Weekly Message From the County Executive Marc Elrich

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

It is often during our toughest times and biggest crises that we witness the best in people. Since the tragic explosion at Friendly Gardens last week, our County Government and nonprofit partners, powered by the compassion, support and generosity of County residents, have mobilized to help the tenants of this complex recover from this incident that has upended their lives. Staff has helped displaced residents find lodging, volunteers have helped with translation and other services and a fund has been created by one of our nonprofit partners, Montgomery Housing Partnership, to assist these residents. So far, more than $519,000 has been raised, with more than $70,000 that has already been directly disbursed to the families affected by the incident. This generosity is greatly appreciated and demonstrates how we look out after our neighbors when tragedy strikes.This incident was caused by human error with a maintenance worker who mistakenly cut a gas pipe thinking it was a water pipe. While we do not yet know all the details, we have determined that this was not a result of a missing permit or inspection – none were required. However, it was clear from the pictures that these pipes were not labeled – currently, labels are required in newer buildings but not in buildings this old. We are looking into how to ensure that exposed pipes in all commercial and apartment buildings are properly labeled, no matter their age. If the pipe at Friendly Gardens had been labeled, this accident might have been avoided.

I have been out to the apartment complex multiple times now. We are so fortunate that there were no fatalities, but the devastation is heartbreaking. Imagine going to work or school in the morning on a regular day and then, later that day, your home and everything that was in it – photos, clothes, food, computers, mementos – are all gone. We will continue to work with these residents, property management, and this community as we try to bring normalcy back to their lives following this horrific disaster. I want to thank Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, Emergency Management, Health and Human Services, Housing and Community Affairs Department, Montgomery Housing Partnership, the Red Cross, restaurants that donated food, and the many volunteers for their work at the Friendly Gardens Apartment complex. If you want to help these residents get back on their feet, you can donate at mhpartners.org. These families have to start all over again, and your support is making a big difference.

AFTER TWO YEARS – WE APPRECIATE AND REMEMBER THE MANY EFFORTS OF OUR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
As part of our efforts this month of recognizing and commemorating two years of fighting COVID-19, this week is “Public Health and Health Care Week” recognizing all the individuals who have been working tirelessly over the past 24 months to keep us healthy, safe, and alive. From nurses, doctors, custodial staff, and emergency workers in our hospitals to scientists and technicians in the thousands of labs to our own government’s health and first responder teams, tens of thousands of our residents, workers, friends, and family have dedicated their skills, energy and talents to response and recovery efforts.

We are honoring these indispensable workers during a very sobering time. This week, our planet surpassed six million deaths due to this pandemic, with our nation nearing one million fatalities – by far the most in the world. This is an important time to express our appreciation to all those who have contributed so much to ensure that the number of deaths from COVID-19 weren’t higher.

Their perseverance and dedication over the past two years has been inspiring. After coming out of one of the worst surges since the beginning of the pandemic, our healthcare workers are overworked and overstressed. Now, more than ever, they need to be lifted up and encouraged to continue their efforts. I hope all our residents will join us in thanking all of these important workers who work every hour of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year, to keep all of us safe, healthy and alive. If you know a healthcare worker, please go out your way to thank them for their dedication and perseverance.

COVID-19 RATES CONTINUE TO DROP AND MCPS ENDS MASK MANDATE
This week our case rates have been hovering in the mid-40s per 100 thousand residents – which is about 1/3 lower than the level it was last month. Just two months ago, on Jan. 8 it was 2,138 residents per 100,000 – a level 47 times as high as we are right now. Our test positivity rate continues to drop as well. We are now at 1.5 percent, which is a 2-percentage point drop since last month, and over 25 percentage points lower than it was during the height of the latest Omicron surge. And our hospitals currently have 4.2 percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. This is a number that got as high as 30 percent in early January.

This week, the Board of Education voted to end mandated mask wearing in MCPS schools. Now masking will be optional for students, teachers, and staff. While I know that people are divided on this decision, I appreciated the focus that bullying should not be tolerated by anyone whether they decide to wear their mask or not. MCPS’s slogan, “On or Off, It’s Just Me: Be Kind and Respect My Mask Choice,” is a valuable lesson to be taught and adhered to beyond just in our classrooms. As I have said and written many times, masking works, it helps reduce the spread of germs, and I hope that every student, parent, teacher, and staff member feels empowered to make a decision they feel comfortable with for their child’s or their own health and safety.

COUNTY FY23 OPERATING BUDGET TO BE RELEASED NEXT WEEK
Next Tuesday, I will propose our FY23 operating budget to the public at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15. You can watch our budget presentation on our YouTube page and on Facebook. For more information about the Montgomery County budget, please visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/omb/.

GAS PRICES TOO HIGH? TIME TO ‘GO ELECTRIC’
The talk of the town this week has been the soaring high gas prices we are seeing at the pump. For those feeling the pinch of these prices, we want to let everyone know that our County’s first “Go Electric” event will take place on Saturday, March 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This event will showcase the future of electric power—from electric vehicles to power equipment and solar power—the event will take place at Montgomery College in Rockville. It is a free event that will display, and have experts explaining, the benefits of electric cars, battery-powered yard equipment, solar power, small appliance recycling and energy incentives. And on Tuesday, April 5 at the Silver Spring Civic Center, we will host our 9th annual Montgomery County Energy Summit. For the first time, this summit will feature an “Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive Event.”

The rising gas and oil prices highlight the need to continue to decrease our dependence on oil and other nonrenewable resources. I am proud of the roadmap we have created with our Climate Action Plan to reduce 100 percent of our carbon emissions by 2035. I am also proud of our current work to electrify our fleet of vehicles, expand solar production in the County, and put forward our Building Energy Performance Standards legislation – which the Council still has not voted on, almost 11 months after I sent it to them. If we are to become an energy independent and sustainable nation, we must start implementing the right environmental policies from the local to the state to the federal level as soon as possible.

We will continue to fight for clean energy because it helps us combat climate change. But, more immediately, I encourage all residents to consider utilizing public transportation, carpooling, or tele-working when these are feasible options, to help you save money, and also to help our environment. This week, MCDOT announced that we will increase Ride On Bus service staring this Sunday following service reductions due to staffing issues from the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH CONTINUES, 31 COUNTY WOMEN HONORED FOR MAKING HISTORY
This week, we recognized International Women’s Day and the Montgomery County Commission for Women and Montgomery Women named their 2022 Women Making History to 31 incredible honorees. Congratulations to these outstanding women who are receiving this award for their invaluable contributions and selfless service to others. They have all made significant contributions in Montgomery County and shown exceptional leadership, serving as an inspiration.

Recipients of the award and their accomplishments will be featured each day in March on the social media platforms of the Montgomery County Commission for Women and Montgomery Women. They will also be recognized at the Women Making History Panel Discussion on March 24 at 7 p.m. This year, the event will be held via Zoom. For more information about this event and these organizations, please visit the Montgomery County Commission for Women website at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cfw/ or Montgomery Women website at http://www.montgomerywomen.org/.

PROTECT YOURSELF BY BEING ‘CONSUMER WISE’
This week is also National Consumer Protection Week. In 2020 alone, approximately 49 million U.S. consumers lost a combined total of $56 billion in identity fraud alone. We have recently seen and heard of scams on the elderly here in Montgomery County and with increased pressure on web security and online banking systems – this is an important issue to be aware of and know how to best protect yourself and your family.

We are very fortunate in Montgomery County to have a dynamic Office of Consumer Protection – who just celebrated their 50th anniversary serving our residents and is only one of two jurisdictions in the state with a dedicated office to protect consumers. Their resources, information, trainings, and accessibility are important for our residents to pay attention to and utilize. Please visit the Office of Consumer Protection at montgomerycountymd.gov/ocp or at their social media channels, “@ConsumerWise” on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter.

TIME TO SIGN UP FOR MONTGOMERY COUNTY SUMMER CAMPS – FUN, SAFE, AND EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES FOR OUR CHILDREN
This week, the New York Times published an important article highlighting the learning loss of our children due to the impacts of the pandemic. One study cited in this article states about 1/3 of children in the youngest grades are reading below their expected reading levels – and these impacts are disproportionately affecting low income and minority students.

For families thinking about the summer and keeping children engaged, consider a Montgomery County Recreation Department Summer Camp. Our Recreation Department is hosting a free Summer Camp Fair from noon to 3 p.m. this Sunday, March 13. This event will take place at the White Oak Community Center located at 1700 April Lane in Silver Spring. Please consider attending and exploring all the educational opportunities we are providing to help enrich and educate the lives of County kids.

EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS – COUNTY MINIMUM WAGE INCREASES TO $15.65 ON JULY 1
When I was a County Council Member, I sponsored the bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 eventually for all businesses. Last summer, the wage for businesses with more than 51 employees hit $15 and now this summer, the minimum wage will be indexed for inflation.

This adjustment addresses a historic mistake – when the federal minimum wage was created, it was not indexed for inflation, and even now it is still at $7.25. If it had been indexed for inflation from the beginning, it could have been a much better support for workers. I am proud that here in Montgomery County we understand the importance of not leaving our lowest paid workers behind, and I was proud to have led the efforts to increase the minimum wage and to make sure that it increases with inflation. A decent wage is the path to more opportunity and improved equity.

As always, my appreciation for all you do.

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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17th Annual Kensington Day of the Book Festival

Now in its 17th year, the Kensington Day of the Book Festival is a family-friendly street festival featuring 150+ renowned authors, poets, and literary organizations. Enjoy live music on five stages, special guest speakers, military veteran writers and comedians, poetry readings, cookbook demos, children's program, and much more.

Admission is free, and attendees will also be able to explore a marketplace of books and food offerings from local vendors.

Not your average book festival! This festival offers something for everyone!

17th Annual Kensington Day of the Book Festival

Sunday, April 21, 2024, 11am-4pm (held rain or shine!)

Howard Avenue, Kensington, MD 20895

www.dayofthebook.com

Instagram: @kensingtonbookfestival

Contact: Elisenda Sola-Sole, Festival Director

[email protected]

301-949-9416 (text preferred)

FEST OF SPRING Caribbean Wine Food & Music Festival

Get ready to experience the vibrant colors, tantalizing flavors, and infectious rhythms of the Caribbean at the FEST OF SPRING Caribbean Wine Food & Music Festival! Hosted by RHU LLC, this exciting festival is set to take place on May 18, 2024, at the picturesque 16700 Barnesville Rd in Boyds, MD.

Step into a world where the Caribbean spirit comes alive! From 12:00 PM onwards, immerse yourself in a sensory journey that celebrates the unique culture, cuisine, and music of the Caribbean. Whether you're an African American, a Reggae or Soca music enthusiast, a wine lover, or part of the vibrant Caribbean diaspora, this festival promises to delight and captivate you in every way.

Let the enticing aromas of mouthwatering Caribbean dishes tantalize your taste buds. Feast on traditional delicacies prepared by expert chefs, showcasing the rich and diverse culinary heritage of the Caribbean. Indulge in flavorful jerk chicken, succulent seafood, and delectable plantain dishes that will transport you straight to the islands.

Accompanying the culinary extravaganza is a carefully curated selection of premium wines, ensuring the perfect pairing for your palate. Sip on fine wines from renowned vineyards, each sip a reflection of the Caribbean's vibrant spirit. Discover new flavors, expand your wine knowledge, and savor unforgettable moments with every glass.

As the sun sets, get ready to groove to the infectious rhythms of Caribbean music. Feel the pulsating beats of reggae, soca, dancehall, and calypso, moving your body to the lively melodies. Live performances by talented musicians and performers will keep the energy high, ensuring a night of unforgettable entertainment.

Don't miss this opportunity to embrace the Caribbean spirit and celebrate the arrival of spring in style! Tickets are available on AllEvents, so secure your spot today. Join us at the FEST OF SPRING Caribbean Wine Food & Music Festival, where cultures collide and unforgettable memories are made.

LIVE PERFORMANCES By: CULTURE Feat. Kenyatta Hill, EXCO LEVI, IMAGE BAND, RAS LIDJ REGG'GO with Special Guest SUGAR BEAR FROM E.U. & MORE! & MORE!

MUSIC By: DJ ABLAZE, DJ SMALLY & NAJ SUPREME

2 NIGHT Camping packages available: RV/CAMPER $200 | TENTS $150 Starting on Friday May 17 @ 5pm | 30 RV SPACES | 30+ TENT SPACES

KIDS 12 & UNDER FREE!!!

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