As 2012 winds down, so did my year as President of our County Council. It was a true privilege to lead our Council for the past year, and I hope that you found the results satisfactory. It is harder in hard times, and while we are beginning to see encouraging economic signs, it remained important for us to focus on keeping spending under control, holding down taxes to the maximum extent possible, retaining our coveted AAA bond rating, and generally staying on a prudent and sustainable fiscal path. Where there was room for initiatives, my priority was to help make our county more nimble, more entrepreneurial, more business friendly, and to spread economic opportunities more broadly throughout our County. I honestly think we made some progress in each of those areas, and of course, there is much that remains to be done. You can see my closing remarks here.
All of us are reeling from the horror of Sandy Hook ES. When I first joined the Council, I inquired as to what we could do at the county level to discourage automatic weapons and ammunition, and the response was ...not much. This truly is a time for our state and federal leaders to do just that - lead us to a saner place. No law or laws can prevent bad things from happening, but good laws, reasonable laws can make it harder. It is also true that we must do what we can to improve access to mental health services. Fortunately, in the future, changes made through the Affordable Care Act should help in this regard.
So, as we approach 2013, let us hope for a safer, more conciliatory, and more prosperous time; one where we avoid the fiscal cliff that would do such damage to our county, state, and nation; and a year in which we collectively join together to help our County achieve all of its remarkable potential.
Wishing you and yours a warm Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.
Transportation Summit Focuses on Sustainable Transportation Funding
Under the leadership of my colleague Councilmember George Leventhal, elected officials and stakeholders from around the State of Maryland recently gathered to discuss one of the most critical issues facing local jurisdictions - dedicated funding for transportation projects badly needed to ease congestion on our roads.
Councilmember Hans Riemer, Council President Nancy Navarro, Councilmember Marc Elrich and I joined County Executives from four Maryland jurisdictions including Montgomery's Ike Leggett, State Delegates, and stakeholder groups across the State to reiterate the need for sustainable, dedicated funding for transportation and to explore ways to move projects critical to our state and local economies forward via an assortment of financing mechanisms. The day was an excellent opportunity for transportation and transit advocates to put their heads together in the hopes of forging even stronger transportation coalitions and finding solutions that will pave the way for our future.
If we want to help people get out of their cars, get to where they are going faster and easier, spend more time with their families and less time on the road, we absolutely must build the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, and a countywide rapid transit system. If we want to maintain our existing infrastructure, including our aging bridges, we must find a dedicated funding source. Without getting some of our tax dollars back from the state to do these things, we will literally be at a standstill.
If this issue is important to you like it is to me, it is critical that you let our Governor and your State legislators know that you want to see the State Transportation Trust Fund restored and money for transportation protected. You can find contact information for the Governor and your state legislators here.
Pepco's Latest Request for a Rate Hike
What would a report from me be without some mention of Pepco? As many of you know, Pepco has recently filed a new request for a rate hike with the Maryland Public Service Commission. Pepco is seeking to recover $60.8 million from ratepayers; get an increase in its return on equity for investors; and institute a form of an automatic "tracker" that would allow them to recover 100% of certain incremental reliability related expenditures that they make in the future.
Our County fought hard against Pepco's last request for a rate hike, and fortunately the Commission essentially agreed with the County. In that case, the Commission rejected three-quarters of Pepco's proposed rate hike; reduced its return on equity as a result of its poor performance; and rejected the tracker as antithetical to proper ratemaking principles and consumer protection.
We will be fighting hard for you again in this case. The rate case will begin next year and will be decided by the Commission sometime this summer. You can watch my comments on Pepco's request, starting at 1:50 here, or see a statement issued by seven members of the Council here.
Good News for Downcounty Bikeshare
Last week, the Council introduced a supplemental appropriation that would complete the funding package needed for Phase 1 of the downcounty expansion of Capital Bikeshare to Montgomery County. My colleagues and I, particularly Councilmembers Valerie Ervin and Hans Reimer, have been pushing hard for our County to keep up to speed with the District of Columbia and Arlington on this successful program. And with Monday's announcement of the next wave of stations in DC, we are literally getting closer to becoming part of the system.
Momentum has been building to bring the sturdy red bikes across the District line for some time. Earlier this year, the County was awarded just over $1 million as a grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation, and - thanks to the leadership of Senators Frosh, Madaleno, and Raskin and Delegate Bill Frick - we also received another $250,000 in a state bond bill for the project. The Council recently passed legislation that would make it easier for the private sector to partner with the County on this endeavor, and I am pleased that we have received significant commitments from property owners, including Chevy Chase Land Company, to participate.
With the state and private sector coming to the table, it is time for the County to demonstrate its commitment as well. This supplemental appropriation would fill out the funding needed to finalize locations along both legs of the red line inside the beltway and install the first twenty-nine stations in Montgomery County. I understand that our Department of Transportation has been hard at work finalizing the necessary agreements to become part of the Capital Bikeshare system, collaborating with their counterparts in DC and Arlington. Although it is difficult to predict a specific timeframe, DOT expects that our network will be up and running by mid-2013.
As recent discussions on Greater Greater Washington and other blogs have underscored, the advent of Capital Bikeshare in Montgomery County must be accompanied by a meaningful improvement in our bicycle infrastructure. I have been a champion of critical trail projects like the Capital Crescent Trail and the Metropolitan Branch Trail - but having safe and adequate bike infrastructure is not just about having excellent off-road facilities. I have encouraged our DOT to embrace the concept of "Complete Streets" - that is, having roads make sense for a variety of users, and not just the vehicles that drive down the center. As we move closer to getting on board with Bikeshare, I will continue putting my shoulder to the wheel on enhancing our bicycle infrastructure.
A public hearing on the supplemental appropriation is scheduled for January 15 at 1:30 PM. To testify, send your written comments to email@example.com or call (240) 777-7803 to sign up.
Exciting Things Happening in White Flint
If you have driven on the Pike recently, you likely noticed that part of MidPike Plaza is under construction.Federal Realty is well underway with the first phase of their planned redevelopment on that property, part of the White Flint Sector Plan approved by the Council in 2010.
In addition to new residential units and commercial office space, the Pike & Rose projects will bring a new jazz club, an i-pic theater, new outdoor gathering spaces, and several new restaurants and retail establishments to the area. Phase II of Federal Realty's redevelopment project is right around the corner and proves to be just as exciting. More details on that to come. I, for one, am
excited to see this substantial part of the Sector Plan realized and hope you will be, too.
Another large project in White Flint is getting underway as well. The Lerner Company, which owns White Flint Mall, recently submitted a sketch plan for redevelopment of its property. When this plan gets approved by the Planning Board and construction gets underway, it will mark the fourth major project to redevelop in the Sector Plan. We will start seeing the vision for White Flint start taking shape and an area once dominated by asphalt parking lots will become an inviting, walkable place to live, work, and play. And while these projects mark a large investment in the White Flint area, the benefits to our County's economy will be substantial to say the least. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.
To stay up to date on all things White Flint, check out the Planning Department's website.
Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Update
The Planning Board has held its public hearings and is now in the process of reviewing the staff draft of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan. There will be at least one more meeting on the sector plan on January 10th before the Planning Board approves its version of the plan and sends it over for Council review.
The Council will hold its own public hearing (in the beginning of March at the earliest) on the Planning Board draft before the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee begins its review of the plan. Although I am not a member of this committee, I plan to participate in the PHED Committee discussions, albeit as a non-voting member. Once the PHED Committee concludes its deliberations and makes its recommendations, the full Council will hold worksessions, make any necessary adjustments, and vote on its approved version of the Sector Plan. This will likely not happen until June or July.
Although the Planning Board is not yet finished with its work, I have already met with members of the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Coalition, the Chevy Chase Hills neighborhood, and other residential communities in proximity to the Sector Plan boundaries to discuss preliminary thoughts on the Plan. My staff and I will continue to follow it closely and look forward to working with all interested stakeholders during the deliberation process once the plan makes its way to the Council. Please do not hesitate to call my office if you would like to meet on this topic.
Last week, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr submitted his Recommended FY14 Operating Budget to the Board of Education, including a request to exceed maintenance of effort by $10 million. The Board will then submit its budget request to the County Executive in January.
The Superintendent's recommendations come as our fiscal outlook for FY14 is just beginning to take shape. While we are beginning to see modest signs of economic recovery, this next year is expected to bring its own share of fiscal challenges due to a number of factors - among them, changes to state law that impact our budget significantly, the fragile nature of our overall economic recovery, and the ongoing prospect of sequestration.
With that said, you should know that MCPS will continue to be my #1 budget priority as we look ahead to the FY14 budget. We have a world class school system in MCPS, and we must continue to preserve its reputation of excellence. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Council and on the Board of Education as we collectively work toward that goal.
Maximizing County Assets to Create New Affordable Housing
Montgomery County has been a national leader on affordable housing, developing the successful Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program which has served as a national model. The County can and must do more, however. The DC region is projected to need 35,000 new affordable housing units by 2030 to meet the needs of the region's growing workforce.
I have not always been persuaded that we as a County were doing enough on our own property to meet this objective. If we are to make meaningful strides in our quest to add to the County's affordable housing stock, then we must maximize our County-owned assets to the extent possible and appropriate.
That is why last month I introduced legislation that would require a formal assessment of the feasibility of co-locating affordable housing with each new project recommended for our Capital Improvements Program, excluding roads. Other jurisdictions have been successful in this endeavor - Alexandria has even successfully co-located affordable housing with a new firestation.
These are the kinds of innovative approaches that I believe our County needs to embrace in order to continue making meaningful progress on this front. A public hearing on the legislation is scheduled for January 15 at 1:30 PM. To testify, send your written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (240) 777-7803 to sign up.
Street Tree Legislation
Trees are a resource; a resource that we, as a County, must protect. Currently, our county attorneys have told us that it is not clear that we can enforce a state law that ostensibly protects our County's street trees. That state law was recently amended to allow counties like ours to adopt a local ordinance that would protect this valuable county asset. As a result, Councilmember Elrich and I have introduced legislation that would essentially codify the state law in county law and at the same time, streamline our own process by placing all responsibility for this function in one department.
The existing permitting process for handling trees in the County's right-of-way lacks clarity and is understaffed. It is one of the reasons why the County Executive's staff has been supportive of clarifying our County's responsibility over street trees.
My office has already received correspondence from people concerned that this legislation would make it harder for Pepco to make sure that trees are not threatening electric lines. No. This bill does not inhibit Pepco from performing its tree maintenance responsibilities, a responsibility that is overseen by the Maryland Public Service Commission.
A New Tax Credit for Green Businesses
In an effort to jump start our local "green economy," I have introduced a bill that would create a Green Energy Tax supplement within Montgomery County. This initiative was originally recommended by the County Executive's Green Economy Task Force and would be modeled after the successful Biotechnology Tax Credit that was recently implemented by the County. And like that tax credit, we will fund this program when the economy permits.
Montgomery County should be an attractive place for businesses, particularly cutting edge green companies. New and vibrant green companies catalyze the market and meet the growing demands of a changing world, a world more conscious of its energy consumption and more aware of its environmental responsibilities. This tax credit is designed to build on our County's reputation as being a good, green place to live and work.
Potential businesses that could qualify under this credit include companies focusing on renewable, clean, or distributed energy, energy efficient products or services, sustainable farming and food distribution, water quality and conservation, pollution reduction and remediation, environmentally preferable and biologically based materials and services that use these products, recycling, reuse and resource recovery, and biodiversity and natural resource conservation.
I will continue to provide updates as this bill works it way through the legislative process and we work towards ways to attract innovative green enterprises.
More Dog Parks
I have two dogs who love to be outside. For many years, I was fortunate to live nearby the C&O Canal - and Molly and Max loved it out there. But for many county residents (and also for me these days) large outdoor space for dogs is getting harder to come by.
As parts of the County become more urban, we need more dog parks. Not only are they a way for our canine friends to play and exercise, but they can also be a community's "third place" - the place that is not home or work but is a great place where neighbors can gather and socialize.
Currently there are five County dog parks, in Cabin John, Boyds, Germantown, Wheaton, and Olney. As part of its recently-approved 2012 Parks, Recreation, and Open Space (PROS) Plan, the Park and Planning Commission has identified a need for 12 additional dog parks. Parks staff is currently working on crafting a Program of Requirements, that would include features like a double gate entry system and washable surfaces.
In January, Parks staff will conduct a site selection process to identify the locations for the next set of dog parks. If you are interested in seeing more dog parks in the County, I would encourage you to contact the Park Planning and Stewardship division of MNCPPC.