Weekly Message From the County Executive: The Need to Address Shortages for Transportation Funding

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

I spent time at the Metropolitan Council of Governments annual meeting this week and we had a lot to talk about. Financial concerns lie ahead for Metro and the Maryland Department of Transportation that will certainly have us adjusting to things like cuts in public transportation service or delays to road projects we have been anticipating.

Then there is what seems to be the talk of the town–the announced move of the Capitals and Wizards from Downtown Washington to Northern Virginia.

I do not understand why so many jurisdictions vie to give billions of dollars to billionaire owners, particularly when we have much bigger needs. Money for new arenas and stadiums compete for major projects that improve and invest in our community like transportation and schools.Ironically, the Virginia Governor touted that the new stadium would be near a metro station and yet he has not shown leadership to help fund the major funding gap for Metro (WMATA).

Metro CEO Randy Clarke laid out a grim scenario if the $750 million budget gap is not filled: up to 10 stations with the lowest ridership could be closed (this could include the Potomac Yard Station, where the new arena would go), 67 bus lines and 2,000 jobs could be cut. This would be a disaster. We need to improve and increase our transit, not dismantle it. Transit is critical to addressing our traffic problems and providing environmentally friendly transportation, and it is a proven economic development tool.

At the same time, the state has announced a grim transportation funding scenario. However, understanding the importance of WMATA, Governor Wes Moore has announced an increase of $150 million in funding to WMATA for the next two fiscal years and then $250 million for the following year and beyond. The District of Columbia and Northern Virginia need to also step up and help our regional mass transit system.

Despite the cuts announced for other state transportation efforts, I don’t think that’s the end of the story. Governor Moore says we all have to come together with State lawmakers in the General Assembly to prevent losing too much ground on our infrastructure projects. It is a real problem for us not to be able to provide major transportation projects. We are dependent on the State, and the State model for transportation funding, which relies on a dwindling gas tax, and is not sustainable. Transportation projects are an investment in necessary infrastructure and funding them is a major economic imperative.

Northern Virginia understands this and currently, it is “eating our lunch.” Through its taxing structure, it has been able to fund and build projects that we never could do. In fact, years ago, elected leaders and business leaders in Northern Virginia went to the state and asked for the authority to create special taxing districts specifically designed for transportation projects. The taxes do not drive the developers or businesses away because they realize the value in spending on transit, roads and other improvements.
I discussed these issues with other county government leaders from around the State at last week’s Maryland Association of Counties winter conference. It was helpful to have the opportunity to meet, especially in advance of the upcoming General Assembly session.

I am encouraged by this week’s news from the Federal Reserve that interest rates will continue to hold where they are, with a likelihood of reductions coming in 2024. This should help restart the real estate market, which has been hurt by high interest rates.

In more good news, our revenues are above the forecast and that is true for the State as well. Our reserves are $400 million above our 10 percent target, and unemployment continues to be at historic lows. We have a relatively robust economy, and our big challenge is to solve the transportation issue so that we can build the projects we need to build.

Budget Forums for Fiscal Year 2025 Operating Budget Complete

After a three-month stretch of holding a total of 10 community conversations about our upcoming Fiscal Year 2025 Operating Budget, we concluded the final one this past week. Here is a link to video of the last one and a page where many of them can be viewed. I want to thank everyone who participated, including those who came out for presentations in Spanish, Amharic and Chinese and the forums that were created specifically for Montgomery County Public Schools parents and for our senior population.

I hope by offering these presentations and opportunities for feedback in different languages and for different audiences, it gives us a broad perspective for how to improve Montgomery County. Input is an important factor in how we spend taxpayer dollars.

We appreciate everyone’s feedback and thoughts. I will be sending to the County Council our recommended our Fiscal Years 2025-30 Biennial Capital Budget on Jan. 16. We will send the recommended FY 25 Operating Budget to the Council in mid-March. I look forward to updating you on our budget decisions.

Improvements in Permitting

Soon after becoming County Executive five years ago, I joined Councilmember Sidney Katz on listening tours around the County. We heard many complaints about the Department of Permitting Services. While not all the criticisms were fair, plenty of them were completely accurate. We all agreed improvements were needed.

I am proud of all the work that has been happening at Permitting Services. We are continually improving our processes.

DPS issues around 40,000 permits yearly. Each permit can be tied to several different requests, which means our staff of more than 200 responds to almost 54,000 service requests annually.

One way we help customers save time is by encouraging them to use a predesign consultation for projects. It is a free service and puts our subject matter experts to work on the designs before the permit review process. Addressing issues early helps prevent headaches for you and allows our employees to turnaround permit requests faster.

This year, DPS also launched the Peer Review Program. It creates a system that allows someone from a certified list of peer reviewers to have experts in the industry review engineered public right-of-way and sediment control/stormwater management plans. These changes are designed to save time, improve the process and not compromise on code compliance.

In addition, DPS’s new Residential Fast Track program modernizes how to complete small projects by homeowners and neighborhood associations. If all required information is completely submitted, eligible projects like single-level decks, fences and sheds can get going in just a few days as opposed to the process that sometimes took weeks.

We are also doing a better job of engaging with our community, sharing what we do and providing information about how to navigate the permitting process so that it is easier and quicker. This year, DPS launched a podcast discussing topics such as zoning, deck inspections and adding a detached living space on your property.

DPS is working on a dashboard for its website to give stakeholders a better sense of when requests will be filled and when inspections will be done.

We are committed to improvement and streamlining our services for everyone. We encourage your input and feedback as the County moves forward with DPS as your project partner.

Winterizing Your Home in a Green Way

At a time when climate change is a pressing concern, taking steps to winterize your home is more than simply a comfort measure–it is climate action.

Currently, existing residential buildings make up for nearly 50 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is a gap that, while significant, can be closed with environmentally conscious decisions that can significantly reduce those emissions. Our Department of Environmental Protection says we can all keep warm while limiting GHG emissions.

Before you start any project, it is essential to understand where your home stands in terms of energy efficiency.

The Quick Home Energy Checkup is available through the utility companies and consists of a one-hour assessment of your home. A contractor replaces inefficient devices like lightbulbs and faucet aerators with energy-efficient options. These quick changes will help lower your utility bill. The visit is available at no additional cost if it is the first time an inspection is done at the property.

The U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also supports the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Audit. It is a comprehensive look at your home complete with a door blower test and thermal cameras. A contractor will come into the home for about two-to-three hours to complete this service which is available for $100 (with a potential discount from the EmPOWER Maryland program). Once the audit is completed, a report will be sent that shows what needs to happen in the home to make it as comfortable as possible.

Drafts and leaks are the silent culprits of energy loss in homes. Check for drafts around windows, doors and even electrical outlets. Weather-stripping and caulking are inexpensive ways to seal these leaks, and you can find these materials at local hardware stores in Montgomery County. This simple step can significantly reduce your heating costs, without a costly overhaul. Inspect your attic and walls and if too much heat is being lost consider replacing your insulation.

Efficiency is key in keeping heating costs down. Remember, your heating system works overtime during winter–especially during winter storms. Ensure that it is running efficiently by replacing furnace filters and cleaning ducts regularly. If your system is outdated, consider upgrading to a more efficient model.

Newer options for homeowners include electrified appliances and clean energy powered by more renewable energy like wind and solar. Montgomery County currently offers direct incentives through programs like Electrify MC for such upgrades, to help make a cost-effective, long-term investment. You can also get more information at Home – Montgomery Energy Connection.

Smart thermostats are a game-changer for energy savings. These devices allow you to program your heating schedule and adjust temperatures remotely. Simple actions, like lowering the thermostat at night and using LED lighting, can also add up to significant savings.

Montgomery County is committed to sustainability and offers various resources to help residents save energy. From rebates to workshops on energy conservation, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and learn more. Check out the County’s website for a list of programs and initiatives.

Winterizing your home is a proactive step toward energy conservation and combating climate change. By following these tips, you make your home more comfortable and contribute to a larger cause. Remember, every small action counts in our collective effort to create a sustainable future.

Health Update

Flu cases are on the rise as we typically see this time of year. It comes as COVID-19 is becoming more of a concern across our community, especially in places like nursing homes. Overall, our Community Level Status remains “low,” which you can see here.

COVID-19 vaccination rates since September–when a new vaccine was introduced–show levels far below what we have seen with previous rollouts. This is the first time it has been in the hands of pharmacies, family doctors and the medical industry to rollout the vaccines. It is disappointing to see that many people clearly do not think they need this protection anymore. People are still getting sick and dying with COVID-19.

Even in settings like nursing homes, national statistics show less than 30 percent of residents and only eight percent of staff are up to date on vaccines. Maryland’s rates are higher, with nearly 35 percent of residents and nine percent of staff getting new boosters.

I want to encourage everyone to get both flu and COVID-19 shots. The County health department has a limited supply of vaccines that we are using to help vaccinate the uninsured, but pharmacies and other private providers have the vaccines.

Protect Lives by Prioritizing Safe Gun Storage

At this time of year, kids have a knack of looking for holiday gifts, getting into places they do not normally look. It is a good reminder that dangerous items should be secured and not accessible to anyone other than responsible adults.

Guns are the No. 1 killer of children in America and in Maryland. Every year, 350 children living in America under age 18 gain access to a firearm and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, like a sibling, parent, friend or another person.

When guns are not properly stored, tragedy can strike. The result could be a child finding a firearm and injuring or killing themselves, or someone stealing a gun and using it to commit crime. Secure gun storage can prevent both. Storing guns securely keeps families and communities safe. To learn more about best practices for secure firearm storage, visit besmartforkids.org and help support groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – Montgomery County.

Holiday Warnings from Office of Consumer Protection

The holiday season is a time of joy and giving, but unfortunately, it is also a time when criminals prey on unsuspecting consumers.

Each year the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection receives complaints about fraud schemes.

Some common holiday complaints include package theft. We have all come to know the term for “porch pirates” who take advantage of easy access to Christmas gifts left at your front door. Consider a secured package drop box, keeping an eye on video doorbell notifications for deliveries or asking a trusted neighbor to swing by and pick up your packages quickly.

Do not be fooled by email messages that pretend to come from Amazon, FedEx or USPS claiming to provide status delivery information and requesting consumers to respond.

Charitable giving scams also increase during the holiday season. Scammers exploit people’s generosity and create fake charities or misrepresent real ones. Do your research before donating to any charity.

Additionally, never give out personal or financial information to unsolicited callers or emails claiming to be from a charity. You can always contribute after you have done research and determined the organization Is legitimate.

Mail fraud is also more prevalent during the holidays. Criminals seek opportunities to pilfer mail, to alter and cash stolen checks, snatch gift cards and potentially access your personal information. To deter mail thieves and scammers, take mail directly to the post office. Avoid sending cash through the mail and do not leave anything in your mailbox at night. You can place a hold on your mail if you plan to be away for an extended time.

If you have been a victim of a scam or know someone who has, report it. You can do that here. The more we know about the scam activity going on in our area, the more we can help others avoid being victimized.

Time to Celebrate

This week saw the last day of Hanukah for our Jewish community. This has been a few difficult months and I hope that the Festival of Lights brought some comfort to all who celebrate.

I also want to mention the ceremony our Office of Community Partnerships helped coordinate this week for Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthday. Every year, this is an important occasion for our Sikh and Indian communities to come together to honor his birthday.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope it is filled with joy, peace and light.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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AC Milan Soccer Camp at Maryland Soccerplex

AC Milan Academy is hosting a soccer camp at Maryland Soccerplex from March 1st through March 3rd for girls and boys aged 5 to 16 from any club who want to develop their soccer skills and learn the unique methodology of AC Milan directly from AC Milan coaches.

March 1st (Friday) 6pm-7:30pm

March 2nd (Saturday) 6pm-7:30pm

March 3rd (Sunday) 10:30am -12pm and 3:30pm-5pm

Location:18031 Central Park Cir, Boyds, MD 20841

Price: $349 + AC Milan Junior Camp Kit

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