Daily Journal, March 12 (Cost Shift Update & Wheaton Revitalization)

Today, the council president and county executive sent a letter to the state delegation about the proposals for the pension shift and maintenance of effort. The letter concludes by saying, “In our meetings in Annapolis with you and other leaders of our delegation, we have stressed that we will stand by you if at the end of the day the total package that emerges treats Montgomery County and its residents fairly. We stand by that pledge. However, in the absence of substantial changes to the pension cost shift and maintenance of effort legislation, we will not be able to say that.”

Tough times.

On a more positive note, we had a long discussion at the economic development committee about Wheaton. As I said at the meeting, I personally appreciate what the county executive has done by putting $42 million into the capital budget (meaning that the money is borrowed, and not money that could be used on salaries, etc) for Wheaton redevelopment. I have been concerned about the specific proposal that this budget item would fund though, as it has a potentially devastating effect on many small businesses in Wheaton while the upside benefits may or may not materialize in 2, 5 or even 10 years. I am looking for a plan that will have more certainty in the benefits and reduce our impact on small businesses. This can be achieved by funding the construction of a county building on county property in Wheaton, rather that a platform over the Metro.

Daily Journal (March 5th & 6th)

On Monday, I attended a committee meeting to show my support for accelerating the Wheaton Library and Recreation Center. I recently toured the facility that would be replaced and saw first hand the heavy use by the community and the real need for modernization. I commented at the meeting on how a new library and rec center would be an effective tool for revitalizing the area, helping to attract new residents and making a positive statement that the county cares about that area of the county, which like many areas suffers from under-investment. We need to make Wheaton a better place to live.

Tuesday, we had a straw vote to approve the new Kensington Sector Plan. After some debate we voted 8-1 to approve the plan. You can see more about it at www.montgomeryplanning.org. The purpose of the plan is to revise the zoning to make it more likely that property owners will invest in redevelopment, making that area a better place to live. It’s a careful plan that balances the incentives needed for business to invest with community concerns to maintain a walkable, retail oriented town. I hope that we will start to see some progress there soon.

What time in the day remained I spent working on ideas for Wheaton revitalization as well as preparing for the transportation committee’s review of the CIP on Thursday.

Meanwhile I am keeping my eyes on Annapolis and the bad proposals that we have seen there that would have dramatic negative affects on Montgomery County. I am working closely with the www.stoptheshiftmd.com coalition and I urge you to sign up and speak out there now.

Daily Journal (Feb 21 – Feb 24)

Tuesday started early with a meeting in Downtown Silver Spring with Ronnie Galvin, Executive Director of Impact Silver Spring. Impact focuses on building a thriving and engaged multicultural community, with campaigns in Gaithersburg, Wheaton, Silver Spring, and other areas. The organization does great work so it was a pleasure meeting with Ronnie.

Next came a meeting with leaders from the Rockville Economic Development Institute’s Women’s Business Center. I am very interested in seeing how the county can help entrepreneurs in the child care sector to expand or start new child care businesses. They are presenting ideas that I think are exciting and I’m looking forward to working on these issues at Council.

Lastly, a meeting with fellow Councilmember’s Roger Berliner and George Leventhal with the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Beverley Swaim-Staley. We discussed Montgomery County’s critical transit priorities, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. I was heartened to hear the Secretary explain that while big infrastructure projects have doubters, the doers get them done and she firmly expects that we will figure out how to finance these projects and get them done.

Wednesday featured an extended meeting with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Air Quality Committee as a new member. The COG’s focus is simple; creating a more accessible, sustainable, prosperous, and livable National Capital Region. The MWAQC is the entity that sets policy on pollution limits and signs off on those air quality alerts you hear, for example. I will be working hard to keep the pressure up on measures we can take to prevent global warming.

Thursday started with a meeting of the Purple Line Now (PLN) board, then a meeting discussing the County’s development review process with our Director of Permitting Services, Diane Schwartz-Jones. After that, a whirlwind of meetings from Brian Edwards and Richard Lipsky of Montgomery County Public Schools discussing PEG Channels in our schools to issues relating to the Kensington Sector Plan with community advocates (hi Judy Higgins!) and finally a very helpful meeting with the past chair of the county’s aging commission, Elaine Binder, about senior transportation issues; I am working on ideas for our Transportation committee to consider.

Friday featured a discussion about workforce training with Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard. We are making sure our students are getting practical training so that they can confidently and competently enter the workforce. Meanwhile I am focusing intently on the coalition campaign to stop the cost-shift budget cuts on pensions – www.stoptheshiftmd.com – and also putting a great deal of thought into Wheaton redevelopment.

Stop the Cost Shift Cuts

Below is a statement put out by the Montgomery County Council announcing the launch of a statewide coalition’s website opposing the State’s plan to shift teacher pensions onto the counties. The site is www.stoptheshiftmd.com. Read on to see the statement and join us in fighting to protect key priorities here in Montgomery County. Thank you.

Maryland’s counties and school systems face a serious problem in Annapolis right now. Governor O’Malley has proposed shifting half the cost of teacher and other pensions from the state to the counties. The County Council, County Executive Ike Leggett, and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), as well as our employee organizations and our counterparts throughout the state, strongly oppose this shift. As Board of Education President Shirley Brandman said on Feb. 14, the shift “will have an immediate negative impact on the important services that our local governments provide.”

For Montgomery County, the proposed pension shift would cost $47 million in Fiscal Year 2013 and $315 million over the next five years. The measures proposed to help counties pay the cost are inadequate and may not be enacted in any event.

How much is $47 million? It pays for the jobs of nearly 500 teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other vital County personnel. It is more than the County’s general fund budgets for housing, transportation, and environmental protection combined. Our entire budget for libraries is less than $30 million.

The recessionary County budgets of the past three years required painful cuts that have seriously affected our residents and employees alike. For the coming year we face a further budget gap of $135 million and more hard decisions. If we now have to absorb another large burden from the state, there will be real damage to all our vital services—our schools, college, police, fire and rescue, safety net, libraries, parks, housing, transportation, recreation, and many others.

We understand that the state too must balance its budget and faces hard choices. But it is the state that sets the basic structure of pension benefits. In 2006 the state raised pension benefits by 29 percent, retroactive to 1998, but failed to provide sufficient funding. In fact, the state’s financial support for the pension fund has fallen short for many years. Counties should not be asked to assume financial responsibility for costs not of their making. We have cut services to the bone, and we have reached our limit on taxes.

Elected officials and concerned organizations throughout the state, including the Maryland Association of Counties, the school community, and employee organizations, have joined together to convey this message to the Governor and the General Assembly. The coalition’s web address is www.stoptheshiftmd.com. There you can learn how you can make a difference. The General Assembly will make its decision on the pension shift soon, probably by mid-March. The stakes for all our County residents are very high.