Weekly Message From County Executive Marc Elrich: “ Maryland General Assembly session ends, FY25 budget discussion and eclipse excitement”

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released his weekly message to the community on Friday, April 12th. The full message/update can be seen below:

“Dear Friends,

Each week, we work and live among hundreds and thousands of people and, many times, hardly realize they are there. Then we have an event like the partial solar eclipse.

On Monday afternoon, for at least an hour or so, our eyes were fixed on the sky. The solar eclipse brought people together with others working in their building or living nearby to marvel at the event. People were sharing solar eclipse glasses, swapping stories and smiling.

You could infer we were meant to be out in the sun more.

We appreciate our environment this month as we mark Earth Day on Monday, April 22. In Montgomery County, April is Earth Month. The County will host this year’s Energy Summit on Monday and Tuesday, April 15 and 16, in Silver Spring. The summit provides a forum for the commercial building community to prepare for compliance with energy benchmarking, building energy performance standards, and emerging building codes. Visit mcenergysummit.org for detailed event information, education session descriptions and other updates.

These changes are being made because it is important for all of us to help address climate change. Our reliance on fossil fuels must end, and that means we must do all we can to use solar, green hydrogen and other forms of clean energy.

Our Department of General Services monitors the County-owned solar panels and their energy generation and storage. You can see from this graphic above how the partial solar eclipse impacted our microgrid system panels at the solar-powered Brookville bus depot. The readings suddenly dropped way down and bounced back strong after the eclipse.

The sun is one of our most powerful tools for helping us attain a more climate-friendly future. I am glad that our County is making the strategic moves and investments that need to be embraced both here and across the globe.

Maryland General Assembly Session Ends 

The 2024 Maryland General Assembly is over, and I want to extend my gratitude to the Montgomery County House and Senate delegations for their dedication and support of the priorities of the Montgomery County government and the 1.1 million residents we serve. Throughout this session, the General Assembly navigated complex issues, debated important legislation and worked collaboratively to find solutions that would benefit our communities.

Plenty of progress was made during this session. I am pleased that we continue to see State support for our Flash buses, the County’s Bus Rapid Transit network. The Maryland Commission on Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs will consider creating regional transportation authorities and local enabling legislation to expand financing options and help provide much-needed infrastructure funding.  We also received $500,000 in State capital funds for our life sciences biohub, a critical component of our growing life sciences industry.

I want to thank the State for $6 million in operating costs and $3 million in capital costs for the University of Maryland Institute for Health Computing. This partnership the County and the University of Maryland is creating at the North Bethesda Metro Station is the future of healthcare research and innovation. The graduate-level research center will help us continue developing private sector interest and investment in life sciences here.

I also was happy to see the State provide a way for all Marylanders, regardless of their immigration status, to be able to buy health insurance on the State’s health exchange. They also put in safeguards to help schools protect books from being banned without proper process and oversight.

The Legislature passed several affordable housing bills and thoughtfully addressed rising concerns about juveniles committing violent crimes and dangerous and reckless driving. The State followed Montgomery County’s lead and passed a bill to create a grant funding program for reproductive health clinics to bolster security at their facilities. They also bolstered community safety by passing the Melanie Diaz Act, which will establish new requirements for landlords to share essential fire safety information with tenants.

While there is still much work to be done, I am confident that our work with the delegation will continue to lead to a brighter future for our Montgomery County residents and our fellow Marylanders. You can read a review of the entire legislative session in the 90 day report which is here.

County Council Hears from the Public Regarding the Operating Budget

The public testified this week before the County Council on my recommended Fiscal Year 2025 operating budget. Around 250 residents registered to speak during the five sessions over three days in Rockville. Many of them testified in support of programs in this $7.1 billion budget.

We have come a long way — in a good way — since I sent my first recommended budget to the Council. I have been involved in building budgets for a long time – for 12 years as an at-large Councilmember, and now this is my sixth recommended budget as County Executive. When I took office in December 2018, I faced a $90 million deficit in the first year, and our reserves were below the 10 percent target. In fact, we had never achieved 10 percent reserves. Six years later, we have been ending our budget years with reserves of more than 10 percent. This year, we reached 15 percent in reserves.

We are using some of those reserves to fund critically important programs and services, including feeding the hungry, helping people experiencing homelessness, fighting climate change, improving transit, investing in affordable housing and improving education. Even after funding those programs, my recommended budget includes 11.6 percent reserves, well over the 10 percent target.

We allocate some of the surplus above the 11.6 percent to support one-time spending and some for recurring expenditures. Part of this is driven by a Council decision last year to direct the school system to pay for ongoing expenses, $33 million, out of one-time Federal funds. This resulted in costs for that staff in this budget without revenues to support those positions.  We are also compensating for the last two years of dramatic decreases in transfer and recordation taxes that are expected to recover once the Federal Reserve ends its current fiscal policies that are strangling the housing market by driving up the cost of borrowing. High-interest rates impact builders and buyers. We expect–and hope–that the current situation will end soon.

I write this because there is a memo from the Council President to the Council that asserts there is a $115 million hole to fill when there is not. We have more reserves than we require. We continue to earn AAA ratings from all three bond-rating agencies and positive comments. Our reserves exceed those of the State and some of the other local AAA jurisdictions.

Another criticism is that this budget requires too much–both fair compensation for our employees and the services our community needs.

The chart above, from a staff memo to the Council, details expected additions to compensation in Fiscal Year 2025. It compiles a list of benefits, all of which the Council has already agreed to except for the category of “net new positions,” and these positions include many things that the Council wanted.

These salaries reflect the nature of this region. As other businesses and governments raise wages, we must remain competitive to retain and attract employees. If our pay does not attract the needed employees, we cannot deliver the services our residents need and want. Many of these new positions reflect needs derived from council priorities and legislation. If these agreements with labor are broken, it will break the trust that will not be easily repaired because these agreements were negotiated in good faith and with good reason.

This is a fiscally sound, reasonable budget with no tax increases and substantial reserves that continue to exceed our targets.

The tough choices were made after 10 community meetings in preparation for this budget and months of work with each department.

This proposal meets our needs and addresses our area’s biggest concerns, like schools, public safety and affordable housing. It does so without raising the tax rate. I urge you to review it with our interactive open budget tool at montgomerycountymd.gov/budget.

Donate Life this April

April is National Donate Life Month, an effort to encourage more people to sign up to be an organ donor. Today, more than 103,000 people are waiting for life-saving transplants across the United States and 16 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.

Sadly, there are disparities apparent in the need for organs. Roughly 60 percent are minorities with nearly 30,000 Black patients waiting for a transplant.

On Saturday, April 13, Divine 9 Black Fraternities and Sororities and Maryland Delegate Pam Queen will host an event at The People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation and transplantation.

This event will feature panel discussions with living donors, recipients, and medical professionals, information tables featuring Infinite Legacy, the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, the County’s African American Health Program and on-site health screenings.

Organ donors have saved lives through the gift of donation, and you can register as an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Access to Affordable Housing is a Key Concern of Marylanders

A new poll shows that finding an affordable place to live is on the minds of more and more people across Maryland. Nearly 20 percent of those polled called it their top concern, trailing only crime in the rankings and ahead of public education, taxes and jobs.

We are working diligently to produce and preserve more affordable housing. In the current fiscal year, of all the units that we have funded, or are committed to fund through production and preservation, we have generated 69.5 percent of affordable units. We have preserved a higher percentage of existing affordable units because new housing construction is so expensive–33 percent of newly built units in FY24 are affordable.

We continue to prioritize protecting naturally occurring affordable housing. For years, more affordable units were lost to new development than replaced. The County started with around 42,000 naturally occurring affordable housing units in 2000 and now has fewer than 22,000 remaining. We are likely to lose another 10,000 or more by 2030, which is why we are taking action.

We are trying to stop that trend by working with community partners in new ways. Last month, we celebrated changes to our “Right of First Refusal” law that will help keep long-term tenants from being priced out of their homes. You can watch that press conference here. Looking back over the last several years, the Right of First Refusal was an option in hundreds of transactions, but was only exercised a handful of times because of costs. The new law eliminates the cost of holding a property, which will protect more affordable housing.

Last year, I signed a rent stabilization bill into law that provides renters with legal protections against rent gouging in response to a sharp rise in rent hikes. The new law will provide a comfortable margin for property owners to keep up with maintenance and make needed repairs to get a return on their investment.

Montgomery County made historic investments in affordable housing during my first five years as County Executive. This budget continues that record investment. A record $169 million is assigned to affordable housing, including $65 million in new funds.

I thank Governor Wes Moore and other State leaders for prioritizing affordable housing in this year’s legislative session. I appreciate the cooperation and partnership of the executive and legislative branches, but there is more work ahead.

Maryland’s Secretary of Housing Jake Day joined me during my weekly media briefing. We discussed the progress made in this session and how it helps make Maryland a place for everyone. I encourage you to watch our conversation on Montgomery County’s YouTube page.

Federal Dollars Coming to the Montgomery Green Bank

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has named Montgomery County a partner in financing climate and clean energy solutions. The Montgomery County Green Bank is among the sub-awardees for EPA grants awarded to the Coalition for Green Capital to invest in clean energy projects.

The money comes from the historic $27 billion reserved in the Inflation Reduction Act to tackle greenhouse gases, and the Coalition for Green Capital–a collection of green banks from around the nation–has been awarded access to apply toward the $5 billion set aside.

The Montgomery County Green Bank plans to use the funding to support Building Energy Performance Standards readiness programs. Once implemented, our BEPS regulations will help attack one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions–our buildings. Decarbonization efforts are some of our most important moving forward.

The grant money will support the County’s Solar Power Purchase Agreement and help residents install more solar panels. It also provides money for electric vehicle charging infrastructure to help residents who want to switch to EVs.

Award money will bolster our electric vehicle charging infrastructure to help more residents looking to switch to EVs.

This grant will allow for new investments throughout the County. It is especially important in our low-income and disadvantaged communities where half the money will be spent.

We appreciate and are grateful for the financial support and partnership of the Biden/Harris Administration, the Montgomery County Congressional Delegation, the EPA and the Coalition for Green Capital. I want to extend a special thanks to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, who has championed the capitalization of a national green bank with public capital for the last 15 years.

These funds will help us reach our climate goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and by 100 percent by 2035 and will create new clean energy jobs here. Visit mcgreenbank.org to learn more about how the Montgomery County Green Bank impacts our community.

Driveway Repair Scam Alert

Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection is warning residents of potential scams involving driveway paving scams.

This scam can involve anyone unlicensed for home improvement work. They generally knock on your door and agree to fix your driveway but leave with your money before the job is done. Some victims have also had such lousy work done that a reputable businessperson needed to repair it immediately.

Our Office of Consumer Protection is sharing some tips that can help you from becoming a victim as well:

  • Be cautious if an estimate is made before you request one
  • If there is not a contract for the job shared with you before they want to begin
  • If you do see a contract, make sure it contains a Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) license number
  • Check that number with the state before approving the work
  • Don’t be forced into a quick decision
  • An offer that is presented as cash-only is a red flag
  • So is a contractor with out-of-state plates or using an unmarked truck
  • Don’t trust that just because your neighbor’s driveway turned out fine, you can ignore these precautions

If you suspect a scam, share that information with the Office of Consumer Protection. Over the past year, the OCP has helped several victims of this scam. Their work has led to civil and criminal charges, and they’ve also managed to permanently or temporarily suspend all websites associated with these criminals.

For more consumer tips or to file a complaint with OCP, visit their website or call (240) 777-0311.

And finally, I wanted to let you know that on Saturday, April 20, the Interfaith Gun Violence Prevention Network, a multi-denominational coalition supporting reduction of firearms that may be used in violence, domestic incidents or suicide, will be hosting a gun buy-back event in Germantown from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the United Church of Christ of Seneca Valley (13421 Clopper Road). Community members can turn in their unwanted, but functional firearms in exchange for gift cards. This will be a drive thru only event. For more information, please visit: https://daviscenter.org/event/montgomery-county-gun-buyback/

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich

County Executive”

 

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