Weekly Update From Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich


Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has released his weekly message to the community. It can be seen below:

“Dear Friends,

A potential incident of school violence in our community was thwarted by law enforcement this week thanks to the great work and collaboration between the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). You can watch Friday’s update on the investigation through MCPD’s Facebook page. This investigation occurred following a tip from an unnamed source, who should be considered a hero because they “saw something and said something”–and potentially saved numerous lives.

This is a troubling incident for many people with and without ties to MCPS, but also an opportunity to talk about the importance of being aware of what is happening in the community. Although violence was avoided, we know that this news may cause anxiety within our school communities. In the short term, MCPD has increased its presence at Wootton High School in Rockville and will do so at other schools as warranted. Families in need of assistance coping with the trauma this incident may cause can access help through the County’s Crisis Center Hotline at 240-777-4000.

This incident is also a sad reminder that we must continue to focus on the mental health of our youth and young adults. We will continue our investments, partnerships and collaborations with MCPS, Department of Health and Human Services behavioral health teams and crisis response experts. We are working to expand our communications and engagement efforts to students, parents, teachers and families of young adults throughout the County to ensure they know where and how to get help when needed.

I hope one of the things that comes out of this is a look back at how early did we know that this young person was expressing suicidal or homicidal warning signs? When did we begin intervening? When could we have known? It is sobering to realize that this could be an example of the state of mental health in this country. There are not enough facilities or practitioners to deal with the mental health issues that exist in our community.

I want to thank all the investigators who did swift work in this case. MCPD, MCPS and the Office of the State’s Attorney, working with Federal law enforcement offices, will continue investigating this case.

Friday afternoon, I talked about this investigation and other topics during The Politics Hour on WAMU radio. You can hear that interview here. I want to highlight that the suspect had written that lack of access to a firearm was a key factor preventing this event. Maryland gun laws provide an important barrier against individuals with a significant history of mental illness and violent ideations from obtaining firearms. We need more states and the federal government to enact common-sense gun laws.

Saturday, April 20, is the 25th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. We potentially avoided a similar disaster because people were vigilant. I appreciate that our local police took this very seriously and acted quickly.

I hope more people have the courage to come forward with information if or when they see someone they know going down a dark path. The idea is not to get them in trouble, but to help them. If you are worried about someone you think is having a mental health crisis and you fear for their safety, share with them the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

White’s Ferry Progress

There was some good news this week about White’s Ferry in Poolesville, bringing us closer to resolving the dispute that forced the ferry to close in 2020. The dispute arose due to disagreements between two private parties and led to the unfortunate closure of the ferry.

Chuck and Stacy Kuhn, who purchased the Poolesville property in 2021, have offered to donate the White’s Ferry operations to the County. We greatly appreciate their generous donation.

While the offer to donate the ferry is a major step forward, we still need to restore public use of the ferry landing in Virginia so it can operate. The County Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Maryland Department of Transportation, is continuing conversations with the Virginia landowner, with Loudoun County and with the Virginia Department of Transportation to find a solution that will allow ferry service to resume. This will also include the need to find an operator for the ferry.

Before shutting down four years ago, White’s Ferry was the last operational ferry of the 100 that used to operate on the Potomac River. The ferry’s history dates back to the 1700s. Before it closed, it provided an important link between the two states, carrying about 600 vehicles daily on the four-minute trip.

I want to thank County Department of Transportation Director Chris Conklin and Dale Tibbitts of the County Government for their dedicated work to help bring us closer to a resolution. I am optimistic that we will resolve the remaining issues and reopen the ferry.

Montgomery County Energy Summit

 

At the County’s 11th Energy Summit this week in Silver Spring, we delved into various important topics. As you can see in the photo above, I wore one of my favorite t-shirts to this event. It reads: “Science is Not a Liberal Conspiracy.” It is a not-so-subtle reminder that we still have many people throughout our nation who do not believe that climate change is real, let alone needs urgent addressing.

Our focus was on climate goals and the crucial role of government-business partnerships in promoting sustainability. We believe that involving the private sector in our climate action plans is key to fostering a shared responsibility for reducing pollution.

The two-day conference offered information on the latest trends in green buildings, energy efficiency, renewable energy and related topics. Involving the private sector in our climate action plans is not just important–it is crucial. Their participation can help us accelerate our efforts, bring in innovative solutions and create a more sustainable future. I was encouraged by the large crowd and appreciate businesses understanding their role in reducing pollution.

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Serena McIlwain delivered the keynote speech on prioritizing programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The State is on track to meet some significant metrics. These include a 60-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2031, carbon-neutral emissions by 2045 and a 100 percent clean grid in place by 2035. You can read Maryland’s Climate Pollution Reduction Plan here.

The State is committed to transitioning away from coal-fired power plants and scaling up renewable alternatives like solar, wind and battery power. Like Montgomery County, it also will look to retrofit existing buildings so that electric heat pumps and water heaters replace gas ones. You can read about our climate action plan here.

I hope to see robust crowds later this month when we hold GreenFest in Germantown from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, April 27. To learn more and plan your day, visit the GreenFest website.

Earth Day is April 22

 

Monday, April 22, is Earth Day. The first Earth Day was recognized in 1970, but it was Montgomery County’s own Rachel Carson who wrote the New York Times bestseller “Silent Spring” in 1962 that sparked the modern environmental movement. The book sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries as it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.

Throughout April, Montgomery County has been celebrating Earth Month under the theme, “Act Now,” with numerous events and activities, and we are not done yet. From composting and recycling workshops to community cleanups and education initiatives, there is a lot to choose from. Whether you are an avid environmentalist or consider yourself a novice, even the smallest actions make a considerable impact. One challenge we are asking residents to consider is to try and leaving your car at home.

A recent study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles shows that every car on the road releases about a pound of carbon dioxide emissions. The average car emits nearly five metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly. Public transportation saves the U.S. an estimated 37 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

In Montgomery County, 42 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, mostly from privately owned cars. When more people take public transit and leave their cars at home, it is better it is for air quality and our climate goals.

Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation(MCDOT) currently operates 14 electric buses and has a contract to purchase 100 more over the next three years. MCDOT is working toward the County’s goal of a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2035. Nearly 400 County buses will be zero-emissions by then, providing a quiet, clean ride.

Montgomery County’s solar-powered microgrid bus depot is one of the largest in the nation. The facility in Silver Spring can charge up to 70 buses at a time. Additionally, MCDOT recently received a Federal grant to purchase its first 13 hydrogen buses and a fueling station that will break ground next year. This project will be supported by the County’s second, and even larger, solar-powered microgrid at the Gaithersburg Bus Depot. Our Department of General Services will manage the microgrid construction in Upcounty, which will begin this spring.

If you decide to try transit, you can plan your route here. You can also use the free app to help navigate more than 80 routes and incorporate transit partners like Metro and Bikeshare into your commute. The app gives estimated travel times and costs. All County buses have a $1 fare, offer free Wi-Fi and allow bikes to be mounted onboard or on bike racks in front of the bus.

Swapping a car commute for a bus, walk or bike ride, even occasionally, can reduce harmful pollution and lessen traffic congestion.

We can all do our part. “Act Now” to make everyday ‘Earth Day’ here in Montgomery County.

Operating Budget Update

I would like to address the issue of budgets and the so-called “structural deficit” in my proposed Fiscal Year 2025 Operating Budget. The term structural deficit implies some sort of major long-term problem, but that is not what we have.

Every year, I have to recommend a budget that is balanced and accounted for. We spend many months reviewing programs and policies and asking difficult questions. This year, we made a decision to continue funding some of the programs we began during the COVID-19 pandemic because we have seen that, while the emergency phase of the pandemic is over, the need is still great. We are continuing to provide support for food distribution and continuing to support the hubs that did not exist before.

At the same time, my whole team and I know we cannot spend what we do not have. I meet with the three rating agencies every year so they can review our finances and plans, and we continue to get AAA ratings each year. We have received praise for our fiscal stewardship.

When I became County Executive, we had never hit the target of 10 percent reserves. We hit that target two years early–in my second year of office, during the pandemic, and the reserves have only continued to grow. In the current fiscal year, we have reserves of about 15 percent–5 percent over the targeted 10 percent–and the recommended budget that I recently sent to the County Council maintains some of that surplus. That surplus spending is recommended for essential programs like food distribution. The budget still leaves reserves about 11.5 percent.

The Council staff has written that there is a $115 million structural deficit. It arrived at this number based on future revenue forecasts, but the forecasts are not based on complete and up-to-date information. Over the past five years, the projections from Council staff have been wrong. In the first year of the pandemic, it predicted a huge deficit, which did not materialize. Last year, it projected a $145 million structural deficit and instead we have a surplus. If the Council’s estimates had been accurate, we would not have the 15 percent reserve we have today.

This focus on a so-called structural deficit obscures the questions we need to be asking: are we providing the resources we need to provide to our residents, to our schools and students, to our families, to our businesses? Each year, we make decisions about what to fund and whether a tax increase is appropriate. Last year, we knew we needed to increase funding for our schools, which lost funding (in inflation-adjusted dollars) just as the needs in the school body have been growing dramatically. This year, we were able to use surplus reserves.

We have to continue investing in our County. We have a great County, but we need to keep making sure that we take steps as needed. This week, our food security community kicked off efforts to end childhood hunger and expand workforce training–initiatives supported by Councilmembers. These plans require financial support from our operating budget. This budget is balanced, responsible and moves us in a good direction. I look forward to working with the Council and hope they approves this budget.

Checking In with the Maryland Cannabis Administration

 

Adult use of cannabis has been legal for almost a year now, and Montgomery County leads the State with 18 open dispensaries, followed by Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

The first stores opened 10 months ago. Maryland says there are nearly 100 dispensaries, and sales have grown each month, with March bringing in more than $500 million in revenue.

As I mentioned last year, I remain concerned about dispensaries advertising products, prices or effects. We have to be very careful not to allow advertising aimed at children, and it is not reasonable to expect young people to discern whether the advertising is aimed at them or adults.

We also need to continue to remind people that recreational cannabis is not legal for those under 21, and it is not allowed in public spaces. We do not want people walking down the street or attending a public assembly smoking cannabis–that remains prohibited. The same restrictions that we apply to alcohol use are present for adult use cannabis.

During my weekly media briefing, Will Tilburg, executive director of the Maryland Cannabis Administration (MCA), discussed implementing the new law in the State. He announced that, last month, through a license lottery, nine additional dispensary awards were granted to Montgomery County business owners. The MCA expects those dispensaries to be operational within one or two years. No locations have been established yet, but as the business owners begin working through the local approval process, County leaders will work with the MCA to understand what to expect moving forward.

Educating the public is a critical element of the MCA. You will notice a new ad campaign focusing on safe use. The “Be Cannabis Smart” campaign began this week. TV, radio and other mediums will share messages warning against drunk driving, where it is legal to smoke and provide details on safe storage of cannibus so it is not accessed by children.

Marijuana use is for adults only. Stores face penalties if they sell to children. The legal personal use amount to possess is up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, and up to two cannabis plants can be grown per residence. For more information about the Maryland Cabbanis Administration and to look through its data dashboard, visit cannabis.maryland.gov.

ABS Hiring Young Adults for Compliance Checks

Alcohol Beverage Services (ABS) is looking for part-time employees aged 18-20 to help make sure businesses do not sell or serve alcohol to people under 21. This is a great opportunity for young people interested in careers in public health or law enforcement.

Team members work with ABS and the Montgomery County Police Department to attempt to purchase alcohol with their real vertical IDs. They do not try to conceal their age.

A business that sells to an under-21 buyer can be fined, and the individual seller/server can be charged criminally. The goal is to get 100 percent compliance with the law from all businesses that sell alcohol.

ABS regulates more than 1,000 licensed establishments. These businesses are important in reducing the availability of alcohol to youth under 21. To help with this responsibility, ABS collaborates with businesses and provides training and educational materials free of charge.

If you know anyone interested in applying for the positions, please understand that the work can be sporadic, with compliance checks sometimes happening months apart. The job will pay $16.70 per hour.

You can apply at work4mcg.com and look for the County Government Aide position.

Business Center Focused on Helping

A story in The Washington Post this week (which you can read here) detailed Amazon’s struggles hitting its employment targets in Northern Virginia. Rather than expanding as promised, last year the workforce there shrank.

I point this out just to give you an example of how hard it can be for a business to grow. Since I became County Executive, I have made it a priority to help our business community so we can repair the reputation that our area has endured for years of being a difficult place to do business.

One of the ways we are helping business owners is through the County’s Business Center. This proactive team allows us to respond to needs and address issues as quickly as possible.

Last year, we added staff to expand our efforts to reach more businesses. We were able to connect with almost 900 businesses through door-to-door outreach.

Every month or so, I take a tour of a few businesses with members of the Business Center team. Last month, for Women’s History Month, I met with two businesses that are owned and operated by women.

The Peredo family, consisting of two sisters, their brother and mom, own the Kantutas Restaurant in Wheaton. One of the sisters, Maria Peredo takes the lead in the management and operation of the restaurant which opened in 2008. Kantutas is known for its authentic Bolivian and Central American cuisine. It provides a great example of how we are making the right hires and working around language barriers, so no businesses are excluded.

Based on feedback from our Hispanic community, we have held procurement sessions in Spanish so that more businesses can apply for County contracts. It is about making sure more people have access to procurement opportunities.

Another March visit was to Budget Blinds. I met Rosyln Ashford, who is a Montgomery County native and Montgomery County Public Schools graduate. She has owned her franchise for 11 years, but just opened her first showroom for shades, shutters and blinds. Business owners consistently tell me that they have been able to rely on the Business Center for direct assistance. Starting a business can be difficult for a number of reasons, so having this resource gives entrepreneurs a better chance. Visit the Business Center and see how it can help with ideas for your business.

Finally, Passover begins at sundown on Monday, April 22. I wish all who observe a meaningful seder and Passover.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive”

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