Weekly Update by County Executive Marc Elrich: Welcoming the New Leadership of Maryland

“Dear Friends,

With a new year comes an opportunity to change things up from what you have come to expect each week. In the video link that is part of our weekly Montgomery Update newsletter, we have a bit of a different approach. This week, County Chief Administration Officer Richard Madaleno and I talk about the just released recommended Fiscal Year 2024 Capital budget.

CIP Budget Update

We transmitted our recommended six-year, $5.4 billion Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget to the County Council this week for its review. Because this is the second year of the County’s two-year capital budget cycle, changes and additions are generally limited to address capital or operating budget constraints. While we were not able to fund all of the worthwhile projects, this is still a relatively a “good news” budget. During my 12 years as an at-large County Councilmember, we faced more difficult budgets and tough choices, so I am glad this budget is better. However, high inflation due to supply chain issues, labor shortages and a tight construction market has had a significant impact on this CIP proposal. Without more funding from the State, we will be limited in our ability to solve local problems and to build the kind of healthy, just, economically vibrant community we want for our residents.

My recommended CIP budget plan includes a 5.9 percent increase for the Montgomery County Public Schools’ capital budget, as compared to last year’s approved budget.

I am pleased that the CIP funds MCPS’s request to build a new Burtonsville Elementary School at a nearby site already owned by MCPS instead of renovating the current building. This project will provide a new neighborhood-based school built to modern standards. It also will allow us to work together to renovate the old elementary school building to expand childcare offerings and other community uses. The community has asked for more community use facilities and this project is a good deal for the community and the County.

I am glad that we were able to fund construction of more high school wellness centers, which provide important medical, mental health and other supportive services. They will be added at Blake, Crown, Damascus, Einstein, Magruder, Northwood, Springbrook and Woodward high schools. Also underway is planning for a future center at Poolesville High School.

We were also able to provide Montgomery College with a 2.8 percent increase from the last approved budget and a 2.9 percent increase for Park and Planning.

One important project that is receiving funding for the first time is the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center. The County has selected Montgomery Housing Partnership’s proposal to combine an affordable housing development with a new arts center in the Wheaton Arts and Entertainment District. MHP will develop the former WMATA site with two affordable rental buildings of 280 apartments, a stand-alone garage and 40 affordable for-sale units.

The arts center will be included on the ground floor of the building fronting on Georgia Avenue. The center will include performance spaces, classrooms, gallery space, back of house support space and administrative offices.

The recommended CIP also includes $1.4 billion in funding for projects to help advance our Climate Action Plan goals, including funding to provide a full upgrade of the County’s recycling center. The recommended CIP includes funding for planning and design of a new transit maintenance depot to accommodate an expanded fleet of low-emission vehicles and maintenance and fueling/charging facilities. The budget also proposes funding for new HVAC systems for the Executive Office Building, the Judicial Center and the 4th District Police Station that will improve energy efficiency.

We look forward to working with the County Council as this recommended capital budget moves through the approval process.

Groundbreaking of a Historic Affordable Housing Project

I attended the groundbreaking today for the County’s largest-ever affordable housing development, which will be located at Randolph Road and Bushey Drive (near Veirs Mill Road) in Silver Spring. This project grew out of discussions when I first took office to find creative solutions to our long-standing affordable housing crisis. The County has partnered with Habitat for Humanity and AHC to build nearly 200 multi-family homes. What’s unique about this project is that the County was able to leverage the land value, coupled with reduced property taxes, through the County’s PILOT program and a substantial loan from the County’s Housing Initiative Fund, which enabled this construction to move forward despite dramatic increases in both construction costs and interest rates. I am thrilled that this will include homeownership options for low-income residents. When we began discussing this project, I pushed for home ownership opportunities, and I am grateful to our partners for making sure that was included. It is an outstanding, innovative project. Because affordable housing is a priority, we must seek out partnerships and ideas like this to spark projects that deliver many deeply affordable units and benefit a broad range of wage earners.

The groundbreaking today is similar to several projects I have discussed in which we plan to leverage County-owned land and ask developers to bring us creative affordable housing projects. I was recently updated on the responses we received for the RFPs we put out on 18 County-owned parking garages and we will have some good news on that front. This week in our CIP recommendations, we had great news in terms of our Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) loans being repaid so quickly that we are able to “re-use” $30.2 million for additional lending for NOAH preservation projects.

We are working with developers to bring down the cost of construction on these projects to give more people a place to live that will not demand half of their monthly income in return.

This is another example of how we are developing innovative solutions to combat our affordable housing crisis by protecting preserving and producing places to live.

Inauguration of Governor Moore

This was an exciting week for the entire State as we welcomed a new administration to Annapolis. I am looking forward to working with the Moore-Miller administration. They have been proactive ahead of this week’s inaugurations in reaching out to counties to make sure that collaboration is a priority.

We share many of the same values as the new leadership team including an emphasis on clean energy and public education. As new Governor Wes Moore mentioned in his inauguration speech, clean energy can define our economy. We have led the State in implementing the climate friendly initiatives with our Building Energy Performance Standards, electrifying our vehicle fleet, opening the nation’s largest bus microgrid for electric buses and enacting a ban on natural gas in most new building and home construction. I was especially pleased to hear him say that “we will put Maryland on track to generate 100 percent clean energy by 2035.” That will be important to our Montgomery County goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and by 100 percent by 2035.

The governor also emphasized using our State education system to help every child no matter what they are struggling with. We know there are learning challenges brought on by the pandemic and mental health issues that we hope to address in Montgomery County by expanding our wellness center programs in public schools. This is addressed in my FY 24 capital budget proposal recommendations that were transmitted to the County Council this week.

I like and support Governor Moore’s innovative “year of service” for some graduates out of high school. This is an example of the type of new ideas we need to invigorate our youth and expose them to enriching life experiences. We know that too many of our high schoolers leave unprepared for work. If Governor Moore can make a program like this work, it can be a can be lifechanging for our youth—as well as an asset to our State in growing the talent of our work force and attracting/growing new businesses.

I am encouraged that Governor Moore is prioritizing making the State more business friendly—as well as raising the State’s minimum wage. I agree with what he said: “Maryland is asset rich, but strategy poor.” We look forward to working with him for State investment and support in our infrastructure, priorities and projects that we have in the pipeline in Montgomery County. The success of our County can help the State provide funds for communities in need across Maryland.

As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to protect the health and welfare of our constituents, I look forward to working with this administration on closing the equity gaps that exist in our health, education and planning investments and processes.

Governor Moore, Lt. Governor Aruna Miller, Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Attorney General Anthony Brown make up the most diverse leadership team the State has ever seen. It is a group that is well suited to represent our diverse County because they are leaders from our community.

The governor is right when he said at this week’s inauguration that this is not a victory, but an opportunity to change lives for the better. I look forward to that challenge.

‘Human Trafficking Awareness Month’

The County this week recognized “Human Trafficking Awareness Month.” I want to thank the work done by law enforcement, the justice system and the Human Trafficking Prevention Committee.

Since 2017, the County group has worked to help end what many people consider modern slavery that allows people to profit from the control and exploitation of victims. These victims can be forced into working in inhumane conditions for little pay or forced to continue working even when they want to stop. The committee works on the legislative level to strengthen laws, enhances visibility of this problem in our area and works with victims to find support once they are free of their captors.

The most recent Montgomery County Police Department statistics on human trafficking are alarming. They show a 600 percent jump in activity through most of 2022 with eight victims identified from seven separate cases, There were just three investigations into human trafficking in 2021. This indicates a rebound to pre-pandemic levels of human trafficking activity discovered in Montgomery County. We know this fight is not over. A national hotline for human trafficking abuse still receives hundreds of calls per year. People text or reach out online about situations in which victims are moved in inhumane conditions and exploited in different ways. This is an organized crime that must be eliminated.

Lunar New Year on Sunday

I joined the County Council this week in honoring the Asian communities that celebrate Lunar New Year with a joint proclamation read by the first Asian American to serve on the County Council Kristin Mink.

This marks an important time of year to honor family and traditions that began centuries ago and continue here in Montgomery County. The County is home to many groups representing Asian countries and the Southern Pacific region. I recently met with the delegation from the South Korean embassy that commended the County for creating a safe and welcoming environment that plays a big factor in relocation decisions.

Local community groups created by Asian American residents help develop that welcoming environment and set up our County to benefit from their talents. For a list of resources and organizations available to Asian American County residents and others, please follow this link.

We have one of the strongest life sciences industries in the nation. Asian Americans have made an imprint on that industry and I am sure that as it continues to grow, more life science professionals will be needed to help keep up with employer demand in our region.

Lunar New Year falls on Sunday, Jan. 22, but the celebrations started earlier this month and continue through January. The County is proud to host an event in Gaithersburg specifically for County employees celebrating the “Year of the Rabbit.” Vietnamese communities will honor the “Year of the Cat.” I hope the new year brings hope, peace and prosperity.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich

County Executive”

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