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Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  
 
These sizzling days almost make me look back at winter fondly. Almost!  

 

I hope that you are enjoying the beginning of summer.  For many, life actually gets more hectic this time of year.  With kids out of school, life gets even more complicated.  I hope yours is proceeding smoothly and happily.

 

Life on the Council has actually proceeded smoothly.  Two weeks ago, our Council approved two more of my environmental measures; on Monday, the Office of Consumer Protection released a report to me on its review of the water bill controversy; and on Tuesday, we had an important briefing on the White Oak Master Plan, a very important update that could bring greater economic vitality and amenities to a part of our community where both are lacking.  We will take that up in earnest in July.  

 

So, this "brief" briefly brings you up to date on just some of those developments...and others.  

 

Take care.  And please, vote on Tuesday, June 24.  

  

Sincerely,

 

Roger Berliner

District 1

Advocating for WSSC Ratepayers

 

Following a deluge of constituent complaints regarding recent WSSC bills, I requested our county's Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) to examine WSSC's billing practices and billing dispute resolution process.  Earlier this week, OCP released their report that reviewed these issues. The report confirms a need for a fair and independent forum for consumers to challenge WSSC bills.  

 

As the report notes, at no "time during the past 30 years" has OCP received this many complaints about excessive water bills. Significantly, "WSSC and consumers typically assert contradictory conclusions" regarding the cause of these high bills.  WSSC asserts that consumers either "used more water" or "had a leak," while consumers maintain that either "the meter was not properly read" or that "the meter was not properly operating." Constituents report that these discrepancies continue well after potential leaks have been ruled out and maintain that their average household usage has not changed. These extraordinarily high bills have caused real hardships for our residents, particularly the elderly living on fixed incomes.

 

Most importantly, the report highlights a "deficiency in the regulatory structure" -- the "lack of independent oversight with respect to WSSC and complaints regarding WSSC bills."  State law does not give our County that authority. As it stands, WSSC is the sole arbiter of whether a bill is correct. Consumers are clearly at a disadvantage and this needs to change.  Accordingly, I will be working with our state delegation in the months ahead to create a fair and independent forum that will better serve our County's ratepayers.  I also will keep you informed once we hear back from the WSSC with their response to the report.

 

   

Welcoming the KID Museum to Bethesda

 

Yesterday, I was honored to attend the welcoming ceremony for the KID Museum, which will initially be located in the lower level of the Davis Library. This museum has been several years in the making, and its creation truly was a team effort on the part of Museum Founder and CEO Cara Lesser and our County officials. 

 

The museum focuses on engaging children ages 6-12 in exploring international culture, science, technology, engineering, math, and social responsibility.  It is about engaging our kids as "makers" -- working to bring something into form.  I saw my first 3D printer built by a young person!  The concept -- indeed the "mission" of the Museum -- is to inspire the 3 C's -- "creativity, curiosity, and compassion."  Indeed, on the same day as this ceremony, the KID Museum was part of President Obama's 1st "Maker Faire" at the White House.   

 

I am so pleased that the museum is making Davis Library its first home. Our libraries are important community gathering places, and their future and role remains so important to our larger community.  I have pushed hard for our County to embrace "Fab Labs" that bring similar opportunities to our young people, and the first one will also be housed in our lovely library in Rockville Town Center.  

 

The larger goal of the KID Museum, and our County's, is to find a permanent home in Montgomery County.  A large and beautiful space that will allow Montgomery County's KID Museum to be considered in the same league as San Francisco's Exploratorium.  I am confident that our KID Museum will not only be a terrific place for our County's children, but will be a huge draw regionally.  When it opens in the fall, the museum anticipates it will serve 20,000 visitors in the first year of operations.  And more to come!

 

For more information about the KID Museum, visit their website at http://kid-museum.org/

 

New Office of Sustainability Established Within Dept. of Environmental Protections

 

Climate change is real and we, as a society, need to use less energy and cleaner energy. When I introduced my package of environmental legislation earlier this year, I knew we had to tackle these issues head on because we cannot afford to wait while Congress remains gridlocked.

 

I have always been a proponent of the government leading the way when it comes to environmental initiatives. On Earth Day, we passed nine bills that I sponsored to make Montgomery County a greener, more energy efficient jurisdiction. And last week, during Council session, my colleagues and I unanimously approved two more of my bills -- one that will create a county Office of Sustainability and the other to adopt a plan for generating clean energy on site at our county facilities.  

 

The Office of Sustainability will be part of the Department of Environmental Protection.  One of its initial tasks will be to measure how we are doing when it comes to meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals.  To get to an 80% reduction by 2050 will require a lot of us, and we can't begin to get there unless we measure how we are doing.  The Office will be charged with reporting every year on our progress and its recommendations for future action.  We need to be accountable and this bill supports that objective. 

 

I hope that the creation of this office, along with the passage of my 10 other environmental bills, will reinforce the notion that Montgomery County is a leader in energy and environmental issues and bolster its reputation as a community that embraces sustainability as a core value.

An EcoDistrict in Bethesda?

 

County Planning Staff is hard at work planning for the Bethesda Master Plan update which kicked off earlier this year. Last night, I attended a community meeting they held to present and discuss an EcoDistrict concept for the Bethesda Downtown Plan. The meeting was well attended and the concept generally seemed well-received. 
 
The workshop introduced the concepts and principles of an EcoDistrict and provided examples from across the country.  Essentially, an EcoDistrict can be described as a neighborhood, or redevelopment area, committed to advancing sustainability through green building, smart infrastructure and behavior. It provides a framework for setting goals, defining projects, engaging in collaborative efforts, and raises the bar for sustainable practices.  

 

As Chair of our Washington Region's Council of Governments' Climate, Energy & Environment Committee, I had the opportunity to have our region's leaders briefed on this exciting concept a few months ago.   You can learn more about the EcoDistrict concept on the Planning Department website.

Challenging Pepco's Latest Rate Increase Request

 

As Chair of the Council's energy and environment committee, I have been a forceful advocate for greater Pepco reliability. And thankfully, after years of keeping up the pressure, Pepco's performance is getting better. But there is still work to be done. Montgomery County residents deserve a top tier utility company.

 

You may recall that early in my tenure on the County Council, I passed legislation that authorized and directed our County to participate in rate cases before our state regulator, the Maryland Public Service Commission. Before that time, the County -- and our ratepayers -- did not work to protect us.  Now we do.  

 

Earlier this month, the County filed its initial brief with the Maryland Public Service Commission in Case No. 9336, in response to Pepco's most recent rate increase request.  

 

Due in part to past aggressive County opposition, $50 million in PEPCO increase requests were rejected by the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2013. This time, Pepco has requested a distribution rate increase of $37.4 million, an approximately 2.8% increase for the typical residential customer total bill. 

 

Our County has concluded that Pepco has a revenue surplus, or excess earnings, and that the rates should be reduced by $1.5 million. Pepco has also requested an increase in their Rate of Return to 7.92%.  The County supports a Rate of Return much lower than Pepco's request, 7.31%. 

 

The County also continues to resist Pepco's attempts to obtain a mechanism for approval of "forecasted reliability plant additions" prior to any objective evaluation.  In this case Pepco is requesting funds in advance for certain forecasted capital costs, and then proposing a "true-up mechanism" (TUM) by which if the actual costs are less than the estimates, any shortfall would be credited back to ratepayers.  The TUM would provide Pepco with most of the same advantages of a surcharge.

 

The time honored tradition in utility rate making is to require a utility -- after an investment is "used and useful" -- to demonstrate that the investment was prudent.  I continue to believe this traditional approach is appropriate and I am pleased that our County is fighting for this position.    

 

At a public hearing in May before the brief was formally filed, I testified in support of the County's position.  Just know that whether our utility is Pepco or Exelon in the future, I will continue to fight to get nothing less than top performance at reasonable rates.    

 

Click here to see a copy of the County's brief.

Innovative Technology Helping to Promote Public Safety

 

When I was Council President several years ago, I helped to create a position of Chief Innovation Officer for county government with the goal of keeping government on the cutting edge, so that we can be more nimble and responsive to a changing world.

 

That is just one of the reasons why I was pleased to see the latest initiative from that office be recognized at the SmartAmerica Challenge, sponsored by The White House Presidential Innovation Fellows and the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST).

The Montgomery County project that was presented, "SCALE: Safe Community Alert Network," is a collaborative partnership with the County involving researchers from UC-Irvine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with multiple vendors including IBM, the French-based low-bandwidth provider Sigfox, and Twilio, a cloud communication firm.

 

Using low-cost advanced sensor and receiving technology, the pilot network demonstrates deployment of a public sector automated safety alert and community awareness network that protects vulnerable populations.

 

Working with the Montgomery County Housing Partnership (an affordable housing developer in the County), SCALE has deployed a variety of connected sensors in a Rockville apartment building that will detect different environmental distress factors (e.g., smoke, heat, carbon monoxide, hazardous gas), transmit the data to a cloud service, and, if a problem is detected, dispatch emergency response services.

 

As a member of the Council's Public Safety committee, I want to commend Dan Hoffman, Chief Innovation Officer for Montgomery County, and his team for their work on this project. I look forward to seeing its implementation as it stands to potentially benefit our communities in the future and enhance the safety of our residents, especially our senior citizens.

 

See a synopsis of the "Safe Community Alert Network" pilot project.

Bethesda Urban Partnership Celebrates 20 Years of Success

 

Have you ever noticed the people in red shirts around Bethesda?  Seen the red landscaping trucks?  They are all part of BUP -- the Bethesda Urban Partnership -- who, last night, celebrated their 20th anniversary of successful efforts to market, maintain, and beautify Bethesda.

 

Created in 1994, BUP is a shining example of a public/private partnership that has been professionally and effectively serving our county's residents for twenty years.  Each year, they make popular events like Taste of Bethesda, Imagination Bethesda, and the Bethesda Literary Festival happen.  They plant thousands of flowers each year to create an inviting environment for residents and visitors, plant and maintain trees, maintain the sidewalks and streetscaping and so much more that keeps Bethesda looking great.

 

In the eight years I have worked with the BUP team, what has stood out to me is not necessarily what BUP does, but how they go about their business.  Under the auspicious leadership of Dave Dabney, the BUP Staff puts their heart and soul into everything they do.  They are professionals in every sense of the word, always ready to lend a hand or solve a problem in order to make Bethesda one of the best places to work, live, and play in the region.

 

So next time you see one of the red-shirted BUP Team in downtown Bethesda, take a moment to smile at them and say thank you for everything they do.

 




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