) to adopt electricity reliability standards.
As you know all too well, today Pepco ranks in the lowest quartile in the nation in terms of reliability and yet have continued to earn their full rate of return approximating 10%.When we have complained to the MPSC about Pepco's reliability, they have responded in part by saying we can't punish them because we have never held them to any standard.Well, at least that is now about to change.
The battleground now shifts to the MPSC.They have all the authority they require to mandate that Pepco provide service as reliably as other top performing utilities in the nation.I recently testified on behalf of our county before the MPSC, urging them to hold Pepco to the highest possible standard.The District of Columbia's Public Service Commission has recently announced its intention to require Pepco to become a top performing utility over a period of years.It would be an extreme disservice to our community if Pepco were required to meet stronger reliability standards in the District than in Montgomery County.
The cost of Pepco's unacceptably poor service has also become clearer.According to the county's survey of our residents and businesses, outages have cost us as much as $300 million.And those costs do not calculate the immeasurable psychological damage -- worrying about our loved ones, our families, seniors, and those who need power to literally breathe.We cannot tolerate, nor should we, anything less than reliable electric service.I will continue to do everything I can to get our state regulators to hold Pepco accountable.
A New Middle School in the BCC Cluster
You may have heard that there are plans for a new middle school in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Cluster. The new middle school will address what is now and what it is expected to be severe overcrowding at Westland Middle School and will allow the sixth grades to move out of North Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Elementary Schools.
Montgomery County Public Schools convened a Site Selection Committee that was comprised of numerous PTA representatives; MCPS staff; elected officials from Somerset, Chevy Chase, and Friendship Heights; Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission staff; and County staff. The Committee reviewed an extensive list of potential sites that would serve the cluster - some sites the Committee found to be prohibitively small; others presented challenges with accessibility; still others might only exacerbate current traffic issues in the area.
Ultimately, the Committee has recommended the Rosemary Hills / Lyttonsville Local Park site. According to their report, the site "offers the best range of site characteristics including access, cost, availability, location, and consistency with LEED criteria." The Board of Education will take action on this recommendation at their meeting on April 28. If you would like to weigh in on their recommendation, I would encourage you to contact your Board of Education members before that time. You can read the Committee's report, which discusses how they arrived at their recommendation, here.
Soccer Fields in Potomac Neighborhood?
Earlier this month, I attended a public meeting hosted by Executive Branch staff regarding the proposal for soccer fields on the Brickyard School Site in Potomac. When this issue surfaced in early March, I was concerned that the community had very little opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. While I continue to believe that we would have been better served to have had the conversation before a commitment to soccer had been made by the County Executive, those who attended the meeting did have at least an initial opportunity to voice its strong (and overwhelmingly negative) reaction.
Councilmember Leventhal and I have encouraged the County Executive to see if there isn't a middle ground in this contentious debate -- adding some soccer capacity but retaining the organic farming too. Not surprisingly, this "common ground" approach has won us few plaudits from either side of the debate, but Councilmember Leventhal and I suspected that when we waded in.
Update on North Bethesda Recreation Center
Last month, I wrote that while the County Executive's Recommended CIP Amendments contained good news for District 1 schools, there was some disappointing news for a few other projects important to our community. The item I found most surprising was the County Executive's recommendation to completely close out the North Bethesda Recreation Center project.
I know that the residents of North Bethesda have waited a very long time for this project to get underway. That is why I wrote my colleagues on the PHED Committee and asked that as they took up the Department of Recreation's CIP Amendments, they consider alternatives to closing out this project entirely. I was pleased that they instructed Executive staff to come back to the Council with a modified PDF (Project Description Form) for the project that reflected planning and design funding in future years. The Council was presented that modified PDF during a worksession on the CIP Amendments last month; we will take a final vote on the CIP alongside the Operating Budget in May. At that time, I am confident the Council will approve a plan for the project that will provide the residents of North Bethesda an alternative to driving to Potomac or Chevy Chase.
Artificial Turf Draft Report Available for Comment
Last July, the T&E Committee, in response to concerns raised by some citizens and groups over the use of artificial turf fields, asked a staff working group to look at the health and safety issues associated with artificial turf fields in Montgomery County and prepare a report that would examine life cycle costs and the environmental and health impacts of artificial vs. natural turf fields.
Staffs from the Council along with Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Montgomery County Department of Parks, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services have reviewed available studies of health and environmental impacts and have attempted to quantify the programming, environmental, cost-benefits, and other impacts of artificial turf vis-�-vis natural grass fields. The Draft Report is now available for review and public comment.
The Council recently adopted a new Housing Element of the General Plan, which informs other parts of the General Plan, along with our County's housing policy. The Housing Element had previously not been updated since 1993.
The Council made several changes from the recommended version sent over to us by the Planning Board in July 2009. The Council concluded that one of the most controversial pieces, a recommendation on accessory apartments, required further consideration outside of the context of the General Plan. We will address that piece this summer.
Recent Grand Openings in Bethesda
Last month I took part in the grand openings of two exciting new businesses in Bethesda. It is always so nice to welcome new businesses and I am pleased to see that Bethesda continues to be a destination for new economic activity.
On March 24, I helped with the "Salami Slicing" Ribbon Cutting at Uptown Deli at the corner of St. Elmo and Norfolk Avenues in Downtown Bethesda. And on March 10, I attended the grand opening of the newest Carr Workplaces, alongside CEO Joe Wallace and Managing Director Paul Dascenzo (pictured at left).
Odds and Ends
Planning Board Vacancies: The Council is seeking applicants to fill two vacancies on the Montgomery County Planning Board. The terms of Norman Dreyfuss (Republican) and Joseph Alfandre (Democrat) expire on June 14, 2011. Letters expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, political party affiliation, home and office telephone numbers and an e-mail address, must be received no later than 5PM Wednesday, April 27. Click here for more information.
Property Tax Credits Available: Montgomery County homeowners who have a limited income or are at least 70 years of age may be eligible for property tax credits that will limit the amount of taxes they must pay. One application will determine eligibility for three programs -- the Maryland Homeowners' Property Tax Credit Program; the Montgomery County Supplemental Property Tax Credit; and the Montgomery County Senior Property Tax Credit.Property owners who have applied for a tax credit previously and been denied are encouraged to apply again, since the tax credit programs have changed and been improved over the years, and your income situation may have changed.Click here for more information.
Glen Echo Park Board Vacancies: The Glen Echo Park Partnership for the Arts and Culture Board of Directors is seeking applications for two vacancies.The Partnership's 21-member Board of Directors provides policy guidance to direct the affairs of the organization and its management, provides oversight for the programs, the site and the facilities, and will lead efforts to raise funds to support the mission of the organization. Click here for more information.
Bethesda Green Internship Fair: Bethesda Green will host its second annual "Fields of Green" Intership Fair on Saturday, May 7 from 10am-2pm. They hope to connect interested young adults with local vocational and educational opportunities in the evolving green industry. Click here for more information.
Volunteer Opportunities at Manna Food Bank: Manna needs adult volunteers to help with food distribution who can help prepare and distribute fresh food boxes, weekdays from 9am - 3pm (or a portion thereof). Contact them at email@example.com to sign up for a shift.
DEP Rebates: Businesses, non-profits, and multi-family communities: come learn about Montgomery County's rebates on energy efficiency upgrades up to 50% of project costs or $75,000 - whichever is less. Click here for more information.
Bicycle Commuter Spirit Awards: Bethesda Transportation Solutions is gearing up for this year's Bike To Work Day on May 20. The event will once again feature the Bicycle Commuter Spirit Awards, which recognizes downtown Bethesda employees who have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to biking to work. To nominate yourself or someone else, click here for the nomination form, due April 29.
Rocking Horse Community Garden Plots Still Available: Several garden plots remain available at the Department of Parks' newest community garden, at Rocking Horse Elementary in North Bethesda. For more information, click here - gardening begins soon!
Congratulating Churchill Hockey
Earlier this week, I presented a proclamation to the Winston Churchill Ice Hockey team and congratulated them on their Maryland Scholastic Hockey League championship.
The Washington Post recently named Coach Ray Mackenzie Ice Hockey Coach of the Year and sophomore Zach Arden to its First Team.