Monday, June 29, 2015

Fireworks and Other Events for the Fourth

Montgomery County will again host two fireworks displays on July 4--Germantown Glory at the SoccerPlex in the South Germantown Recreational Park, 18041 Central Park Circle, Boyds and Mid-County Sparkles at Albert Einstein High School, 11135 Newport Road, Kensington. Both fireworks displays will begin at approximately 9:15 p.m.

In addition to these two displays, several municipalities are hosting celebrations and fireworks. Check out Visit Montgomery for a full list of fireworks and other activities.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Holiday Schedule for the Fourth of July

Here is the holiday schedule for Friday, July 3:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – open (open on July 4, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.)
  • Recreation – all indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be open as scheduled; on July 4 the Germantown Indoor Swim Center will close at 3 p.m., all other aquatic facilities will close at 6 p.m.; swim lessons will meet as scheduled; administrative offices, senior centers and community recreation centers will be closed
  • Montgomery Parks -- most Parks facilities are open during holiday weekend. For operating schedules, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.
  • Ride On – Saturday schedule
  • Metrobus – Saturday schedule (Saturday supplemental on July 4)
  • Metrorail – Saturday schedule (special service on July 4)
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) -- closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – regular collection (no collection on Saturday, July 4*)
  • Transfer Station – open (closed on Saturday, July 4)
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
  • State offices and courts – closed
*There will not be a “slide;” regular collection services will be provided the week before and after the holiday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Apply Now to the Board of Appeals

Apply by July 22 for the Board of Appeals. Here's the full press release:

The Montgomery County Council is seeking applicants for two four-year terms on the County Board of Appeals. The terms of Stan Boyd (Democrat) and David Perdue (unaffiliated) expire in September 2015. Mr. Perdue, currently serving as chair, has completed two full terms and is therefore not eligible to apply for reappointment. Mr. Boyd will be completing his first full term, and has indicated his intent to apply for reappointment. Applications for the position must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22.

By law, no more than three members of the board shall be from the same political party. These positions can be filled by a Democrat, a Republican, a voter who is unaffiliated with a party or a voter who is a member of another party officially recognized by the Board of Elections. Because of the requirement that no more than three members be from the same political party, the Council cannot appoint two Democrats.

Current members of the board include Chair Perdue (unaffiliated), Board Member Boyd (Democrat), John Pentecost (Democrat), Carolyn Shawaker (Democrat) and Edwin Rosado (unaffiliated). Members of County boards, committees and commissions may not serve on more than one such group at a time.

Members of the board receive $15,162 annually, with the chair receiving $21,429. Salaries are adjusted annually each December to reflect 50 percent of the change in the Washington Area Consumer Price Index.

Duties of the Board of Appeals include hearing and deciding requests for variances from development standards contained in the Zoning Ordinance; hearing appeals from certain administrative decisions rendered by county government agencies; and hearing oral argument on decisions of the hearing examiner on conditional uses.

The board normally holds weekly hearings all day Wednesday and worksessions every other week. If necessary to accommodate an extended caseload or continued hearings, the board schedules hearings on other weekdays. Members are expected to prepare for the hearings by reading the cases to be heard and to share the workload of drafting and editing opinions or to follow-up on investigations on specific cases. Members work approximately 15-25 hours a week.

The principal jurisdiction of the Board of Appeals (concerning special exceptions and variances under the Zoning Ordinance) does not include the municipalities of Barnesville, Brookeville, Gaithersburg, Laytonsville, Poolesville, Rockville and Washington Grove. The normal Council practice is not to appoint residents of those municipalities to the board.

Letters expressing interest, including a resume listing professional and civic experience, political party affiliation, home and office telephone numbers and an email address, should be addressed to: Council President George Leventhal, County Council Office, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, Maryland 20850 or can be emailed to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on July 22. It is the Council’s policy not to consider applications received after the deadline. After the application closing date Councilmembers will review the letters of application and select applicants for interviews, which will be held in September.

Letters of application and resumes are made public as part of the appointment process. Interviews are open to the public and will be televised. A financial statement of assets, debts, income and family property interests will be required of all applicants. Only the appointed candidate will be required to make the financial statement available to the public. 


Monday, June 15, 2015

Look Out for Property Tax Scam

Don't fall for a deceptive letter about your property tax. Here's the full press release from our Office of Consumer Protection:

Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is warning property owners not to be fooled by a deceptive letter which encourages consumers to pay $99 to petition to have their property tax assessment reviewed.

This direct mail solicitation gives the false appearance that it is from a state or local government agency, provides a return address that is, in reality, a mail-drop location, and fails to disclose that there is actually no cost for property owners in Montgomery County to personally petition for a tax assessment review.

Information regarding this matter has been reported to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Consumers who have provided credit card information or sent checks to this merchant may file a complaint with Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection.

The Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation provides information on its website regarding how to file a petition to have a property tax assessment reviewed.

OCP, the County’s consumer protection agency, investigates thousands of complaints each year involving automotive sales and repairs, new home purchases, home improvements, credit issues, retail sales, internet services and most other consumer transactions. OCP provides pre-purchase information to consumers, as well as speakers to the community on consumer issues.
For more information, call 240-777-3636 or visit OCP’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/consumer.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Electronic Cigarette Ban Takes Effect Today

New restrictions on electronic cigarettes go into effect today. Under the new law, the use of electronic cigarettes is banned wherever traditional tobacco smoking is prohibited. The law, which we passed unanimously in March, also requires child-resistant packaging for liquid nicotine.

I sponsored this legislation because I'm concerned about health effects of the nicotine and other potentially harmful chemicals found in e-cigs. Perhaps swayed by the belief that electronic cigarettes are safe, or emboldened by the fact that e-cigs have little odor that parents could detect, teens who have never tried traditional cigarettes are using e-cigs, putting themselves at risk for nicotine addiction, nicotine poisoning or exposure to harmful chemicals. I am not willing to gamble with the health of our current generation of young people by waiting for federal regulations. The Council did the right thing by putting these protections in place. Learn more.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Police Chief Discusses Strategies to Ehance Public Confidence

Police Chief Tom Manger and his leadership team met with us on Tuesday to discuss the long-term strategies that the department hopes will help the County avoid incidents that have turned into community violence in other jurisdictions around the nation. This was an insightful conversation, and I encourage you to take a look at the complete discussion (1 hr, 51 min) or the shorter summary (6 min, 18 sec). Chief Manger reminded us that the department is always willing to meet with community members, so feel free to invite them to your next community meeting. The chief also talked about the roll-out of the new body camera program.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Procurement Task Force Wants Your Input

The Montgomery County Procurement and Regulations Task Force, which was appointed by the County Council in its efforts to improve the County’s procurement operations, is seeking input from users of the system. The survey seeks opinions about many aspects of the system, including the complexity of the solicitation process and the length of time it takes the County to respond to solicitations. Here's the full press release:

ROCKVILLE, Md., June 5, 2015—The Montgomery County Procurement and Regulations Task Force, which was appointed by the County Council in its efforts to improve the County’s procurement operations, is seeking input from users of the system. The survey seeks opinions about many aspects of the system, including the complexity of the solicitation process and the length of time it takes the County to respond to solicitations. 

The task force is asking that responses to the brief online survey be completed by Tuesday, June 30. The survey can be found at: 
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/COUNCIL/Workgroups/Procurement/PPRSurvey.html

Anyone experienced with the procurement system is invited to respond to the survey. The task force will use the survey as part of its study, and ensuing recommendations to the Council, on what works in the County’s current procurement and what needs improvement.  

“Our task force has met with a variety of County officials from the County Executive to the County Council to employees in County departments,” said David Robbins, who chairs the seven-member task force. “But we need business community input to recommend meaningful reforms.  This survey is focused on business community input, and asks open-ended questions to make sure we understand what is working and what improvements are needed.”

The task force is scheduled to have its recommendations to the Council by Sept. 15.

“The Procurement Policies and Regulations Task Force is doing an outstanding job ensuring the views of all stakeholders are represented in their deliberations,” said Councilmember Nancy Navarro, who chairs the Council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee. “This survey will give voice to business owners who interact with the County’s procurement process on a regular basis. I look forward to seeing the results of the survey and the recommendations of the task force this fall.” 

More information about the survey and the task force can be obtained by calling 240-777-7922.

The Council has also appointed another task force looking at how the minority/female/disabled (MFD) and local small business community is being served by the County procurement process. That task force also is scheduled to give a report and recommendations to the Council in September.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

County Unemployment Rate Drops

Montgomery County's unemployment rate has dropped to below 4 percent for the first time since the recession. The unemployment for April (the most recent data available) is 3.7 percent. The last time we had a rate this low was November 2008.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Information on Common Ownership Community Collection Lawsuits

HOA and condo board members, check out this forum co-hosted by the Office of Consumer Protection. Here's the full press release:

The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) and the Commission on Common Ownership Communities (CCOC) will host an informational session about condominium and homeowners association lawsuits regarding the collection of dues and fees on Wednesday, June 10 from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville. 

The Honorable Eugene Wolfe, the Honorable Patricia Mitchell and the Honorable Gary Everngam will conduct an interactive discussion concerning the following important topics related to collection lawsuits: 
  • Role of the District Court
  • Common Ownership Community Statutes
  • Fair Debt Collections Practices Act
  • Common Issues in Common Ownership Community Litigation
  • Claims and Defenses
There are more than 1,000 common ownership communities operating in Montgomery County, and on occasion, they may need to file legal action in District Court when their unit owners fail to pay dues and fees. Homeowner associations and condominium boards of directors, attorneys and unit owners may all benefit from hearing information directly from the judges who currently rule on these lawsuits.

The session is free, however, registration is requested by calling 240-777-3636. See flyer for more information. 

For additional information about Montgomery County’s Commission on Common Ownership Communities call (240) 777-3636 or visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/ccoc.


For additional information about the Office of Consumer Protection, call 240-777-3636 or visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OCP.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Council to Sponsor Discussion of New Public Financing System

The Montgomery County Council will join the Montgomery County Democratic and Republican central committees at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 15, to co-host a forum on the new law that will allow candidates for County Council and County Executive to qualify for partial public financing for their campaigns. The law, which was unanimously approved by the Council in September, is the first measure of its type for County elective offices in the Washington region and in the State of Maryland.

In approving the County’s Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget on May 21, the Council added $1 million to begin building the fund that will start making public funds available in the 2018 election cycle.

The forum, entitled “A Public Discussion of Montgomery County’s New Public Financing System for County Elections,” will be held in the Third Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. The meeting will be televised live by County Cable Montgomery (CCM—Cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). The broadcast also will be streamed through the County Web site.

Explaining the law and answering questions about it from attendees will be a panel including Jared DeMarinis, director of the Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division of the Maryland State Board of Elections; Phil Andrews, a former member of the County Council who was the lead sponsor of the bill that created Montgomery’s public financing system; and Bob Drummer, the senior legislative attorney for the County Council.

Since 2001, members of the Montgomery County Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted a bill that enables counties to provide the option of public financing for county elective offices beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates is voluntary.

The forum on June 15 will help explain the details of the law and will provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions about it.

Under the Public Election Fund law, to qualify for public financing, a candidate must:

  • File a Notice of Intent prior to collecting qualifying contributions
  • Establish a publicly funded campaign account
  • Only accept contributions from an individual of between $5 and $150
  • Refuse to accept a contribution from any group or organization, including a political action committee, a corporation, a labor organization or a State or local central action committee of a political party
  • Collect a qualifying number of contributions from County residents: 500 for County Executive candidates, 250 for at-large Council candidates and 125 for district Council candidates
  • Meet qualifying dollar thresholds of $40,000 for County Executive, $20,000 for at-large Councilmember and $10,000 for district Councilmember
  • Limits are indexed to inflation
  • Only contributions from County residents are eligible for matching funds
The plan provides strong incentives for candidates to seek out many small individual contributors. Matching public dollars for County Executive candidates would be $6 for each dollar of the first $50 of a qualifying contribution received from a County resident, $4 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution. Matching dollars for County Council candidates would be $4 for each dollar of the first $50 received from a County resident, $3 for each dollar for the second $50 and $2 for each remaining dollar received up to the maximum contribution.

The maximum limit on public funds per candidate for either the primary election or the general election will be $750,000 for a County Executive candidate, $250,000 for a Council at-large candidate and $125,000 for a district Council candidate. Matching dollars would not be distributed for self/spouse contributions or to candidates running unopposed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Local Farmers' Markets Now Open

Stop by one of Montgomery County’s farmers’ markets for fresh, healthful produce and specialty products at locations across the CountyThe markets offer traditional items like fruits, heirloom tomatoes, cut flowers and preserves as well as many items that may be new to you. To ensure access to healthful products, many Montgomery County farmers’ market vendors accept SNAP, WIC and senior farmers market nutrition program benefits.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Holiday Schedule for Memorial Day

Montgomery County government will observe the following holiday schedule for Memorial Day on Monday, May 25:

  • County Offices – closed
  • Libraries – closed
  • County liquor stores – open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Recreation – all indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be open; administrative offices,senior centers and community recreation centers will be closed
  • Montgomery Parks -- all Parks facilities are open. For operating schedules, including Brookside
  • Gardens, ice rinks, tennis centers, trains and carousels, visit www.MontgomeryParks.org.
  • Ride On – Sunday schedule
  • Metrobus – Sunday schedule
  • Metrorail – Sunday schedule
  • TRiPS Commuter Stores (Silver Spring and Friendship Heights) -- closed
  • Refuse/recycling pickup – no collection*
  • Transfer Station – closed
  • Parking at public garages, lots, curbside meters – free
  • MCPS Administrative Offices – closed
  • State offices and courts – closed
*Collection provided one day later for remainder of week (last collection day is Saturday).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Thoughts on the Budget Agreement

The Council today reached agreement on a $5.07 billion total County operating budget for Fiscal Year 2016. I voted in opposition. The budget reflects a 1.7 percent increase over the approved budget for FY15. We will formally adopt the FY16 operating budget and amendments to Capital Improvements Program next Thursday. The budget will go into effect on July 1.

While I am pleased that this budget holds the line on property taxes and limits our spending increase to 1.7 percent over last year, I remain deeply troubled by the fuel-energy tax rate. Residents and business owners will remember that we doubled this rate when we were in the throes of the recession. At that time, we promised to eliminate the increase entirely when the economy improved. To date, we have only reduced the increase by 27 percent. For FY16, we did not reduce it at all.

We have been working hard over the past several years to boost our economic development initiatives and bring more jobs, and ultimately more revenue, to Montgomery County. I am very sensitive to the cost of doing business here, and I am not willing to undercut our efforts to improve the local economy with such an onerous fuel-energy tax rate.

I appreciate the work that has gone into this budget but regret that I cannot support it. See the full press release.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My Views on the Fuel/Energy Tax Rate

We're in the final days of our budget deliberations, but there are still some big decisions to make. On Wednesday, we will discuss revenues, including the proposed fuel/energy tax rate. We raised this rate when we were in the throes of the recession with the understanding we would decrease it when the economy improved. To date we've only reduced the increase by 27 percent, so I'm asking the Council to reduce it more this year. Learn more in this video by County Cable Montgomery.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tree House Tour de Cookie

Nearly 500 riders are registered to participate in the third annual Tree House Tour de Cookie, a 14- or 40-mile bicycle ride to benefit the Tree House Child Assessment Center. A public-private partnership, the Tree House Child Assessment Center is dedicated to reducing trauma and promoting healing for child victims of physical and sexual abuse, and neglect.

Participants will ride between cookies stands hosted by local clubs and organization. Following the ride, a community expo will be held with exhibits, entertainment and activities and families. Sponsors of the ride include the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus.

Saturday, May 2, 2015
8:45 a.m. – Opening Ceremony
9:05 a.m. – Riders Begin (14 & 40-mile routes)
12:30 p.m. – Kid’s Ride
1:30 p.m. – Best Cookie Stand Awards Presentation
Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus