Weekly Message From the County Executive: Supporting Legislation That Would Make MCPS Budget More Transparent and Accountable

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released the following on Friday, March 8:

Dear Friends,

I had a chance to testify before the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis this week on behalf of three different pieces of legislation that would bring greater budgetary accountability to public schools, curb reckless and irresponsible driving and crack down on fentanyl. I also joined other county executives and a coalition of more than 50 organizations to call for more progressive tax structures.

On Wednesday in Annapolis, I joined the State coalition behind Fair Share Maryland to advocate for changes to our tax system. You can watch that press conference here. There is no good reason to continue tax structures that favor large corporations over small businesses and residents. It is time to eliminate loopholes for corporations and to implement a progressive tax structure so that the very wealthiest pay a more fair share. At the end of the day, every dollar not paid by them is a tax on middle-class and working-class residents and small businesses. That is simply not fair. With a fairer structure, the State might be able to better address the budget situation without having to impose additional burdens on our residents: If they would simply make those who do not pay, pay.

I also joined several county leaders from around Maryland in asking the Senate Education Energy Environment Committee to require school districts to bring clarity to their budgets.

Last year, I supported an increase on property taxes to be used specifically for education because it is necessary to make teacher pay in Montgomery County competitive. We also need to understand how education money is being spent in Montgomery County, especially considering that funding for MCPS is about half of the total County operating budget. We need to understand which programs are working and which are not. We all want our schools to provide the best outcomes for our families. Senate Bill 1026, the “Transparency in Education Spending Act,” would help us better understand and assess how education funding is used.

Change to Help Police Recruitment

I am happy to report another development that will help us bring more qualified and interested candidates for the police department.

Cannabis use was approved by Maryland voters and lawmakers established the regulations that last year brought the industry to market. What has not been addressed is how we deal with this new reality from an employer standpoint.

We discovered that our police hiring practices needed revision. If adults are now allowed to legally buy and use marijuana, past use of the drug should not be an inhibitor to getting a job.

To date, police applicants who have used cannabis in the previous year before submitting their application have been disqualified from becoming police officers based on criteria from the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission. Recently, we received a report from the Maryland Attorney General clarifying that we do not need to consider past cannabis use in certification of new officers.

We will now use this opinion to ask the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to adjust their standards accordingly.

The law still requires current academy trainees and officers to be drug free. That will not change.

Recruiting officers is a challenge for police departments across the nation. This adjustment will allow us to expand the applicant pool, possibly catch up on low staffing levels and make us more competitive with nearby departments like those in the District of Columbia and Virginia.

If you think this change will impact your decision to apply with the Montgomery County Police Department or if you know of someone who could benefit, visit the police department website focused on career opportunities, which you can find here.

Expanding Opportunities for Affordable Housing–Right of First Refusal Bill Signing

I signed the “Right of First Refusal Bill” into law last week. You can see pictures from that event here. I want to thank the County Council for its unanimous support of this retooled law. It will help smooth the acquisition process for affordable housing properties that we are helping to preserve.

Last summer, we celebrated a victory for more than 345 families at the Westchester West Apartments in Silver Spring, where naturally occurring affordable housing was in danger. The County was able to use the Right of First Refusal law to partner with nonprofit organizations to prevent families from being priced out of their homes.

At that time, the County had to come up with the full amount at settlement and then go through a second settlement with the nonprofit to transfer the property to them. We would get paid back, but we had to set aside large amounts of money that we could not use for other worthwhile efforts.

By allowing the County to assign the rights to the nonprofit pre-sale, this bill means that there is only one settlement between the seller and the nonprofit. This saves everyone money.

The bill also limits the amount of money that the County has to come up with as earnest money–again saving us cash. It should facilitate more and easier acquisitions of affordable housing.

In a world of rising real estate costs and rising rents, protecting rental properties that are already affordable helps longtime residents live where they want to live, including staying right where they are.

We have to use everything in our toolbox, including improvements to our right of first refusal process, to protect our community from becoming unaffordable.

For more information about our efforts to produce, preserve and protect affordable housing, visit montgomerycountymd.gov/dhca.

Purple Line Opening Delayed Until 2027

There has been another frustrating update in the saga of the Purple Line mass transit project. We learned this week that the project needs another $425 million in “relief payments” related to delays. The new estimated opening has also been pushed back to 2027.

The State’s Board of Public Works will vote on the request next week. Even though this is something that Governor Wes Moore must now deal with, this project truly went off the tracks under the leadership of former Governor Larry Hogan.

Unfortunately, this project was mis-designed and mis-managed, and for years, I have tried to explain how to build a more efficient, more cost-effective transit system. The original Metro was intended to help Washington area businesses with their workforce. It does not address mobility within Montgomery County. While I hope the Purple Line will eventually help some with east-west mobility, it is not nearly as efficient or effective as a well-run Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system would be. BRT does not need tracks in the ground, wires overhead and trees removed from near its path. BRT can provide the same transit service as a light rail line, which is the current design for the Purple Line.

This is not Governor Moore’s fault. Construction began on the Purple Line in 2017–six years before he took office.

There is still a lot of potential for new business, growth, amenities and homes to be built around the Purple Line. Let’s hope we start to see that come into focus sooner rather than later.

COVID-19 Guidelines Changing

The Centers for Disease Control has announced new guidelines for COVID-19.

There is a more detailed look at the new recommendations later in this newsletter. We are in a much better place than we were for the first several years of COVID-19. Just like the flu and RSV occur every year, so will COVID-19. We will likely see spikes at different times of the year, but more than 98 percent of the U.S. population now has some protective immunity, either from vaccination, prior infection or both.

Read Across America

I stopped by the White Oak and Wheaton libraires last weekend to participate in Read Across America Day and kick off a week-long celebration of literacy.

These events were a collaboration between Montgomery County Public Libraries and the Jewish Council for the Aging Heyman Interages Center.

The program is a one-on-one reading program that pairs a JCA volunteer with a child between kindergarten and third grade. Volunteers are recruited, vetted and trained about intergenerational communication by the JCA.

We also encouraged older kids to read to younger ones during these visits to help promote reading and encourages children to read more.

I am always glad to be able to participate in Read Across America events. This weekend took me back to the years I spent teaching fourth and fifth graders at Rolling Terrace Elementary in Takoma Park.

When I ran for county executive in 2018, I stressed the need for a comprehensive strategy to address student needs inside and outside of the classroom. The pandemic highlighted even more this importance. Students need to master reading because it really is the gateway to the knowledge they need–and it can even just be fun.

I want to thank the teachers, librarians, family members, JCA volunteers and everyone who helps make it easier for others to enjoy reading.

JCA’s Interages Program connects seniors with school-age children for mentoring opportunities. This is a year-round program and is open to more participation on both ends of the spectrum. Visit accessjca.org/interages for more information.

Our libraries also host reading programs across our County to help kids strengthen their reading skills including Family Story Time, the After School Reading Club and the Read to a Dog program. Learn more about these programs at montgomerycountymd.gov/library.

‘Sweet Release’: Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Bakery Program

 

Montgomery County has reintroduced the bakery program at our Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. I recently visited this bakery, met the participants and sampled some of their baked goods.

The food was great (even if it did not fit in my diet), but it was worth making an exception. It was evident that these participants were learning a useful skill that will help them find employment once their time is served.

Before the program was discontinued some years ago, its graduates went on to good jobs that were available because of the skills they developed. I know this program is going to build on that success.

This is what we want people doing while they are serving time in our detention center. Our goal is to make sure they do not ever come back. By giving them this opportunity and training, we will be reducing recidivism rates.

Please watch the video at the top of this newsletter so I can introduce you to some of the participants and you can learn more about the program that has the potential to help a great number of people in Montgomery County.

Education Sessions Announced for 11th Annual Energy Summit

The 2024 Montgomery County Energy Summit has released the education session schedule for its 11th annual gathering for commercial building professionals, scheduled for April 15-16 at the Silver Spring Civic Building.

To view and register for education sessions, visit Montgomery County Energy Summit.

More details about the Energy Summit are available elsewhere in this week’s newsletter.

Sneak Preview on Economic Development Initiatives in Upcoming Operating Budget

I will be sending my recommended Fiscal Year 2025 operating budget next week to the County Council for its review. I wanted to highlight $27 million for economic development initiatives that will be included in the budget. Economic development is an important element of a thriving county.

One of the things we have done is to look at our strengths and weaknesses as a life science center. Currently, we are in the center of the nation’s third-ranked biohealth cluster. We are particularly focused on what other centers have that we do not. This budget will have funding to address those issues, so that we do not have companies say things like ” . . . but for “x,” we would have come there . . . ”

Some of the major initiatives in the $27 million for economic development will include expanded and improved incubators that include improved innovation, technical assistance and increased programming and capacity. It also will add a BioHub in conjunction with the State that will create a state-of-the-art life sciences training facility to help fill jobs in a key County industry sector. It will be complementary to programs at the Universities at Shady Grove and Montgomery College. There will be assistance for small businesses in high-growth fields. We also fund the work of the County’s business center, which will expand its outreach to businesses around the county.

Next week, we will have many more details about my recommended budget.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

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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