Montgomery in Focus Masthead
July 2012


Improve Your Home Improvement Experience

house under constructionEager participants in the Improve Your Home Improvement Experience forum, which I co-hosted, went home with answers to their questions as well as questions they didn't even know to ask. Representatives from the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, our own Department of Permitting Services and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition presented various perspectives and advice for those undertaking home improvements.

The County's Office of Consumer Protection reported that they get more complaints about home improvements than any other category except trespass towing. That's disturbing, but the good news is that there are a lot of resources to help homeowners. Panelists encouraged people to get the facts before starting a project; pay no more than 1/3 of the total in advance; check a company's credit with suppliers like TW Perry; and resist high-pressure or door-to-door sales tactics.

If things still go wrong, there are more options. In fact, the MHIC has a Guarantee Fund that protects you up to $20,000 for actual losses if you use a licensed contractor. Panelists couldn't stress enough how important it is to check the license. Also, avoid signing a contract with an arbitration clause, as this limits your options if you are dissatisfied with the work.

For more information, check out the 12 Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor in this month's Fast Fact or on my blog. We owe a big thank you to the Office of Consumer Protection and the Advisory Committee on Consumer Protection.


Fourth of July Events

Nancy Floreen with dogMontgomery County will again host two fireworks displays on July 4--Germantown Glory at the SoccerPlex in the South Germantown Recreational Park, 18041 Central Park Circle, Boyds and Mid-County Sparkles at Albert Einstein High School, 11135 Newport Road, Kensington. Both fireworks displays will begin at approximately 9:15 p.m.
Germantown Glory will kick off at 7 p.m. with a concert by Bobby and the Believers. Ample, free parking is available. Mid-County Sparkles activities begin at 7:30 p.m. with a concert by Quiet Fire Soul. Since there will be no on-site parking at the school or at adjacent properties, except for handicapped parking, shuttle buses will pick up passengers, beginning at 6:15 p.m., at Westfield Wheaton Metro Parking Garage adjacent to the JC Penney. Overflow parking will be available in the south parking lot by JC Penney. Low lawn chairs, blankets and coolers are welcome at both events. Food vendors will be on site. No alcoholic beverages are permitted. The rain date for fireworks only is July 5. No shuttle service will be available on the 5th.

In addition to the County's two events, a number of neighborhoods and municipalities are hosting celebrations. I’ll be at Leisure World, Takoma Park, Wood Acres, Somerset and Friendship Heights, so stop by and say hello.

To find out what's open and what’s closed as well as parking and trash pick-up information for the County, see the holiday schedule for the Fourth of July on my blog.


Traffic Signal Modernization Completed

You may recall an incident in 2009 when a failure of the central computer responsible for the timing of more than 700 traffic signals caused a congested mess all over the county. Modernization of the system was already underway, but the event made improvements all the more urgent.

Now, three weeks ahead of schedule, the Department of Transportation has completed the conversion of its 1980 vintage Traffic Signal System that controls the County’s 800 traffic signals. The old system relied on one central computer to control signal timing. Although upgraded over the years, the technology had become obsolete and many of the parts and components were no longer available. This made it increasingly difficult to expand the system as additional traffic signals were installed within the County. The new system has signal controllers at intersections that also can be centrally managed, and the flexibility to allow future upgrades.

More enhancements will be completed over the next three years, bringing other signal devices under the system’s control, such as school flashers and hazard beacons. In addition, in case of power failures, back up power systems will be installed.


Transit Task Force's Public Hearing on Rapid Transit

Share your views on the proposed rapid transit system at a public hearing on July 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Council Office Building. This public hearing is hosted by the County Executive and the 15-member Transit Task Force.

For more information on the proposed rapid transit system, see my blog post, Is Rapid Transit Right for Montgomery?.


Fast Fact

Here are 12 tips for hiring a home improvement contractor from our Office of Consumer Protection.

1. Check to confirm if the contractor and any subcontractors are licensed or required to be licensed.

2. Read and understand all terms of the contract. Ensure that all verbal promises are reduced to writing. Does your contract include:
~ Three day right of cancellation (Door-to-door Sales Act)
~ Arbitration clause/procedure for handling disputed issues
~ Starting and completion dates
~ Work schedule and payment schedule
~ Warranties to cover both labor and materials
~ Contractor's liability coverage
~ Site preparation and site clean up
~ Signature of the applicable parties

3. Check to determine if all necessary permits are obtained; this could include building, zoning, plumbing, electrical and/or environmental permits.

4. Check to ascertain if there are any quasi-governmental requirements such as approval from homeowners’ associations and/or historic preservation requirements.

5. Obtain more than one written estimate.

6. Ask for references and check them.

7. Check with your local consumer protection office or other governmental regulatory agency regarding complaints and building codes/permits.

8. Determine if there will be a site supervisor. If subcontractors are used, require a release of liens.

9. Know how to reach your contractor in the event of an emergency, or in the event you have to file a lawsuit.

10. Do not hire an unlicensed contractor.

11. Be cautious of individuals going door to door soliciting/selling.

12. Never allow a contractor to pressure you into accepting a job, and be leery of special/secret/one day/take-it-or-leave-it offers.


Green Tip of the Month

Now you can start recycling your clam shell containers and packaging for fruits, vetetables, cakes and pies. Further enhancing its reputation as a leader in recycling, the County is now accepting PET thermofoam plastics in the blue bins.

PET plastic is used to make items such as cups and rigid packaging. It is a transparent, lightweight, strong, safe, shatterproof and recyclable packaging material suitable for many products. PET is commonly used to package fresh fruits and vegetables, bakery items, prepared foods and salads, and deli items. PET containers are easily identified by the #1 code on or near the bottom.


Let's Talk

Is your community organization hosting a public meeting?  Please let me know how I can help. I am happy to assist residents in understanding pending bills or in finding ways to get involved in the political process. Even more important, I want to hear about what matters to you.  Send your meeting notices to or call 240-777-7959 if you would like me to address a particular topic with your group.