Category: Tom News

Council adopts budget with eye toward pandemic recovery

Council adopts budget with eye toward pandemic recovery

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 27, 2021—Today the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to approve the County’s $6 billion Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Operating Budget, the FY22 Capital Budget and the $4.316 billion Amended FY21-26 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The Council’s focus throughout their budget deliberations this year was on the County’s recovery and providing relief and direct assistance to residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We needed this budget to build a Montgomery County that is stronger, healthier, more prosperous, more equitable and more sustainable than the one we have today, and that’s exactly what we did,” Council President Tom Hucker said. “The $6 billion operating budget doesn’t just give us a roadmap through the next few months of the pandemic. It sets us up for long-term recovery and revitalization that awaits beyond the pandemic.”

Council President Tom Hucker, Vice President Gabe Albornoz and Councilmembers Andrew Friedson, Evan Glass, Will Jawando, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer all voted to approve the operating and capital budgets. Council President Tom Hucker’s budget comments can be viewed here.

The FY22 Operating Budget includes assistance for businesses, residents and students. Some highlights include: providing a $25 million increase to the Working Families Income Supplement for a total of $45 million to provide direct support to the County’s hardest working and neediest residents; allocating nearly $13.5 million to support residents through the County’s nonprofit partners; increasing support for senior and youth recreational programming; extending the Ride On fare holiday through September and the Seniors Ride Free Program for all hours of operation. The budget also provides $24 million for rental assistance, more than $700,000 to support tenants who are facing eviction and need help understanding their rights, as well as a nearly $500,000 increase for rapid re-housing.

The budget includes essential funding for public health and human services that were critical lifelines for residents during the pandemic. For example, $3.6 million is allocated for the eight Service Consolidation Hubs which have been providing food, diapers and other critical goods and connecting those in needs with other County services. More than $230,000 was added to the budget for the Care for Kids program and over $228,000 was added to the Montgomery Cares program which provides healthcare to the uninsured. The budget also includes an increase of $1.6 million for the Office of Community Partnerships to expand outreach activities and establish a permanent translation unit.

The budget continues Montgomery County’s strong and steadfast commitment to education. The County ranks near the top of all Maryland jurisdictions for total per pupil funding for Montgomery County Public Schools. In FY22 $2.78 billion, or more than half of the County’s tax-supported budget, is allocated to the school system. The budget also fully funds Montgomery College at $312.6 million and provides resources to maintain the tuition rates with no increases.

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to keep the County’s effective property tax rate flat and continue to provide a property tax credit of $692 for homeowners.

The budget also funds the FY22 County’s reserve at 9.6 percent of adjusted governmental revenues and provides $92.1 million in additional resources for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB). Funding for these fiscal obligation helps the County retain its triple-A bond rating.

The budgets will go into effect on July 1.

CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act Funding

Montgomery County, like other local jurisdictions, received significant federal and state support to respond to the pandemic, which the Council approved to provide direct assistance to its residents. Most notably, the Council allocated $183.3 million from the CARES Act through FY21 to support businesses and residents. The County will receive another $204.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The funding that flows from ARPA provides flexibility for the County to meet community needs including support for families, small businesses, essential workers and residents who have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Nonprofit and community partners are essential to this work.

A significant portion of ARPA funds are needed to offset County revenue losses due to the pandemic and has enabled critical government services for residents to continue uninterrupted.

As part of the FY22 budget process, the Council developed a list (referred to as “Category 1”) for potential ARPA funding as well as a separate list (referred to as “Category 2”) of items that the Council may consider funding if additional resources become available during the year. The Council will be formalizing a process for reviewing these lists immediately following today’s budget vote and will review ARPA funding this summer.

Inclusion on either of these lists does not mean that these programs, services or items will be funded in FY22 or in future years. Moreover, consideration for future funding through ARPA or another source is not limited to the programs, services or items on either list. Also funding amounts on these lists may change.

The County also anticipates receiving ARPA funding for targeted areas including Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and Transit Services separate from the existing ARPA allocation and these items will also be reviewed by the Council this summer.

Below are some of the key funding areas in the budget.

Montgomery County Public Schools

More than half of the County’s tax supported budget, $2.78 billion, funds Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). This amount funds MCPS at $40.4 million above the Maintenance of Effort level, which is mandated by the State of Maryland. This represents an increase of $24.2 million and includes a local contribution of more than $1.75 billion. The County continues to rank near the top of all Maryland jurisdictions for total per pupil funding.

The Council approved more than $822.2 million in federal and state aid for MCPS, which is approximately $23.9 million more than last year due to increases in The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future funding, Hold Harmless Grants and a Supplemental Instruction/Tutoring grant.

MCPS is also expected to receive a total of $422 million in COVID-19 relief funding. The Education and Culture Committee will hold a future meeting with a detailed briefing on the utilization of this relief funding.

Montgomery College

The Council fully funded a total of $312.6 million for Montgomery College, which is a decrease of $5.7 million or 1.8 percent from last year’s budget. This includes a local contribution of more than $145.6 million.
The County’s contribution increased by $500,000 over the required Maintenance of Effort Level from FY21 to support two County-led initiatives–Montgomery Can Code and the Innovation Hub Initiative. Each project is expected to receive $250,000. Both efforts work toward advancing innovation and early access to STEM disciplines. The College budget includes no increase in tuition rates or fees paid by students for FY22.
The Council also approved more than $52.2 million in federal and state aid for Montgomery College and it’s expected to receive approximately $45 million in COVID-19 relief funding.

Public Safety

The Council funded a budget of nearly $283 million for the Montgomery County Police Department. This is less than a one percent increase from last year’s budget. The police budget eliminates 27 sworn positions including five School Resource Officer positions designated for MCPS middle schools, six traffic complaint officers, five patrol investigations officers and the Centralized Auto Theft Unit, among others. The police budget also includes two new Internal Affairs Division positions to help expedite internal investigations. The budget includes $570,390 to enhance the Electronic Control Weapons Program, which will replace outdated Tasers for police officers.

In the Sheriff’s Office, the total budget is $26.4 million, which is an increase of $857,607 from last year’s budget. The Council restored $17,789 to maximize the availability of less lethal force options.

The budget for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR) is $72.9 million. This is an increase of $1.8 million over the FY21 Approved Budget. The budget continues year two of a three-year initiative to retrofit cell vents, bunks and doors to reduce opportunities for self-harm. The budget also institutes a Medication Assisted Treatment Program for opioid disorders for inmates within DOCR in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Fire and Rescue Services’ operating budget is $232.7 million. This is an increase of $7.7 million or 3.4 percent from last year. The budget includes $155,000 to support Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) supply costs, its Stryker Power Cot and Load Systems contract and apparatus maintenance and repairs similar to how MCFRS supports other local fire and rescue departments. The Council also added $191,509 for a new paramedic chase car to enhance EMS delivery.

The Council added $700,000 in the Emergency Management and Homeland Security budget for nonprofit security grants for faith-based and ethnic organizations.

Economic Development

The Council approved more than $78.3 million for twelve unique business assistance programs throughout the pandemic. The Council also approved $3 million for the County’s Incubator Programs NDA and nearly $5 million for the County’s business incentive programs.

The Council supported Visit Montgomery’s $1.6 million budget. Visit Montgomery promotes the County’s hotel and tourism industry, which has been deeply impacted by the pandemic.

The Council approved a $1.2 million appropriation for the KID Museum to expand its operations in the County. The KID Museum is a learning space that provides hands-on learning that incorporates STEM, art and culture with skills like creativity and critical thinking. This funding will directly aid KID Museum, in partnership with MCPS, to address pandemic-related learning loss.

The Council continued its support of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation’s (MCEDC) with a $5 million appropriation in FY22. MCEDC was integral in partnering with the County on certain business relief programs during the pandemic, and it is well-positioned to facilitate and market the County’s economic recovery in the coming year.

The Council supported WorkSource Montgomery, which is the County’s lead workforce development organization, with a $1.4 million appropriation in FY22, including $185,000 for stipends to MCPS students participating in the Summer R.I.S.E. Program. WorkSource is partnering with the County, the State of Maryland and local businesses and nonprofits to connects residents with jobs during the economic recovery.

The Council also supported about $1 million for the Office of Agriculture, including an additional $25,000 to support the MARBIDCO cost share program. This program provides small grants for farmer projects in the County.

Transportation

The Council funded the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) budget at more than $228.6 million. The budget extends the Ride On fare holiday through September 2021. Funding is also provided to bring Ride On back to its pre-COVID service level, but on a more gradual schedule.

DOT’s budget also extends the Seniors Ride Free Program to all hours of operation starting in July. Funding for the Safe Routes to School Program is also doubled by $200,000 in the FY22 CIP and $150,000 in the FY22 Operating Budget.

The budget also implements parking fee increases in Bethesda and Wheaton and enforcement hours in Silver Spring and Wheaton but delayed the effective date until January 2022.

Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice

The Council funded the Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice (ORESJ) at $1,001,712, which is an increase of 72.3 percent from the FY21 approved budget. This increase is primarily due to an increase in staffing. The budget funds six full-time positions for the ORESJ in FY22 which will provide two new staffers in addition to what Council added through special appropriation in FY21.

The additional staffing will support ORESJ in meeting the requirements of the County’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Act, which was authored by Councilmember Navarro and enacted by the full Council, by enhancing the capacity to train departmental staff and assist with examining policies, processes, procedures and budgetary decisions to address racial and social justice disparities for County residents.

Children, Youth and Families

The Council funded the budget for Children, Youth and Families at $94.8 million. The Council continues its commitment to helping children, families and individuals thrive. The budget includes nearly $11 million in funding, which is an increase of $5 million, to support the Montgomery County Early Care and Education Initiative (ECEI), which was spearheaded by Councilmember Nancy Navarro and is supported by the County Executive and Council, to expand quality early care and education opportunities for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The ECEI is focused on expanding the number of quality ECE seats in a mixed delivery system, ensuring the sustainability of family and center-based programs, increasing resources to providers and families, identifying existing unused or underutilized classrooms in high need areas, increasing utilization of local child care subsidies, and supporting recovery work during the COVID pandemic. As the initiative moves into year three, there is a focus on reducing costs for early educators, increasing quality programming and subsidizing the costs of childcare for families.

Health and Human Services

The Council funded more than $363 million for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The department has been at the center of the County’s COVID-19 response. While much of the cost of testing and vaccinations has been funded by federal grants and reimbursements, the Council funded several increases that continue changes which have taken place, such as the Service Consolidation Hubs and an additional $3 million to provide increased year-round emergency shelter capacity with the ability to socially distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses.

The Council recognized the extraordinary work of the County’s nonprofit organizations and approved additional funding so that eligible contracts can be increased by three percent. The Council added more than $970,000 to the budget to fully meet the request for the supplemental funding to organizations that serve and care for residents with developmental disabilities and increased funding for the supplement to adult medical day care providers.

The Council also funded $1.14 million to open a wellness center at the newly constructed Seneca Valley High School, which will be ready to open at the beginning of the next school year.

The Council also provided $750,000 to continue the delivery of therapeutic recreation services that the Council added in FY21 and $806,673 to continue the delivery of expanded mental health services for MCPS students that were also added in FY21.

The Council supported the new funding included in the Executive’s recommended budget to continue to increase the capacity of mobile crisis response and alternatives to a police response to a person having a behavioral health crisis. The six new position in the FY22 budget, when combined with the six positions funded by the Council as a FY21 special appropriation, will create six new Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams to bring service directly to the community.

The budget also adds $250,000 to the County’s Dental Program to provide targeted school-based services and establishes a community homeless court docket to resolve certain misdemeanors outside the traditional court system.

Community Grants and Working Families Income Supplement

The Council funded the Community Grants NDA and Capital Grants as part of the capital budget within the Cost Sharing: MCG Project. The Community Grants non-departmental account includes nonprofit contracts totaling $711,000 to be moved to a County department’s base budget and renewals of $9.6 million nonprofit community grants contract for FY22. In coordination with the Montgomery County State Delegation, the Council matched State funding for capital projects to nonprofit organizations that were awarded Maryland State bond bills prior to FY22.

Multi-year funding was restored from FY21 to support the Public Arts Trust to not only commission community-based public art installations but to also repair and maintain the County’s current public art collection. The Council also maintained funding for arts capital grants that were approved in FY21 to arts and humanities venues for capital projects that will allow the safe reopening of venues.

Affordable Housing

The Council allocated more than $89 million in capital and operating funds to support the production and preservation of affordable housing through the Housing Initiative Fund (HIF). This is a $20.5 million increase from the amount available and held in the designated reserve for FY22. The HIF provides funds to finance the production, acquisition and preservation of affordable housing and rental assistance programs for low-income households and for households moving from homelessness to permanent housing. The Council increased the funding that provides assistance with home ownership from $2 million to $3 million, noting that this increase is accommodated by the additional $2.9 million from the designated reserve.

The Council approved the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund as a part of the original FY21-26 CIP. The fund would be primarily used for short-term and intermediate financing to purchase and preserve affordable housing. The source of funds is the Recordation Tax Premium for capital projects. There is no County debt associated with this proposal. The funds would be reserved for projects in partnership with the Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

Recreation

The Council funded total expenditures of $46.47 million for the Department of Recreation. This is a slight decrease from last year’s approved budget. The budget adds $250,000 in funding for senior services to increase recreation programs, classes, events and clubs at six senior centers and senior trip services. The Council also added $520,000 to restore funding proposed for reduction to support three to four additional Summer Fun Centers and enhanced programming for all recreation summer camps.

Environment

The Council supported the $3.5 million operating budget for the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) General Fund. DEP will initiate a County-wide anti-litter campaign. Based on a pilot in White Oak, the goal of the outreach effort is to reduce material and debris entering the County’s sewers and waterways. Funding is also provided to add a new position to enhance enforcement of the laws and regulations the Department of Environmental Protection is tasked with enforcing, such as the bans on polystyrene, single-use plastic straws and the bag tax.

The Council funded $134.1 million for the Recycling and Resource Management portion of the DEP budget. This is a $2.6 million or two percent increase from last year’s approved budget. This funding allows for an improved partnership with the Bethesda Urban District, the Silver Spring Urban District and the Silver Spring Regional Services Center to address the lack of recycling bins in the downtown areas. DEP will also initiate the curbside pickup of electronics for recycling in the northern part of the County in FY22 through new recycling contracts.

The Council also funded $29.5 million for the Water Quality Protection Fund (WQPF). The WQPF covers County costs associated with water quality and the inspection, maintenance and rehabilitation of stormwater management facilities. Watershed grants and the RainScapes Program were each increased by $100,000.

The Council also added $650,000 in funding for the Climate Change Planning non-departmental account. This NDA was started in FY20 and provides funding for the prioritization of greenhouse gas reduction strategies and the development of an implementation plan to meet the County’s goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2027 and a 100 percent reduction by 2035. With the Climate Action Plan work nearly concluded, the focus now will be on the implementation of the high-priority recommendations and follow-up review and study of specific issues.

Park and Planning

The Council funded $152.9 million for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), including debt service. This is nearly a six percent increase from last year’s approved budget. Included in this amount is a project manager position in the Parks Department to assist with facility assessments in Equity Opportunity Areas and funding for maintenance and infrastructure upgrades necessary to meet the County’s greenhouse gas emissions target. The Planning Department received funding to support the creation of an Innovative Housing Toolkit and a Redlining Mapping Tool, as well as funding for a Wheaton Downtown Revitalization Study. The Council also approved several amendments to M-NCPPC’s FY21-26 CIP including: a $2.5 million appropriation for Mid-County Park Benefit Payments to cover developer contributions; a change in funding source for the Ballfields Initiatives project; appropriations necessary to accommodate state aid for capital projects throughout the County and a $10 million grant for the Power Line Trail project.

Libraries

The Council funded $42.7 million for the Montgomery County Public Libraries’ (MCPL) budget. MCPL continues to play a critical and central role in the economic recovery of the County. The FY22 budget to operate the 21 library branches in the County remains intact, with a focus on the safe reopening of in-person browsing and book borrowing.

Funding was restored by the Council for the 21st Century Library Enhancements Level of Effort to expand the rollout of the Open Plus Pilot project, which will allow access to public areas of the library after hours at additional library branches. The results of the Open Plus Pilot at Maggie Nightingale Library in Poolesville, which is scheduled to be implemented by the end of FY21, will guide the project rollout.

Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

The Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils held their bi-county meeting and reached a budget agreement for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). The Councils approved an FY22 operating budget of $852.1 million, which is a $2.4 million increase from the FY21 Approved Operating Budget. This includes a proposed 5.9 percent increase in the volumetric rate and no change in the system development charge, account maintenance fees or the infrastructure investment fee. All new bi-county spending plans are effective starting July 1, 2021.

Negotiated Agreements

The Council funded salary and benefit increases for employees represented by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Municipal and County Government Employees’ Organization (MCGEO) and non-represented County government employees. The Council also funded increases in the agreement with the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Amended FY21-26 Capital Improvements Program

The County’s FY21-26 CIP as amended is $4.316 billion. In a year with constrained resources, the Council adjusted revenues based on anticipated state aid and information from Montgomery County Public Schools. Keeping school projects on track is a top priority for the Council and County residents.

The Council took action to address school capacity issues. Some of the school projects include: funding for a new school to replace the old JoAnn Leleck Elementary School to address capacity and equity issues; providing additional funding for the reopening of the Woodward High School addition and facility improvements for Northwood High School; funding the renovation of Highland View Elementary; and accelerating funding for a major renovation at Stonegate Elementary School that will advance the completion date to Sept. 2023 instead of Jan. 2025. In addition, the Council accelerated the completion of William Tyler Page Elementary School and Woodlin Elementary School to Sept. 2023. The Council also supported requests from the Montgomery County Board of Education to increase funding for heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements, roof replacements and the Planned Life-cycle Asset Replacement Program.

Some of the transportation projects include: funding to keep the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel on the schedule agreed to by the Council last year; $4.5 million for the design of the Veirs Mill Road Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and $6 million for the design of the first segment of the Maryland Route 355 BRT; $12 million for the design and construction of the interim transit service project from the Great Seneca Science Corridor to the Shady Grove Metro Station; and accelerated funding for the North Bethesda Transitway. Funding was also provided to purchase 45 electric buses between FY22 and FY24.

The Council also supported the County Executive’s recommended CIP amendment of $20.4 million to upgrade and expand the County’s Material Recovery Facility (Recycling Center).

County Council Supports Open Streets

County Council Supports Open Streets

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 26, 2021—Tomorrow the Council will introduce a resolution in support of continuing Open Streets programs implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for safe and socially distanced outdoor dining, walking, biking and recreation. District 1 Councilmember Andrew Friedson drafted the resolution, which points to the Bethesda Streetery, Montgomery Parks Open Parkways, Newell Street Temporary Neighborhood Park Expansion in Silver Spring and the National Park Service’s closure of Beach Drive to vehicle traffic as successful examples of how the County, and outside agencies and organizations have repurposed streets for public use.

“Open Streets have proven wildly popular and the creative thinking prompted by the pandemic has demonstrated we can rethink the way public assets are utilized to best serve residents and promote community,” Councilmember Andrew Friedson said. “Thousands have taken advantage of vehicle-free streets to dine outside, support local businesses and walk and bike while enjoying our tremendous parks and natural resources. As COVID transmission declines and we begin to return to some semblance of normality, we should build on the success of these Open Streets programs and make them part of our new normal.”

“The pandemic has pushed more people to recreate and socialize outdoors,” Council President Tom Hucker said. “And we have responded to residents’ demands for safer streets in their neighborhoods with the popular Shared Streets and Open Streets programs. My hope is that these great public spaces become permanent fixtures in our communities beyond the pandemic.”

“The pandemic has further demonstrated that our roadways are not only for driving cars and parking,” Councilmember Evan Glass said. “Repurposing streets has created new opportunities for our residents to exercise and socialize, whether it is jogging on Sligo Creek Parkway or enjoying an outdoor meal on Newell Street in Silver Spring, Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda or Elkin Street in Wheaton. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to rethink how we utilize public space, and I look forward to continuing these community-supported initiatives as we return to a new normal.”

The resolution is supported by all nine Council members and will be introduced by the entire Council. The resolution references how the pandemic has provided jurisdictions around the world a chance to rethink how public spaces are best used and how they may be repurposed to better promote community health and vibrancy.

At the start of the pandemic, Montgomery Parks launched Open Parkways, closing portions of Sligo Creek Parkway, Little Falls Parkway, and Beach Drive to vehicle traffic on weekends to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to use the facilities in a safe and socially distanced manner. In April, Montgomery Parks reported 624,000 pedestrian and bicyclist trips during Open Parkways periods.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) implemented Shared Streets to close select neighborhood streets to vehicle traffic to allow residents and businesses to engage in safe and socially distanced in-street activities.

This included partnerships with the Bethesda Urban Partnership and adjacent property owners on the Bethesda Streetery, an outdoor dining area to support local restaurants with seating located on Norfolk, Cordell and Woodmont Avenues. Other outdoor dining areas have included the Wheaton Streetery, Silver Spring Streetdine and Newell Street Temporary Neighborhood Park Expansion in Silver Spring, the Germantown Streetery at BlackRock, as well as areas supported by municipalities in Rockville and Takoma Park.

MCDOT also created Temporary Neighborhood Greenways that limited roadways to local vehicle traffic only to create safer environments for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The National Park Service closed a portion of Beach Drive in Washington, D.C., near the Montgomery County border, to vehicle traffic to allow residents from the County, the District and elsewhere the ability to walk or ride on the road.

The Council has strongly supported many of the Open Streets throughout the pandemic, including a $1.25 million special appropriation to assist with the purchase of tents, heaters and other equipment to winterize Streeteries and outdoor dining areas.

The Council staff report and resolution will be available here by May 27.

Council Reappoints Tina Patterson to the Planning Board

Council Reappoints Tina Patterson to the Planning Board

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 18, 2021— Today the Council reappointed Commissioner Tina Patterson to the Montgomery County Planning Board for a second term. Councilmembers recognized Ms. Patterson’s experience in alternative dispute resolution, her commitment to economic development and the parks system as well as her work on racial equity and social justice issues. They also noted her community outreach efforts and her systematic and balanced approach to decision-making.

“Ms. Patterson is committed to affordable, attainable housing and access to reliable transportation for all residents,” said Council President Tom Hucker. “Her values are matched by her professional background and expertise. For all those reasons, we look forward to having Ms. Patterson’s leadership on the Planning Board for another four years.”

Ms. Patterson is the owner of a management consulting firm headquartered in Germantown. She is an experienced arbitrator, mediator and facilitator, who for more than two decades has been involved in advocacy, education and outreach on topics related to human and women’s rights. She is also a former member of the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission and in 2019 was appointed to the County’s Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission by the Council. In 2021 she was one of 15 public leaders nationally selected to participate in the Public Leaders for Inclusion Council 2021 cohort organized by America Indivisible.

In addition to Ms. Patterson (Unafilliated), current board members include Chair Casey Anderson (Democrat), Vice Chair Natali Fani-Gonzalez (Democrat), Gerald Cichy (Republican), and Partap Verma (Democrat).

Members of the Planning Board serve four-year terms and are limited to two full terms. No more than three members of the Planning Board may be from the same political party, and each member must be a resident and registered voter of Montgomery County when appointed.

The Planning Board serves as the Council’s principal adviser on land use planning and community planning. Planning Board members also serve as commissioners of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Some of the Planning Board’s responsibilities with regard to planning include the development of the County’s General Plan, master plans and functional plans, the formulation of subdivision regulations and the preparation of, or recommendations on, text amendments to the Montgomery County Zoning Code. The Planning Board also implements the subdivision process by reviewing and approving all preliminary plans, site plans and other plans for development, provides advice on the planning implications of capital facilities and programs. In addition the Planning Board provides comments, under its mandatory referral authority, on plans for public facilities of local, state and federal agencies and approves the work program and the annual operating budget for the Planning Department and the Commission’s bi-county offices.

The Planning Board also sits as the Park Commission and approves the annual Parks Department operating budget and Capital Improvements Program (CIP), reviews and approves land acquisition contracts and major development contracts, as well as development plans for individual park facilities.

Council introduces bills on police transparency, training

Council introduces bills on police transparency, training

Published by the Washington Post

Montgomery County lawmakers on Tuesday introduced three bills to strengthen police accountability and expand training for officers, the latest step in an ambitious effort to overhaul policing in the suburb of 1 million people.

Spearheaded by liberal members of the all-Democrat county council, the bills come amid a wave of policing changes in the Washington region and a week before the one-year mark since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. Floyd’s death sparked dozens of protests in diverse, liberal Montgomery, where issues of racial justice have grown in prominence in recent years.

One of the proposals, sponsored by Council President Tom Hucker (District 5), calls for the police department to increase oversight of and access to footage from body-worn cameras of officers out on duty.

Another, sponsored by council member Will Jawando (At Large), would require incoming police recruits to attend a 30-hour education program on racial equity and other topics before being admitted to the police academy.

The third, co-led by Hucker and Jawando, would mandate that the county attorney regularly report settlement agreements made between the county government — including the police department — and members of the public.

The council also is considering at least three other bills related to policing, including legislation to boost civilian oversight of police discipline. Lawmakers voted unanimously last year to increase funding for civilian mobile crisis teams meant to divert individuals away from the criminal justice system, and recently decided with County Executive Marc Elrich (D) to remove armed officers from public schools.

In Maryland’s largest suburb, an ambitious police overhaul faces roadblocks

Hucker’s body-camera bill comes after Montgomery officers were seen on video loudly berating and handcuffing a 5-year-old boy who had wandered away from school. The incident, which happened in January 2020, became public a year later only when lawyers for the boy and his mother announced that they were suing the county. The footage was released in March.

Hucker said he has been frustrated and embarrassed by how long it took for county officials to understand what had happened during the incident. His bill, he said, strives to “close the loopholes” in the county’s body-worn camera policy by requiring internal investigators to do random checks of recordings and to review footage whenever certain types of officer conduct are being investigated, including when officers use force against civilians. In addition, the chief of police should be briefed monthly on these investigations, the bill proposes, and elected officials should promptly receive copies of body-camera footage if they request it.

“There’s an unfortunate lack of oversight and transparency over our body-worn-camera footage,” Hucker said.

Jawando said the bill asking for regular reports on the county’s financial settlements with residents is also designed to monitor potential instances of misconduct by police and other county employees. Such settlements are not publicly disclosed unless requested by individuals through the Maryland Public Information Act.

Council members Nancy Navarro (District 4), Hans Riemer (At-Large), Evan Glass (At-Large) and Craig Rice (District 2) asked during the council session to be added as co-sponsors of this bill.

Jawando said he worked on drafting the Community Informed Police Training Act with leaders at Montgomery College. Incoming police recruits in Montgomery now go through 24 weeks of training at the academy, which is about the same as the national average. Experts have noted, however, that officers in the United States undergo far less training, on average, than officers in other wealthy, industrialized countries.

The bill calls for an additional 30-hour, five-week training program that covers “areas not traditionally covered in depth by law enforcement agencies,” such as the history of policing, social justice and communication skills, he wrote in a memo to colleagues. Performance in the course would be used to evaluate recruits.

He was a champion of police in schools. A year after George Floyd, he’s changed his mind.

“Is training the panacea? Absolutely not. . . . But it’s an important piece of this,” Jawando said at a news conference before introducing the bill.

He added that if passed, the bill could help attract recruits who may not previously have considered policing as a career path. Police Chief Marcus Jones and police union leaders have in recent months reported that the county’s overhaul efforts have left rank-and-file members of the department feeling demoralized.

“If you’re a young person today and you see that your department, your county, is taking the lead in trying to be part of the reimagining police’ conversation . . . that’s going to open up a whole different crowd,” Jawando said. Montgomery College, he noted, has a criminal justice course with 600 students enrolled; more than half of the college’s student population is Black or Latino.

Public hearings for all three bills are scheduled for June 22.

MDOT Removes Large Stretch of Capital Beltway From Toll-Lane Plan

MDOT Removes Large Stretch of Capital Beltway From Toll-Lane Plan

Published by Maryland Matters

In an apparent nod to opponents of the planned widening of two highways that run through Montgomery County, state transportation officials announced on Wednesday that they have scaled back their footprint for the project.

The changes are reflected in a “new recommended preferred alternative” to the planned construction of toll lanes on the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Interstate 270.

Under the revision, Maryland and its team of private-sector investors would continue to move forward with the reconstruction of the American Legion Bridge and the widening of the western-most section of I-495 and the southern section of I-270.

But the new plan eliminates the construction of high-occupancy toll lanes along the 30-mile stretch of the Beltway that runs between the I-270 spurs in Bethesda and MD Route 5 in Prince George’s County.

At a news conference, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) called the bridge “the most critical” piece of his plan to ease congestion in the region.

“It’s where the biggest bottleneck is,” he said. “Our intention is moving forward.”

Planners in Montgomery and Prince George’s have long complained that the scope of the federally-mandated environmental review was overly broad given the state’s 2019 decision to build the project in phases — resulting in a needlessly-long set of issues to resolve.

Late Wednesday, top Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission officials praised MDOT for its actions.

“As a cooperating agency on the Managed Lanes Study, we are pleased and encouraged by the State’s phased approach,” said the panel’s chairwoman, Elizabeth Hewlett. “Now we can focus on what is proposed and what could be implemented in the near term so that our communities can truly benefit from this plan.”

M-NCPPC vice-chairman Casey Anderson called the move “a huge step in the right direction.”

“We are going to want to work through the details, especially as it relates to funds for transit and minimizing impacts to parkland and we will also look to our elected officials for input on the issues they consider important.”

Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater has logged long hours conferring with planners and other officials in the capital region, in an effort to address some of their concerns about the project.

“This was really about aligning our [National Environmental Policy Act] approach with our commercial approach,” Slater said in an interview. “We felt pretty strongly that the most important element of this entire program is the American Legion Bridge.”

Even after Wednesday’s announcement, however, some leaders questioned the use of variably-priced tolls, which are in widespread use in Northern Virginia and elsewhere. Critics contend they favor the well-to-do.

Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D) said the decision to drop most of the Beltway from the plan reflected the “growing public awareness of how they’ve fast-tracked this wildly unpopular project.”

To avoid having to use public funds, Hogan decided in 2017 to have private-sector companies finance and build the new “managed lanes,” in exchange for the right to set toll rates and keep almost all of the money.

Hucker said the state’s decision to drop a large piece of the original plan appeared to be an acknowledgement that President Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have a vastly different philosophy than the prior administration.

The state’s approach “abjectly fails the test for transportation projects that the federal government now has — that they move people and not vehicles, and that they pass a climate test and a racial equity test,” Hucker said. “This 1970s-style project fails those 21st century standards.”

MDOT’s adoption of “new Recommended Preferred Alternative” requires the agency to issue a “supplemental” draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).

That statement will be released in “late summer,” and it will run parallel to the original, the agency said on Wednesday. The public will have the opportunity to comment on it after it is released.

MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are still in the process of considering approximately 3,000 public comments that were submitted in response to the original draft impact statement.

“The agencies will respond to substantive comments received on both the DEIS and the (Supplemental) DEIS in the study’s combined Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision,” the agency said.

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) said the state’s decision represented “a really, really important step” toward improving project.

But Elrich, who has long urged the state to abandon its insistence on establishing four HOT lanes on I-270, thinks the plan could still be scaled back further. In his view, Maryland should create two reversible lanes — carrying traffic southbound in the morning and northbound at night.

He said there is enough pavement along the highway to add one lane in each direction by rebuilding the bridges that take county roads over I-270.

“There’s nothing in planned development in Montgomery County that requires the addition to two lanes in both directions,” he said. “The growth and the concentration [of development] is going to be around Metro stations, and a little bit along the Corridor Cities Transitway.”

Hogan “has a problem that he can solve with two reversible lanes,” Elrich added. “He can solve it tomorrow.”

Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) applauded the state for abandoning its “ill-conceived plan” to build toll lanes along the entire Maryland side of the Beltway, and he urged Hogan to ensure that transit — rail or bus-rapid transit — is incorporated in the new American Legion Bridge.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “The governor and his team have to be committed to working that piece as well.”

Edgar Gonzalez, head of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, said in an email that MDOT’s new plan “totally makes sense and should have been prioritized earlier, but it is great that the State and Federal agencies have agreed to separate this phase from the rest.”

“Great news for commuters, businesses and transit riders who will be able to take advantage of the HOT lanes in the future,” he added.

Officers honored for responding to Capitol riots

Officers honored for responding to Capitol riots

Published by W-USA 9

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County Police Department officers were honored by the county council on Tuesday for their service to protect the country’s democracy on the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

On Jan. 6, 2020, dozens of pro-Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol threatening the nation’s democracy and putting the lives of congressional leaders at risk. It was reported that law enforcement officers were outnumbered by the crowd and many officers from outside jurisdictions were called to help.

According to Montgomery County Police Chief Jones, D.C. Police Acting Chief Contee called on members of MCPD to partner with MPD and Capitol Police to keep D.C. safe.

MCPD’s Special Events Response Team officers responded to the insurrection and were one of the first teams to report to the incident, officials said.

Montgomery County Council Vice-President Gabe Albornoz said during the siege, their members were spat on, abused and one of their officers was even struck in the head and got a concussion. As of Tuesday, the officer who suffered a concussion is still out of work, Chief Jones said.

“I was truly inspired by the heroic efforts of the Montgomery County Police Department as they do every day– try to step forward and protect and serve our entire community and on that day, our very democracy,” Albornoz said.

Each officer that was deployed to D.C. to help law enforcement during the violent attack on Jan. 6, individually received a certificate of thanks for their service on behalf of the county council, said Tom Hucker, Montgomery County Council President.

The council also signed a proclamation Tuesday to officially honor the officers who served and risked their safety to assist federal officers, to ensure the safety of congressional leaders and to help preserve our democracy, “Let it be known that their bravery is honored…,” the proclamation stated.

Fighting for new Forest Glen Metro entrance

Last year, I fought to include $20.2 million in our new six-year Capital Improvements Program to design and build another entrance to the Forest Glen Metro station. This entrance will be across Georgia Avenue, linked by an underground passageway.

As part of his midyear savings plan, our county executive wants to delay this project by two years, but I will do everything I can to make sure it remains on schedule.

Because this new entrance on the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road will provide safer access to the Metro station, it will attract more people to use Metro — one of our most effective tools when it comes to cutting our carbon footprint and relieving congestion on our roads.

Right now, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists cross Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road to access the Metro station. This project will not only facilitate use of Metro, but help all pedestrians who are just trying to cross eight lanes of high-volume traffic. That will vastly increase the walkshed of the station, which stretches to Holy Cross Hospital — a major employer in the area.

Together with the improvements outlined in the upcoming Montgomery Hills/Forest Glen Sector Plan, this project will help transform this area into a safer, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood that benefits commuters and other residents, drivers, bicyclists and businesses.
More information is here: https://bit.ly/2Mvtq6V; search for “passageway.”

Cutting lead in school water

Lead is a neurotoxin that, when ingested — say, through drinking water — is dangerous to all of us, but especially our children, with their developing brains.

Even very low levels of lead in kids are associated with behavioral and learning problems, hyperactivity, lower IQ, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia.

That’s why I’m working to reduce the lead levels in our county’s public school drinking fountains.

Here’s some background:

In 2017, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 270, requiring all schools to test for lead in all drinking water outlets every three years.

Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools completed the initial testing and found lead levels higher than the state action level of 20 parts per billion (ppb) in at least one outlet in 86 out of 206 county schools. Some schools were found to have outlets with lead levels of 100 ppb or more.

MCPS has since fixed 97 percent of the outlets that had lead levels at 20 ppb or higher. MCPS does not, however, plan to address the outlets that had detectable lead levels below 20 ppb.

But two federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level goal of zero and an action level of 15 ppb.

Several jurisdictions in the area, including the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County, have set their lead exposure levels much lower than that. D.C.’s action level is 5 ppb, while Prince George’s is 10 ppb — much lower than our county’s level.

That’s why I plan to introduce a bill on Feb. 5 to lower our county schools’ action level to 5 ppb. It would require the schools to remediate and conduct follow-up testing on drinking fountains with lead levels higher than this.

We have an absolute responsibility to protect the health of our children. They deserve public health protections that are at least as robust as those in our neighboring jurisdictions.

Big turnout for Shutdown Social

Our beleaguered federal workers and contractors had to deal with a lot of financial hardship and anxiety during the long federal government shutdown. So I’m happy to report that more than 600 people came to the Shutdown Social that I organized on Jan. 11 at Montgomery Blair High School to show our community’s support for our federal employees and contractors.

We could have never pulled this off without such a supportive and generous community. I’m so grateful to the twenty restaurants that donated food — including 4 Corners Pub, Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant, All Set Restaurant & Bar, Busboys & Poets, Chipotle, El Golfo Restaurant, Fire Station 1, Ghar-E-Kabab, Kaldi’s Social House, Kefa Cafe, Kin Da, Jimmy & Mamma Lucia, Manny & Olga’s, Mark’s Kitchen, McGinty’s Public House, Middle East Cuisine, Pacci’s Neapolitan Pizzeria, Port-au-Prince, Simply Fresh Catering and TPSS Co-Op — to nonprofit partners Nourish Now and Manna Food Center, who picked up and donated meals; to Main Street Takoma for helping organize restaurant donations; to the Service Workers Training & Education Partnership of HERE Local 23, who stepped in to set up the service line; to iconic local musician Joe Uehlein, who organized eight other local musicians to provide free entertainment for the crowd, and to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and County Exec Marc Elrich, who stopped by to provide words of support.

And although the federal government has reopened — at least temporarily — we’re joining with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue and Jose Andres’ Chefs for Feds to plan another dinner at Blair on Feb. 8.

It’s not surprising that our county was among the hardest-hit in the nation by the shutdown, considering the presence here of major affected agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Food and Drug Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology. That doesn’t include our many residents who work at other federal agencies in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia.

Not did thousands of our hard-working federal workers suffer without paychecks for more than a month — whether they were working or not — but their families took a direct hit, too, forced to make tough choices about paying their or mortgage, buying food or medicine, or paying for heat and electricity.

And the shutdown rippled through the whole economy, as businesses such as restaurants that depend on furloughed workers’ patronage saw their sales plunge.

That’s why it was particularly gratifying to see so many of these same restaurants and other food establishments and nonprofits contribute food, supplies and labor to the Jan. 11 dinner, which also featured great music by a variety of local performers.

Together, we showed what a caring, supportive community our county is. Like the first Shutdown Social, everyone is invited to the Feb. 8 event, on which I’m collaborating with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. If you’re an affected worker — employee or contractor — stop by with your family for some good food and companionship. And if you want to volunteer your time or donate store-bought packaged food, your contributions are much appreciated. Please stay tuned for details on the Feb. 8 dinner.

And anyone affected by the shutdown who needs help can check for county resources here: https://bit.ly/2HkvDmM

New Year, New Roles

As I begin my second term on the County Council, I’m also taking on two new important roles.

I’m honored to be named the new chairman of the Transportation & Environment Committee, on which I’ve served the past four years. I’ve also been selected as one of two Montgomery County representatives on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments – where I can work on regional priorities like Metro service and economic development with elected officials from DC, Northern Virginia and Prince George’s County. READ MORE

The powerful Transportation & Environment committee sets county policy across a broad portfolio that impacts everyone in the county:

  • Our road network, including street design, regulation and repairs; and bike and pedestrian infrastructure and safety.
  • Transit, including managing our Ride On bus network and Bus Rapid Transit, and engaging with WMATA,  the Maryland Transit Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.
  • Environmental policy, including all the ways we address our climate crisis, protect our air and water, increase renewable energy usage, pesticides, stormwater management — and more.
  • Water and sewer services and other utilities.

I’m looking forward to tackling these major quality-of-life issues with two colleagues joining the committee, Hans Riemer and Evan Glass. We’re on the same page when it comes to ensuring our residents have safe roads, sidewalks and bike lanes, as our Vision Zero plan calls for; reliable, affordable transit, like Metro, the Purple Line and BRT; efficient, affordable water and sewer service; clean air to breathe; and clean water to drink. Plus, we’re all committed to fighting climate change by meeting our goal of being carbon-free by 2035.

At our first meeting on Jan. 22, my colleagues and I voted to reject the county executive’s proposed $166,000 cut in Ride On bus service, which would have reduced service on some of our county’s most used routes: https://bit.ly/2FIghqH.

Coming up, we’re planning a Feb. 7 briefing on the use of road salt and our winter storm response, issues of concern to many of us, judging from what I’ve heard from you after our last storm.  

I’m also working to help pass two bills this year to encourage more solar energy in commercial and residential buildings in our county.

More information on the T&E committee is here: https://bit.ly/2C5Ph1i

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments comprises representatives from municipal, county and state governments in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. Together, they work with the COG staff to find solutions to issues that call for coherent regional approaches — issues such as transportation, the environment, housing, economic development, public health and homeland security. For example, COG has been instrumental in securing dedicated funding for Metro from its three jurisdictions and in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Montgomery County is an integral part of the capital region and has a big stake in what happens regionally, which is why I look forward to serving as one of our county’s two members on the board, along with our new council president, Nancy Navarro. I’m honored to be chosen for this important role. More info is here: https://www.mwcog.org/

Working to make New Hampshire Avenue safer

This morning Councilmember Hucker joined community leaders, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), and Prince George’s County Councilmember Deni Taveras at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Northampton Drive in Silver Spring to discuss pedestrian safety improvements.  Sitting on the border of Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, this stretch of New Hampshire Avenue has been long neglected by both counties in part due to uncertainty about the location of the county line itself.  I’m working to change that.

A constituent of Councilmember Hucker from the Oakview neighborhood, Scott Baumgartner, reached out to the office recently with various pedestrian safety concerns at and near the intersection.  The intersection of New Hampshire and Northampton is adjacent to two large apartment complexes and is served by some of the busiest bus routes in the region, including Ride On routes 20 and 22, along with Metrobus route K6 and MetroExtra route K9.  Despite the high transit ridership and pedestrian activity of the area, the surrounding pedestrian facilities are sorely lacking.

While walking around the intersection and along New Hampshire Avenue, the Councilmember identified several needs that require addressing to make the area safer and more accessible for pedestrians:

  • A new marked crosswalk with accessible curb ramps where Northampton Dr meets New Hampshire Ave.
  • A new short stretch of sidewalk along an existing desire path to connect Avenel Rd with the bus stop at Northampton.
  • Repainting existing crosswalk markings across New Hampshire Ave to make them more visible.
  • Repairs to the existing sidewalks on New Hampshire Ave and creation of accessible ramps at existing curb cuts to meet accessibility standards.
  • Trimming and removal of overgrown vegetation infringing on the sidewalk.
  • Repairing the mural along New Hampshire Ave at Piney Branch Rd.

Councilmember Hucker was encouraged to hear MCDOT’s commitment to add a marked crosswalk across Northampton and to add accessible ramps on either side of the intersection.  The Councilmember is coordinating with MCDOT and SHA to address the various other issues along New Hampshire Avenue and he is hopeful that many of these common sense fixes will soon be made.

Restaurant Week is Back for a Fourth Year

I launched Restaurant Week in 2015 to help promote our great restaurants and also expose residents to the terrifically diverse cuisine in our community. In our 4th year, we had 32 participating restaurants offering special fixed-price lunch and dinner menus featuring culinary treats from America, Korea, Italy, Latin America and more. This year I was especially proud Restaurant Week was featured on Good Day DC on Fox 5, and engaged over 5,000 local residents.

Silver Screens another success

Despite some meteorological challenges this summer — i.e., we had more than our fair share of rainy Fridays and some cancellations — our annual Silver Screens series of free outdoor movies was again a big success.

Many thanks to AFI Silver for presenting the movies and Sonny’s Green at The Blairs for hosting them. And thanks to everyone for turning out for these fun family evenings.

I’m looking forward to working with them again next summer — and hoping for drier weather.

Fighting climate change: What we can do

In August, I worked with One Montgomery Green, Integrative Strategies Forum and Poolesville Green to present “Leading the Way — Montgomery County Confronts Climate Change.” This month, a public briefing following up on the discussions at this important conference will be held in Rockville.

More than 80 residents, specialists and others attended last month’s public meeting in Silver Spring, sharing what local groups are doing to mitigate climate change, reviewing county programs in its Climate Mobilization Report and discussing initiatives the county could launch or expand to reduce our carbon footprint.

The meeting was held as an affiliate event with the Global Climate Action Summit , set for Sept. 12-14 in San Francisco.

As a result of these discussions, a report will be presented to county leaders at a public briefing at 6-8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Council Office Building in Rockville.

As the Council’s Lead for Environment — and with frightening news about rising sea levels and record wildfires, floods and heatbeing reported on practically a daily basis — I know that fighting climate change is among our generation’s most urgent challenges.

Our County Council has set an ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035 and I’m committed to helping meet that goal.

This year I spearheaded a successful proposal to change our zoning law to allow community solar projects, each capable of generating up to 2 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 200 homes. And next month there will be hearing on another proposal of mine that’s designed to cut the red tape and expense for businesses that want to install their own solar projects.

More information about the Sept. 12 briefing is here: https://bit.ly/2NBmkgT

County’s student loan refinance program advances

As many of you know, I fought this spring to have $60,000 included in our fiscal 2019 operating budget to fund a market-demand study and cost analysis for a new county student loan refinance program, through which borrowers could refinance their college loans and save thousands of dollars. This summer, we solicited bids and received several from reputable vendors.

Our staff expects to rate the bids and award the contracts this month, with the actual studies getting underway shortly thereafter.

This is great news, as it means we’re on our way to helping our college borrowers ease their huge debt loads. The nation’s total student loan debt is now about $1.5 trillion — an enormous sum that’s crippling the ability of young professionals and their families to buy homes, start businesses, pursue graduate degrees and save for retirement.

Our county program would be similar to those that several states have run successfully for years. These programs are self-sustaining, with private activity bonds issued to refinance loans at lower interest rates; the borrowers’ monthly loan payments are used to pay off the bonds.

Not only do such programs help borrowers, they’ve been shown to boost the local economy. Businesses such as Microsoft use these public refinance programs to attract and retain employees.

By establishing the first such program run by a county in the U.S., Montgomery can become a national leader in this growing movement to help ease this burden on borrowers.

At a time when the Trump administration is doing what it can to hurt student borrowers — seeking to end the federal loan forgiveness program, siding with lenders over borrowers through its regulators — it’s more crucial than ever that the county step in to help.

You can sign a petition to support the proposal here.

Helping More Businesses Switch to Solar Power

As I reported in my last newsletter, I recently introduced a zoning text amendment designed to make it easier for businesses to install solar energy panels on their property.

It’s a follow-up to the zoning change I introduced that the council approved this spring, allowing community solar projects that can provide electricity to residents who can’t have their own solar panels.

This new proposal would exempt accessory use solar projects from the costly and lengthy site plan process.

Too often, the cost of the site plan process can outweigh the benefits of adding solar panels to a property.

Many of our businesses want to participate more in the new green economy, for both financial and environmental reasons, and this proposal would help them do just that.

The zoning change would apply only to properties zoned for commercial, employment, industrial and mixed-use without residential.

Together, by promoting more solar energy, these two zoning changes can help our county meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 1:30 p.m. You can sign up to testify at the hearing online athttps://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/phsignup.html or by calling 240-777-7803.

And the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13.

More information is here: https://bit.ly/2Ap0LOA.

Concerns About Plans to Widen the Beltway

Like many of you, I’m concerned about Gov. Larry Hogan’s plans to possibly widen the Capital Beltway through Montgomery County. I’ve heard from many residents who point to the massive disruptions this project could cause, especially because it would require taking significant amounts of private property through Silver Spring.

Some also question the wisdom of investing billions of dollars into expanding our highways, when other traffic solutions, such as mass transit, are more environmentally friendly and would do much more to help the county meet our goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The County Council held a briefing from our staff on the Beltway and I-270 plans at our first post-recess meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11. You can watch the streamed version on the council’s website, here.

And please continue sending me your ideas and feedback on this major issue at Tom@TomHucker.com.

Council Tackles Bicycle Master Plan

Among the many available options, including cars, buses and Metrorail, many of us have turned to bicycling, for health, environmental, economic and other reasons.

The growing popularity of cycling has spurred the county to adopt a comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan, incorporating and revising bike and other master and sector plans dating to 1978.

It will bring the county in line with leading practices in bicycle network planning and help us realize our Vision Zero Two-Year Action Plan to eliminate traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries.

The new plan calls for creating a low-stress network of bikeways throughout Montgomery County, so cyclists of all ages and abilities can safely ride to transit stations, employment centers, shops, public facilities and other destinations in the county. A new bikeway classification system organizes bikeways based on their level of separation from traffic.

In addition, long-term bicycle parking stations are recommended at all Metrorail Red Line and many MARC Brunswick Line stations, and future Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway stations.

About 30 people testified at a public hearing on the new plan on July 10.

AFI Silver Screens kicks off with ‘Jurassic Park’

I’m proud to once again help present Silver Screens, AFI Silver’s annual terrific series of free outdoor family movies this summer. This year’s screenings kick off with 1993’s “Jurassic Park” on Friday, July 13, and continue on Friday evenings through Aug. 31. Movies start at sundown, between 8 and 8:30 p.m. There’s a new venue this year: Sonny’s Green at The Blairs District, 1401 Blair Mill Road in downtown Silver Spring. The Blairs is also a co-presenter, along with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. Other films this summer include “Moana” (July 20) and “Jumanji” (July 27). More information and the schedule are here: https://bit.ly/2xIFZYM.

Green jobs apprenticeship program good for workers, industry, environment

Green jobs apprenticeship program good for workers, industry, environment

Last month, the County Council unanimously approved my bill that will create a clean-energy jobs apprenticeship readiness program through Worksource Montgomery, which provides jobtraining and other employment services around the county.

This program will help meet two critical needs in our county:

  • It will give our jobless and underemployed residents a great opportunity to train for a well-paying career and climb up the economic ladder.
  • It will help provide the skilled workers that our construction companies need, as the industry increasingly incorporates greener technologies. And the need for these workers will only grow, with significant development scheduled in County buildings, schools, neighborhoods near the Purple Line, downtown Wheaton and White Oak, all of which will have a major focus on using renewable-energy sources.

On top of that, promoting more green building technologies is good for the environment and will help the County meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The program will focus on training unemployed and underemployed youth and transitioning adults. The goal is to set them up for success in apprenticeship programs registered with the Maryland Apprenticeship Training Council and for eventual long-term employment in the cleanenergy construction industry.

The program will help prepare participants to work in jobs related to solar systems, green roofs, geothermal systems, rainwater catchments, pervious pavement, thermal walls, wind, natural gas, sewage treatment and other environmental technologies.

The program is not expected to cost taxpayers anything, according to a fiscal analysis by the County’s Office of Management and Budget. The program is anticipated to cost from $10,000 to $17,500 annually, with Worksource Montgomery seeking grants or sponsorships to cover expenses. More information on the bill is here: https://bit.ly/2K81CXO.

Tom Hucker Wins Democratic Primary

This excerpt is from an article in the Sentinel. Read the full article here.

COUNTY COUNCIL INCUMBENTS AMONG DEMOCRAT WINNERS IN PRIMARY
Written by  Suzanne Pollak

Celebrating their election victories Tuesday night were (from left) Council member Tom Hucker; Democratic candidates for State Delegate in District 20 Jheanelle Wilkins and Lorig Charkoudian; and District 20 State Sen. Will Smith. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK
PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK   Celebrating their election victories Tuesday night were (from left) Council member Tom Hucker; Democratic candidates for State Delegate in District 20 Jheanelle Wilkins and Lorig Charkoudian; and District 20 State Sen. Will Smith.

“Democrat County Council members Tom Hucker, Craig Rice, Nancy Navarro and Sidney Katz won their party’s support again and will be joined by Andrew Friedson on the Democratic ticket in November to represent their districts.

Hucker celebrated his victory in District 5 over fellow Democrats Kevin Harris and Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd at Kaldi’s Social House in Silver Spring. Hucker was elected to the Council in 2014 after serving as a state delegate for almost 10 years.

Proud of his efforts this term to help shrink class sizes in County schools and bring the Purple Line to fruition, Hucker said he planned more work on the same issues for his next term, if elected in November.

Claiming to have worked to bring the Purple Line to fruition “for at least 15 years,” Hucker said he will continue to make sure it gets done “on time and on budget” and with minimal impact to area businesses and homeowners.

It’s important to help the small business owners, he said, adding, “Democrats need to get focused on helping businesses succeed.”

Council unanimously approves Hucker’s green jobs bill

This information has been reposted from the County Council News site. For the original post, please click here.

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Apprenticeship program will help fill industry demand, 
give workers needed skills

ROCKVILLE, Md., June 19, 2018 — With green jobs playing an ever-greater role in our economy, a steady supply of skilled workers is essential. With that in mind, the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday approved a bill introduced by Councilmember Tom Hucker, who serves as the Council’s Lead for Environment on the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, that will establish a clean energy apprenticeship readiness program within Worksource Montgomery.

“This program will meet two critical needs in our County,” Hucker said. “It will help provide the skilled workers that our construction companies need, as the industry increasingly incorporates greener technologies.

“And it will give our jobless and underemployed residents a great opportunity to train for a well-paying career and climb up the economic ladder, as the need for these workers will only continue to grow for years to come,” he said.

On top of that, promoting more green building technologies is good for the environment and will help the County meet its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035, Hucker added.

The program will focus on training unemployed and underemployed youth and transitioning adults, including those leaving incarceration. The goal is to set them up for success in Maryland Apprenticeship Training Council-registered apprenticeship programs and eventual long-term employment in the clean-energy construction industry.

The bill defines green jobs as those related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, resource conservation, environmental protection and advanced transportation.

For example, program graduates will learn to work on solar systems, green roofs, geothermal systems, rainwater catchments, pervious pavement, building thermal walls, wind, natural gas, sewer treatment and other types of environmental technology

“This is a great program,” said Council President Hans Riemer, a member of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, which voted 3-0 to support the proposal on June 11.

Councilmember George Leventhal, another committee member, agreed with the need for the pre-apprenticeship program, saying SolarCity, a Tesla subsidiary, is “hiring like mad,” according to a relative who works there.

The White House Task Force on the Middle Class said in 2009 that “green jobs have the potential to be quality, family-sustaining jobs that also help improve our environment. They are largely domestic jobs that can’t be offshored. They tend to pay more than other jobs, even controlling for worker characteristics.”

The program is not expected to cost taxpayers anything, according to a fiscal analysis by the County’s Office of Management and Budget. The program is expected to cost from $10,000 to $17,500 annually, with Worksource Montgomery seeking grants or sponsorships to cover expenses, particularly from the State of Maryland’s EARN (Employment Advancement Right Now) program.

“By demonstrating County Council and County Executive support for Green Jobs Apprenticeships, we will put Worksource Montgomery in a stronger position to win competitive grants from the Maryland Department of Labor to train the next generation of skilled workers,” said Hucker.

At a public hearing last month, all four speakers — representing the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, CASA, the Sierra Club Montgomery County Group and Community Hub for Opportunities in Construction Employment, which works with 28 local building trades unions in the region — enthusiastically supported the proposal.

“This is the right time for this innovative program, with significant development scheduled in the coming years in County buildings, schools, neighborhoods surrounding the Purple Line, downtown Wheaton and White Oak, all of which will have a significant focus on using renewable energy sources,” Hucker said.

More information on the bill is here: bit.ly/2K81CXO

Contact: Robert Rand, 240-777-7937

Release ID: 18-185
Media Contact: Sonya Healy 2407777926

Silver Screens is back and bigger than ever!

We’re excited to announce the return of our FREE outdoor film series at a new location! Join us each Friday, July 13 – Aug 31, on Sonny’s Green at The Blairs District for a season of big screen favorites under the stars! Films begin at sundown, between 8:00 and 8:30 p.m.

Councilmember Hucker’s office helped launch and secure funding for Silver Screens 2 years ago with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. 2018 Silver Screens is co-presented by AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, The Blairs and Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker.

Sonny’s Green is located at The Blairs District in the center of the property and is accessible from High Park Lane or The Blairs Shopping Center (1290 East West Highway) parking lot.

If you are traveling by car, free parking is available at the Public Parking Lot located at 1317 East West Highway. From the lot exit to your right and walk to the traffic light and cross to The Blairs Shopping Center. The entrance to the park is located at the back of the Giant parking lot.

July 13: Jurassic Park (1993)
July 20: Moana
July 27: Jumanji (1995)
Aug. 3: Isle of Dogs (Dogs are welcome!)
Aug. 10: CatVideoFest 2017
Aug. 17: Game Night
Aug. 24: Clue
Aug. 31: Ghostbusters (1984)

Councilmember Hucker’s Remarks on the FY19 Budget Agreement

The new operating and capital budgets that the Council signed off on this week have some major wins for District 5 and the rest of the county:

  • While holding the line on taxes and starting to reduce our borrowing, we’re fully funding the school board’s operating budget request.
  • We’re adding $237 million for additions and renovations at 10 schools in District 5, including $123 million for Northwood High.
  • We’re maintaining staffing at Hillandale Fire Station 24 and the Burtonsville station.
  • We’re adding a detective to the vice unit to combat human trafficking.
  • We’re devoting more resources — $27 million — to curb gang violence, with stronger efforts from the courts, police and community intervention programs.
  • We’ve slotted $5.7 million for a long-overdue overhaul of Hillandale Local Park.
  • At the Forest Glen Metro station, we’ve allotted $15 million for a second entrance and pedestrian tunnel under Georgia Avenue.
  • There’s money for new Bus Rapid Transit projects on U.S. 29 and New Hampshire Avenue.
  • And we’re moving ahead with studies for a new student loan finance program, which can make Montgomery County a national leader in helping borrowers refinance their crushing debt loads.

My thanks to my Council colleagues and our staff for their hard work in hammering out a budget that both meets our county’s needs and is fiscally responsible.

See my remarks here:

Hucker Helps Good Hope Estates Finally Get Sidewalk

Hucker Helps Good Hope Estates Finally Get Sidewalk

The wait is finally over. After over 30 years of waiting for a sidewalk on Good Hope Road – the time has finally arrived. Good Hope Estates will finally get its long-awaited sidewalk. A warm and sincere thank you to all the advocates, past and present who supported this monumental moment for our community.

Tom said, “This project has the potential to create a truly walkable and transit-accessible community by connecting residents in an area of the county where many residents share one vehicle. The project will accomplish this by connecting residents to transit along Briggs Chaney Road and to the new Good Hope Neighborhood Recreation Center that will open later this year. Our Council staff recommended delaying this project by two years, but I fought against that recommendation, and I’m pleased to report that the full Council agreed with my recommendation and voted to fund the sidewalk.”

Hucker at White Oak Town Hall

Hucker at White Oak Town Hall

It was great to see the big turnout at the Montgomery County MD Council‘s town hall meeting in White Oak.

Issues on residents’ minds included: transportation (including BRT and station design, buses, senior bus service and road paving); public schools, including their physical condition and how we can close the student achievement gap; development, especially concerns and hopes about Viva White Oak, the possibility of Amazon coming to the county and more consumer choices in Silver Spring; and DACA and immigration, including advocacy for providing legal assistance to immigrants.

You can watch the meeting here:https://www.facebook.com/CountyCableMoCo/videos/1728216513904036/ And if you have concerns or ideas about these or other issues, feel free to contact my office at 240-777-7960 or at tom@tomhucker.com.

Hucker Proposes New Solar Energy Initiative

Hucker Proposes New Solar Energy Initiative

ROCKVILLE, Md., Feb. 13, 2018 — Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker has introduced a zoning change that would authorize solar energy projects that could power up to 200 homes in neighborhoods.

Councilmember Hucker, who is the Council’s Lead for Environment on the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, introduced a zoning text amendment that will allow solar energy installations with a capacity of up to 2 megawatts. The co-lead sponsor is George Leventhal and co-sponsors are Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Sidney Katz, Roger Berliner and Council Vice President Nancy Navarro.

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“For years, Montgomery County has been a leader on green energy and other environmental issues,” Councilmember Hucker said. “Maryland has an average of 213 days of sunshine each year. That’s an important resource that we must take full advantage of. Allowing community solar projects will create jobs and help us meet our renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

In December, the Council passed a resolution setting the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions entirely by 2035.

Stephanie Riddick of the Sierra Club Montgomery County Group said her group was “especially appreciative” of the proposal because it will benefit low- and moderate-income residents.

“We hope that the ZTA will be an opportunity to continue the discussion on how Montgomery County can study our energy situation and work towards creating a 100 percent clean energy future for all county residents,” Riddick said.

While solar power is a reliable, low-cost renewable energy source, many residents cannot take advantage of it for a number of reasons. For example, many homeowners have rooftops shaded by the tree canopy, own a condominium or can’t afford the initial outlay. Other residents can’t install their own solar panels because they rent their homes.

To help address this issue, the General Assembly in 2015 passed a law creating the community solar program, allowing electricity consumers to subscribe to larger, shared solar projects in their service area. Last year, the Maryland Public Service Commission released its long-anticipated regulations on community solar projects.

Other counties, such as Prince George’s, Baltimore and Anne Arundel, already allow such community projects, with 38 such projects approved around the state.

However, Montgomery County’s Zoning Code restricts solar projects to a limited use in nearly all zones and limits solar energy production to 120 percent of on-site energy consumption. These outdated restrictions make it difficult, if not impossible, to establish community solar projects because very little excess energy is allowed to be produced to support other subscribers.

The proposed ZTA allows solar projects in zones other than the agricultural reserve. It raises the generating limit to 2 megawatts, enough to power up to 200 homes.

It’s estimated that each 2-megawatt project would represent the equivalent of getting 310 passenger vehicles off the road and preventing more than 5 million pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere annually.

Furthermore, each project would generate about $300,000 in personal property tax, 75 to 100 temporary and permanent jobs, and up to $4 million in private investment.

Councilmember Hucker said the county must do its part to curb climate change.

“From devastating hurricanes, wildfires and mudslides to rising sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay, we’re already seeing the disastrous consequences of global climate change, which threaten to only get worse,” Councilmember Hucker said. “Community solar projects, here and around the country, will help reduce our growing carbon footprint and mitigate its impact on our planet.”

The proposed ZTA is on the County Council’s website, montgomerycountymd.gov/council/.

A public hearing on the ZTA is scheduled for April 3 at 1:30 p.m.

Media contact: Robert Rand, 240-777-7937

Update on Student Loan Refinancing

Update on Student Loan Refinancing

I’ve been working to set up the county’s own student loan finance program. Under this program, county residents could refinance their college loans at lower interest rates, shaving hundreds of dollars off their monthly payments and saving thousands over the term of their loan.

Those who are saddled with college debt – the average borrower in the county owes upward of $31,000 – knows what a drain it can be, crippling their ability to get a home mortgage, start a business or get a graduate degree. The county’s program could really ease that heavy burden.

The County Council has been generally supportive of the plan (a video of the July 20 committee meeting on the proposal is here). The next step will be conducting a market demand study and cost analysis, which will help us tailor the program to the county’s needs.

Here’s an online petition supporting the proposal, which you can sign and share.