On Monday (July 21st) during a routine budget amendment to move expenses from one year to the next, Councilmember Grimes introduced an amendment to add about ~ $40,000 in expenses this year to hire a half-time parking enforcement person to expand city capacity to ticket cars that are illegally parked or have not paid for parking.  These expenses are additional to the budget we just approved about 2 months ago.  The amendment passed at first reading, 4-3 and I voted against it.  Why?

Ward 1 and Ward 3 are experiencing more parking zone and parking meter violations as well as just simply illegal parking,
like blocked driveways.  Much of this is happening because Republic restaurant is so successful, along with Ace Hardware and Roscoe's in addition to our other businesses.  More parking congestion will presumably come to Ward 1 when Busboys & Poets opens.  These are real problems that we should try to address.

However, I don't believe adding staff is the right strategy at this time.  If we are going to add staff to our police department, I would add personnel to do investigation work, patrolling, community outreach/victim's assistance, or
crime data analysis (in that order).  Between 2012 and 2013, home burglaries went up by 71% in Takoma Park, as described in the report here.  I proposed an amendment (to the amendment) to change the proposal to focus on adding this capacity instead of parking enforcement, but the amendment did not get support. 

From Ward 2 residents, I most often hear irate stories about the parking tickets you have gotten while running into the post office for five minutes, or parking at a broken meter.  A new half-time parking enforcement person may add 1,000 additional parking tickets, many of which will be given to city residents. 

And I think a new staff person is not the right 'next step' to address the problem, added to our Police Department which will now have its biggest staff in any budget year I can find on record.  I would have preferred the police spend a little time visiting the businesses that we think are associated with the problem and letting them know that existing officers will be doing aggressive ticketing patrols during busy nights and to try to work with the businesses to get them to help us address the problem first.   

 
 
Councilmember Kate Stewart and I have been working on and learning about this issue - the helpful and detailed summary and analysis below was written by Councilmember Stewart
"Background on Vacant and Blighted Property Tax Unfortunately vacant and blighted properties are an issue across our city.  These properties deny the city government needed tax revenues, consume city staff time, erode the value of nearby homes, pose health and safety risks, and negatively impact our neighborhoods.  In 2010, Philadelphia studied the impact of vacant and blighted properties and found that, in addition to the economic toll vacant and abandoned properties imposes on communities, among those most hurt by the damage caused by vacant properties are long-time homeowners, many of them senior citizens-the very people who have helped build a community and help hold it together. According to the US Fire Administration, an estimated 28,000 vacant residential fires occurred annually between 2006 and 2008, resulting in an estimated total of 45 deaths, 225 injuries, and approximately $900 million in property loss each year. 

"Recently, on Westmoreland Avenue, the potential danger of vacant properties became a reality and our community became part of the statistic when a vacant property caught fire. Fifty-five firefighters responded to the blaze and three were injured. Thankfully no one else was injured, but there was property damage to a nearby home. While the city has in place procedures to address code violations, they are not sufficient to address the myriad problems caused by vacant properties.  Dealing with these properties takes a great deal of staff time and it can take years to rectify problems. Years that adversely impact residents and our quality of life in the city. To provide staff with another tool to address this issue the City Council is discussing the pros and cons of a vacant and blighted property tax. Establishing a vacant and blighted property tax to address this housing problem has become popular in many municipalities. 

"What is a vacant and blighted property tax?  This tax allows the city to establish a tax incentive program to encourage property owners to remediate or redevelop blighted properties. The property taxes  are increased on blighted properties and can subsequently decrease once the property is remediated or redeveloped.

"What is a vacant property? Vacant property is vacant.  Thus, a tax would NOT be levied on properties which are currently being used as a primary residence by the owner or renters. 

"What is a vacant and blighted property? Such properties are both vacant and in such a state of disrepair that it affects other properties or safety or otherwise impacts the neighborhood.  

"Where are their regional models for such programs? Washington, DC, Philadelphia and a number of other cities provide examples. An example of one such ordinance can be found here. Advantages: A blight tax could motivate property owners to stabilize and improve the blighted conditions on their properties or sell to others who are willing to do the work. It also allows the city to recover the public service costs associated with blighted properties. If a property is vacant or underutilized, the higher tax may encourage the owner to rent it in order to pay the extra taxes. These actions could subsequently increase the blighted property's value and that of nearby properties.

"Additionally, because blighted properties often demand a higher level of government services (e.g., public safety and code enforcement services) than other properties, the higher tax allows the city to recover some of the costs associated with this increased burden.

"Disadvantages:  Depending on how a blight tax is put in place it could place a burden on low-income individuals, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and struggling businesses that have been unable to improve the blighted conditions due to economic circumstances or other reasons. 

"Programs in place in TP to assist low-income homeowners:  To ensure our policy would not burden low-income or fixed income individuals we need to carefully craft the program as well as explore additional partnerships with organizations that help individuals maintain their homes. One example is the city's partnership with Rebuilding Together Montgomery County, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which utilizes the skills of community volunteers, works in partnership with the community to address the needs of low-income homeowners by providing home repairs that address safety, accessibility, energy efficiency and basic needs. "

Further reading: 


Vacant Properties The True Costs to Communities

http://www.communityprogress.net 

Connecticut OLR Research Report: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2013/rpt/2013-R-0335.htm

Kennessaw: http://mdjonline.com/view/full_story/24893703/article-City-of-Kennesaw-approves-blight-tax--in-unanimous-vote

Savannah: http://savannahnow.com/news/2014-04-30/city-looks-increase-tax-rates-blighted-properties#.U7xJAbEric4

Atlanta: http://saportareport.com/blog/2012/09/atlanta-city-council-moving-forward-on-plan-to-raise-tax-rates-on-blighted-property/

 
 
Ward 2 voters face a long list of exciting election races coming up for County and State elected offices.  To the extent that you think my opinion can be helpful, the following are some of the candidates that I think would best represent Takoma Park in county or state work. 

Governor
Anthony Brown and Ken Ulman – I’ve met with Lt. Governor Brown or heard him speak many times - he is an experienced leader with a vision for how the state can help close the achievement gap between populations of children in our state and he's helped lead a number of successful policy efforts and programs in the last 8 years.  I personally do not fault him for the failure of Maryland's health exchange given how many other state exchanges around the country also failed.   Having talked with him about leadership, I know he would be an effective leader of the state's tens of thousands of employees.  He knows how to set goals and empower his senior staff to implement.  He's led state efforts to prevent domestic violence and protect victims, helping achieve a 20 percent drop in assaults, expanding police training, opening new domestic violence treatment centers, and passing laws to toughen penalties and create better protection for women and children from potential assailants.   I believe the O'Malley-Brown Administration has done great things for the state and I see that continuing if Anthony Brown is elected governor.

Ken Ulman became the youngest County Executive (Howard County) ever elected in Maryland.  He led the county to top rankings as one of the best places to live in America, created a County Office of Sustainability and was one of the first signers of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.   His work to create the "Healthy Howard" initiative to improve public health earned him a "Bright Ideas" award from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and the initiative helped find health care coverage for more than 7,000 residents.  He's a nationally-known leader in health care policy and he also created a co-op model of delivering healthcare to low income and working families through the Affordable Care Act.

Attorney General
Brian Frosh – Brian Frosh is an easy choice for Attorney General.  He has served in the state legislature for more than 25 years and chairs the Senate Judiciary committee, helping lead passage of legislation on gun safety, restricting assault weapons, cleaner drinking water, fraud protection and many other issues. 

County Council District 5

Tom Hucker – I’ve known Tom since I started work on Council and he and his staff have responded quickly on almost every request I’ve made on behalf of Ward 2 residents.  I expect he will bring that same commitment to service to the County Council alongside of his ability to get legislation passed on living wages, worker protections for pregnant women, environment, fair job benefits, protection of our food supply and Chesapeake Bay and a host of other progressive priorities that will help Montgomery County become an even better place to live.  Tom follows through for people and he knows how to put together majorities to pass legislation. 

County Council At Large
You get 4 - four - votes for At Large representation on the County Council.  I am happy to endorse George Leventhal.  George is a Takoma Park resident who has served us on the County Council since 2002.  I appreciate and respect George's leadership on the Purple Line, environmental issues, health care, and smoking bans in common areas of apartment buildings, and to help provide seniors with tax credits that let them age in place.  He's been extremely responsive whenever I asked for help on behalf of Ward 2 residents on everything from illegal buildings to WSSC and I look forward to his continuing service. 

Hans Riemer has my strong support.  He is a Takoma Park resident and the only Councilmember with young children in our schools. He led an effort to provide more assistance to the working poor and his county Nightlife task force will keep generating innovative ideas to deliver improvements in quality of life, countywide, that mirror business, restaurant, walking improvements we see in TkPk.  He also deserves credit on issues like keeping sidewalks clear of snow, getting buses on accurate schedules, more transparency into what the county is doing and bikeshare.  I look forward to his future work on pre-K and afterschool care. 

Board of Education
Jill Ortman-Fouse would be an exceptional representative for all of Takoma Park’s children if she is elected to the Board of Education, At-Large.  Jill has been a fantastic community advocate, bringing parents together in past campaigns to protect and improve schools in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area.  I’m amazed by how many parents I run into who have a personal experience with how Jill has tried (and often succeeded) in helping them with a school issue.  With Jill on the Board, I think we would first get more information about what the Board does, second would see more funding directed to this areas schools which have more children in need than any other part of the county, and third, get more engagement from the Board with parents who have great ideas about innovation in our schools. 


District 20 for State House of Delegates
You get three representatives - and three votes -  in the state House of Delegates and I remain undecided on my third preference.  Darien Unger and David Moon are both strong candidates.  I plan to support:

Will Smith is a candidate with the right positions on big issues for a stronger middle class.  Yet he understands that as a newly elected member of Maryland’s lower house, his power lies in case work - constituent services - for you.  I believe he will provide excellent assistance as your advocate when problems arise with state agencies, utilities and other challenges while taking on broader state policy as well. He would champion further innovations in our health care system, improvements in the state’s education system to help students throughout Maryland and smarter growth that help small communities like ours thrive.  Will listens and acts, rather than just talking.

Sheila Hixson is a fantastic advocate in Annapolis, would be the only woman on our delegation and is likely to remain Chairwoman of the powerful
Ways & Means Committee.  It will be years before any other of our Delegates gets that level of seniority to influence legislation and spending.  Sheila has been key to passage of much progressive legislation and deserves reelection. 


District 20 for State Senate
Jamie Raskin does not have any competition in the June primary election that I am aware of, but he has been such an effective champion for Takoma Park in Annapolis and leader in passing better policy that I can't help but share my enthusiastic support for him.  He works incredibly hard and throws himself into big and little issues and never forgets about constituent services.  I'm proud to have him as our one and only senator.   

Democratic Central Committee at Large and D20
Dave Kunes has been a friend and ally on many issues that are important to Takoma Park.  He worked as a staffer in the House of Delegates in Annapolis for years and also led the Montgomery County Young Democrats.  Edward Kimmel is a Takoma Park resident and Ward 2 resident who gives near constant attention to policies and politics in the county and state.  Both would be able and fair representatives of the area to the state's Democratic Central Committee.
 
 
I wanted to respond to comments and emails I've received abouot police-operated license plate readers.  Its an important issue, where we need to carefully balance privacy concerns and public safety benefits. 

Takoma Park's police currently have three mobile license plate readers that they attach to police cars and use while on patrol.  These readers help detect stolen vehicles, vehicles that are the subject of some sort of regional alert (for example, an Amber Alert where a vehicle has been associated with an abducted child), and vehicles that have expired license plates. 

Past Policy
Years ago, Takoma Park was one of the first jurisdictions in the area to adopt a policy to govern the use of the data captured by those readers.  Currently, our policy provides the authority to store data captured by the readers for 30 days, after which it must be deleted.    

Proposed Policy

The proposed policy creates a new statement of policy that only allows data to be used for law enforcement purposes.  The proposed policy maintains the limit that data would be kept by Takoma Park for only 30 days and then deleted from City files or computers.  The policy newly allows the automatic transfer of data to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (Coordination Center) where it could be kept for up to 1 year.  This is similar to the policy in place in the City of Rockville and I understand that Prince Georges County and Montgomery County are having discussions about passage of similar policies. 

What would automatic transfer of our data to the state Coordination Center and their retention of the data for one year mean? 

The Coordination Center is governed and overseen by state and other legislatures.  In fact, it is a helpful bill authored by our State Senator Jamie Raskin and passed by the Maryland legislature this year that makes some of these changes possible.  The bill is named SB699 and was passed unanimously by both the Maryland House and Senate.  The new state law mandates that:

  • law enforcement agencies can only request data for legitimate law enforcement purposes and defines those purposes,
  • creates fines and penalties for violation of data use (up to 1 year in jail),
  • prohibits data from being subject to Maryland Public Information Act disclosure,
  • requires the Coordination Center and State Police to report back annually to the Senate and House Judicial committees on the number of readings collected and requests for data made from the system (by each agencies) and whether those requests resulted in release of information and whether there were any data breaches ;
  • establishes reporting and audit requirements to ensure that data requests by individual police agencies or individual officers are tracked and can be audited,
  • requires development of an audit procedure for the state database
The bill text can be found here and I found the analysis and background by the nonpartisan professional staff of the legislature to be helpful as well.  Its linked here

The Standard Operating Policies of the Coordinating Center for License Plate Readers and data requests are here.  Their policy establishes a one-year retention limit on data storage unless the data will become evidence in a criminal or other law enforcement investigation.  

The ability to link license plate data to personal information (i.e. identifying the owner of a vehicle) is also regulated under the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act.  This law was authored by Congressman Jim Moran (D- Virginia) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton. 

The ACLU's statement supporting SB699 can be found here and note that it supports the bill but indicates a preference for 30-day retention of the data or limits on the number of readers used in the state. The ACLU put out a policy last summer that you can find here and our policy (in conjunction with the new state policy) meets 8 out of 9 of their recommendations, the exception being the 1-year retention of data.

Why is retained data useful?

I have been on Council for about 3 years and during that time there have been a number of waves or hot spots of crimes like home break-ins that have occurred over many months.  Hypothetically, if there was evidence after months linking a suspect to earlier crimes, I understand how our police department's ability to ask for license plate reader information to find out if the suspect's car was in the area during the earlier crimes could be helpful in solving such cases.  There are many other scenarios associated with police efforts to solve crimes that I can think of or that our Police Chief has described, that would benefit from a similar ability to request specific data associated with active criminal investigations.  

Privacy protections

The legislation led by Senator Raskin and passed by the legislature creates safeguards and audits on the use and storage of data that simply didn't exist before, including criminal penalties for inappropriate use of the data. 

Next steps

The proposed policy has already received public testimony at one Council meeting and is scheduled for another work session this Monday night and public comment on the issue at the beginning of the meeting. 

I support the proposed policy change although I propose that we add a requirement for our police department to report back to Council on an annual basis on the number and type of their requests for data from the state Coordination Center database. 


 
 
The graph here shows the set of most of Maryland's larger cities, sorted in order of the percent of their General Fund (reserved and unreserved balances) their budget documents say they will have at the end of the year, compared to their revenue in 2013.  Takoma Park, for example, had an $11.2 million General Fund balance projected for the end of 2013 and revenues of $24.4 million, meaning that the balance is approximately 45% of revenue.  City's like Rockville and College Park use policy to set a target - in their cases, 15% and 25%.  This is a smart and transparent way to decide how conservative a city wants to be in holding onto revenue from one year to the next or setting it aside as reserves.  I support Takoma Park doing so.  Instead, without a very clear Council decision to do so, we are holding onto a lot more money - on average - than most big MD cities (I don't understand Bowie's budget at all....)
As I have noted below, Takoma Park also consistently ends the year with a greater General Fund balance than the Council approves - the difference has averaged $2.1 million but in some years has been over $5 million.  This means that the budget the Council and public review and votes on generally underestimates revenue and overestimates spending.  For example, when we have 4 police officer vacancies in a year, we have a lot less salary spending than we expect.  For example, last year when we had a significant debate before voting to lower taxes, we had planned to end the year with a General Fund balance of $8.9 million.  Instead, we are currently projecting a balance of $10.7 million. 

I provide this background to provide some of the context for why I support continued, slight reductions in the tax rate and in the amounts you pay in property tax. 
I believe in taxation for the purpose of providing services - good ones - and its just not clear to me that we couldn't make further small adjustments in tax rate so we aren't just holding onto this money, year after year.

I'd also note that, after reviewing Montgomery County budget documents and Takoma Park budget documents, the county's budget went up from ~$2 billion in 1998 to $ 3 billion in 2006 - a 49 percent increase.  Meanwhile Takoma Park's budget went from $10.9 to $18.2 million in that same time - a 68% increase.  And more recently - 2006-2013 - the county's budget grew by 18% while Takoma Park's grew by 34%. 


I support our strong services and advocate for expanding them and believe we can do so with a more informed, less conservative approach to maintaining fund balances year after year.


 
 
Ward 2 voters face a long list of exciting election races coming up for County and State elected offices.  To the extent that you think my opinion can be helpful, the following are some of the candidates that I think would best represent Takoma Park in county or state work. 

County Council District 5
Tom Hucker – I’ve known Tom since I started work on Council and he and his staff have responded quickly on almost every request I’ve made on behalf of Ward 2 residents.  I expect he will bring that same commitment to service to the County Council alongside of his ability to get legislation passed on living wages, worker protections for pregnant women, environment, fair job benefits, protection of our food supply and Chesapeake Bay and a host of other progressive priorities that will help Montgomery County become an even better place to live.  Tom follows through for people and he knows how to put together majorities to pass legislation. 


Board of Education
Jill Ortman-Fouse would be an exceptional advocate for all of Takoma Park’s children if she is elected to the Board of Education, At-Large.  Jill has been a fantastic community advocate, bringing parents together in past campaigns to protect and improve schools in the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area.  I’m amazed by how many parents I run into who have a personal experience with how Jill has tried (and often succeeded) in helping them with a school issue.  She is launching her campaign at an event tomorrow (Apr. 5th) from 2-4 pm at El Golfo Restaurant in Silver Spring.


District 20 for State House of Delegates
You get three representatives in Maryland's House of Delegates but only incumbent, Sheila Hixson is running again (and she has my support).  Among many candidates running for the remaining two delegate seats, I think the following four deserve the most attention:

Will Smith is a candidate with the right positions on big issues for a stronger middle class.  Yet he understands that as a newly elected member of Maryland’s lower house, his power lies in case work - constituent services - for you.  I believe he will provide excellent assistance as your advocate when problems arise with state agencies, utilities and other challenges while taking on broader state policy as well. He would champion further innovations in our health care system, improvements in the state’s education system to help students throughout Maryland and smarter growth that help small communities like ours thrive.  Will listens and acts, rather than just talking.


D’Juan Hopewell would be a champion in Annapolis for efforts to build up the middle class and local economy, the environment and create state policies that provide opportunity for the disadvantaged. He is sincere, dedicated and really listens to people.  He would be a fantastic advocate for school funding for our region and policies that give more Marylanders the targeted assistance that can help them thrive on their own.  He has a Ward 2 meet and greet, hosted by Lorig Charkoudian and Linda Kolko, on April 13th, 7 pm,  at 425 Ethan Allen Ave.


Darien Unger is a professor of innovative business practices and an engineer and would champion work on practical solutions, put in place through policy.  He would be the sort of legislator who would dedicate himself to mastery of the details of potential policy and working to make sure potential laws would be as effective as possible.  He would dedicate himself to quality of life and environmental issues, cleaner and cheaper energy for Maryland and public transit improvements.


David Moon has experience running effective campaigns on justice issues like marriage equality and the Dream Act and his election would put him into position to be even more effective, working from the inside to advance progressive causes.   Maryland has a part-time legislature, so that ordinary citizens from all walks of life have representation. But there are very few grassroots organizers and issue advocates in the Democratic caucus.  David would bring those strengths to Annapolis.



District 20 for State Senate
Jamie Raskin does not have any competition in the June primary election that I am aware of, but he has been such an effective champion for Takoma Park in Annapolis and leader in passing better policy that I can't help but share my enthusiastic support for him.  He works incredibly hard and throws himself into big and little issues and never forgets about constituent services.  I'm proud to have him as our one and only senator.   






 
 
Yesterday, the County announced its own figures on crime trends since 2007 and that provides a nice baseline to compare Takoma Park’s progress.  Serious crimes (murder, rape, robbery, assault) are down in Takoma Park by 55% since 2007, compared to 33% in the County or 14% nationwide.  All crime is down 37% in the city and 26% in the County.  These figures are based on similar ones the county used yesterday here, but amended to add Takoma Park into the picture.

And whereas the County saw all crime go up between 2000 and 2006 by 8%, in Takoma Park it dropped by 10% during that time.  These updated numbers come from our Police Department's crime report out yesterday and earlier ones which I have summarized before

We still have more work to do in better using technology and in better customer service from our police department.  We can do more to address crime hot spots before they get worse.  But these are encouraging statistics showing how we compare to the rest of the county.



 
 
Its great that County Councilmember Cherri Branson is coming to speak with the City Council and City on Monday night.  Attached are some of the questions I hope to ask Councilmember Branson and have sent to her in advance - thanks to residents who suggested some of these!

  • McLaughlin School at 6501 Poplar Avenue is an abandoned former school of Prince Georges County that was sold to a private individual for $300,000 in the 1990s.  However, it has been vacant and falling into disrepair for years and frequently the property is behind on taxes.  Despite this, and despite almost a $1 million downgrade in the assessed value of the buildings on the site in 2013, reflecting the absence of basic maintenance, the county has continued to provide tax credits for the property.  Currently, the property tax database lists $144,000 in credit for this property.  Rather than providing tax breaks, I wish the County would either acquire the site for a future elementary school or open space - elementary schools in the area are all over capacity.  Or that the County would treat the property as a derelict one, subject to penalties, not tax credits.  Can you update me on the reason for the tax credits this property is receiving and whether the county/state property appraisal office has been coordinating with the county's property tax office?

  • The development plan at White Oak does not include any reservation of space for either a Middle or High School despite approximately 3 million additional square feet of residential space in the plan.  Do you think this was an oversight by the Planning Board and is there a way to correct for this gap?  When a future school is needed, would the cost of the school be borne by White Oak developers, White Oak residents or by taxpayers throughout the county?  Will it create competition for school construction funds with this portion of the county?

  • The County owns a Recreation Center on New Hampshire Avenue, which is currently operated and maintained by the city, however the quality of the building is in poor condition.  Would the County Council consider putting capital improvement funds into a future CIP budget to rebuild or renovate this facility or develop a public-private partnership to do so (which could take advantage of the significant open space on the property for additional residential apartment construction).  I believe the city would be interested in continuing long term operation of the facility or taking over a renovated facility entirely but I don't believe we could do so at present because the condition of the site makes it too much of a liability.

  • Rolling Terrace Elementary School is in Silver Spring but serves many Takoma Park children and the overcrowding of the school (by hundreds), extensive mold problem that may return this year, and poor condition of the school building should make it a target for significant CIP funds for expansion and renovation.  Would you consider making this a priority as a request to the County Executive to add to next year (or this year) CIP budget? 

  • The city would like to expand green space next to Sligo Creek at the junction of Flower Avenue and Sligo Creek Parkway, while also creating a safer and more T-shaped intersection of the two roads that would reduce vehicle speeds.  We are currently in the planning stages of funding (with city dollars) the engineering designs to describe this work.  The Park and Planning Commission is ultimately in the position to approve or disapprove this project and it would be really helpful if Takoma Park staff, Park and Planning Commission staff and the two of us could meet to talk about this project and ideally ensure it is considered a priority for review. 
 
 
I continue to think that we, as a community should be pushing harder for more money to renovate schools that serve Takoma Park.  Just this week, the County Executive, Ike Leggett, was in Annapolis asking for funding for our schools, to fix problems like massive mold outbreaks.  Yet when you look at the County's proposed spending on schools, there is almost no money visible in the budget for schools in our area.   In fact, looking back over 5 years of school-specific funding in the county capital budget, less than 3% went to schools in all of District 5 (i.e. Takoma Park, Silver Spring, White Oak, etc.).  There is a big caveat to that - lots of capital spending happens without naming the school in the budget - so our schools have clearly gotten more than 3% but we are 1/5th of the county's population - have we gotten 1/5th of the funding?  If Executive Leggett convinces the state to provide more money, would any of it come to Takoma Park schools like Rolling Terrace which has had a widespread mold problem and is hundreds of students over capacity?  Right now, the County's plan is just to 'study' that overcapacity.  Do residents want the city to send a letter to the county encouraging more capital spending on our schools, especially Rolling Terrace?  Let me and Mayor Williams know please.

Part of this problem also comes from development in other parts of the county.  As those developments go in, for example at White Oak, the county is supposed to require developers to set aside large acreage plots of land for future school construction and fees adequate to pay for it.  But what if the county doesn't require those set asides?  In White Oak, no parcels have been slated to be preserved for middle and high school space (but there is for one new elementary school ... see page 93).  But they have 4,000,000 sq feet of new residential development.  So when the houses get build, there will be a new elementary school to house them, but when they get to middle school, existing schools will have to go way over capacity - or be expanded.  But the developers will have gotten off easy and not paid the fees to cover this construction or foregone the income from the onsite space that should have been provided to ensure that middle and high school capacity existed in close proximity to new housing. 

And where does the money come from instead, to pay for more middle school and high school capacity?  It pulls money out of expansions and renovations that might be needed here in Takoma Park to send resources there instead. 

This is crazy, long-term stuff, right?  But its the reason there is less money available for our schools right now, because of past developments in places like Clarksburg over the last 5-15 years that now create a need for new schools... which are in the county capital budget.  
 
 
The process of applying for and interviewing with County Council was a wonderful chance to learn more about County issues and to encourage progress by the County on some issues that I think are important to City residents.  Below is part of the prepared text I used in some of my answers. 

Three most important issues and things you would add to it:
Passing the 2015 budget, White Oak master plan, and the zoning code rewrite are three of the issues that I think will be most important for this Council and for District 5. 

I’ve been through two budget processes at the city scale - i.e. much smaller - that require understanding debt, infrastructure needs, salary and pension issues and measuring the demand for services from residents.  I think the County could do more to create a simpler and clearer set of performance metrics that reflect levels of service and quality of life in the county and I'd like to see a stronger emphasis on that in the budget
 

A specific issue I would add is the opportunity to review and evaluate the school superintendents' CIP and County Executive's capital budget, including school capital projects.  We face a real challenge with the past and projected growth of our school population.  Just keeping up with that growth is a huge challenge, but I'd want to bring a special focus on the school infrastructure in District 5.  For example, I want to understand better why less than 2 percent of the school-specific CIP budget for construction this year is proposed in Districts 4 and 5 in Executive Leggett's CIP proposal.  I recognize that much important spending and projects are elsewhere in the proposal, but I'm particularly interested in the problem of overcrowding in the downcounty cluster schools like Forest Knolls and Rolling Terrace. I very much appreciate the follow up that Councilmember Ervin and her staff put into the mold issues and overcrowding at Rolling Terrace Elementary and I would continue to prioritize that work to try and convince you, my colleagues, that we need some faster investments in expansion and dedicated HVAC work in these and other downcounty and northeast consortium schools that are over capacity by 100-200 students and face problems that are not going to be solved by simply moving students around within a cluster of schools, almost all of which are overcapacity.

 

Balancing development and environmental protection.  What factors would you look at for balance?

The safe political answer is to say that it can always be a win-win but I know that is really hard to achieve.  There is almost always a cost in everything governments have to decide.  That has been my experience on a city council and I expect that is the experience you have here.  The factors I would try to look at concern how development impacts the quality of life of the people in the broad area affected by a development.  Quality of life is services, jobs, home prices, and also open space, recreation, traffic, safety, future school construction needs and so many other factors.  In general, its more costly to provide infrastructure and services per capita in low density residential areas than high density or urbanized ones.  I would generally favor actions that encouraging more development and redevelopment in the areas that already have some of the densest population and infrastructure. 
 
But Clearly, one part of this question is about the Clarksburg plan and ten-mile creek.  From my understanding of the issue, I don't see how the Council ends up not needing to make some more adjustments to the current plan revision to reduce the foot print of development closest to critical parts of the watershed.  I still believe much of the development planned should go forward and that amendments proposed already by the planning board are a big step in the right direction but I would want to work with staff, all of you and as well as constituents to better understand if there are options that could provide better protection to our drinking water, a fair return for developers on their investments and more of the growth that residents of Clarksburg want.  I cannot imagine that there are not still more compromises that could be reached,even if no one is initially that is not going to make people happy. 
  
Is the current Maintenance of Effort (MOE) fair in terms of state requirements for how much the county spends on schools?
Basically, I think the state-directed changes in how MOE is calculated was a blunt way to get at an important goal, but it does so at the cost of discouraging this and other counties from making any investment above the MOE level because the county will be penalized for doing so.  I assume that a real solution to MOE will take years to resolve and that there will need to be an effort to find  common ground between state legislators, unions and counties throughout the state..  In keeping with your question, Councilmember Andrews, the highest priority would seem to be to address the disincentive put into state law in 2012, that penalizes the county for higher investments.  An ambitious solution would be to allow counties to 'bank' above MOE investments and count those toward meeting MOE in future years -that would encourage counties to make proactive, sometimes one-time big investments in school funding.  A less ambitous solution could be to just keep MOE pegged to the MOE in the previous year, regardless of whether the county budget exceeds MOE in some years.  That change would also encourage investments in education by this Council and take away the state penalty for doing so.    A third option would be to make waivers easier or perhaps find a way to work out a two-year waiver process to make it possible to carry out the county's budgeting process with more predictability. 

 

Pay raises for county staff - would you have done that?
I support raises to county staff salaries given the sacrifices staff have made through the past economic downtown but I would have tried to do something more in keeping with the rate of pay increases in the region, in our federal government and in our businesses.  I would have preferred to see a more gradual rate of increase.  In making such an increase, I think it would have also been important to focus on the lowest paid employees of the county - people who are, for example, below the living wage for a single parent like bus drivers and security guards.

 
General remarks about the White Oak/Fairland/Science gateway master plan?
In the White Oak area, there is a lot the Council and Planning Board can do to impose transportation infrastructure changes that would minimize traffic and congestion on Columbia Pike... but no matter what, there will be more traffic and impacts on residents, especially those down the pike.  More jobs and services in the White Oak area.  I understand why the planning board recommends changing the goalposts as the way to get the balance needed between development and congestion.  The traffic goals are simply impossible to achieve which is why reality has never come close to achieving them.  Ultimately, I support the planning board's recommendation because development, services and jobs are so important in this part of the county. I would also support the planning boards recommendation that fees from White Oak developments be dedicated to bus rapid transit and other transit funding.  A premise of the revision is that allowing more development and thus more congestion now is going to be followed by investments to reduce those congestion costs later.  Council action to set aside such funds would be more than a good faith effort to uphold that promise.