Category: Updates

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.