Weekly Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery County:

Dear Friends,

This has been an incredible week in Montgomery County with several big announcements and openings that demonstrate the progress we are making toward our education, environment, economic development, and equity goals.

Montgomery County Builds Nation’s Largest EV Bus Solar Charging Station and Microgrid

On Monday in Silver Spring, we had a ribbon cutting for the nation’s largest EV Bus solar charging station and microgrid at the Brookville Bus Depot. The county welcomed federal transportation leaders and many elected leaders to get a tour of the facility that checks two boxes.

First, it upgrades our public transportation system allowing us to advance efficient and effect public transportation. Second, it falls in line with our environmental sustainability goals of addressing climate change.

By 2026, we anticipate using the self-sustaining facility to be able to charge our fleet of 70 electric buses. Electrifying that many buses will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 62 percent over the next 25 years.

We have no doubt that this innovative project will soon be modeled everywhere throughout the nation as other jurisdictions get as serious as we have been on the reducing our carbon footprint.

I want to thank our Department of Transportation, Department of General Services, our state and federal delegations, and our partners at AlphaStuxure for this game-changing project for both our transportation infrastructure needs and our efforts to combat climate change and follow through on our Climate Action Plan.

Montgomery College Opening New East County Center Next Fall

Big things are happening in East County where Montgomery College announced Wednesday it plans to open an education center in White Oak next fall. Along with our recent progress of moving economic development forward in the East County, this addition is great for residents in the East County and for the county as a whole. This center is the first major expansion from Montgomery College in over 20 years.

For an institution that is ranked among the top ten community colleges in the nation, and a community that needed closer access to it – this wait has been too long.

Since becoming County Executive I have been laser focused on a project like this bringing increased access to higher education for East County. According to this Montgomery College feasibility study, over 3,200 MC students in East County commute at least one and sometime more than two hours on public transit to get to their classes at other campuses. We had to do better, and I am so glad that everyone was on the same page to ensure the funding and the vision for this new center.

Less than a year from now, full course work will be available in subjects like nursing, information technology and daycare certification under one giant 55 square foot roof. The new facility will also support general education classes, English for speakers of other languages, and business courses. The center is also expected to house a Raptor Center to offer student support services like admissions and enrollment help.

This move is being supported with an investment in the US 29 BRT Flash line. Our capital budget has committed $40 million in transportation infrastructure improvements making this development in White Oak a public-private partnership. Hillandale and Fairland are two communities that also stand to benefit thanks to the recently launched Ride On transit route 27.

This project will help East County address its needs because we’ll be able to adapt training and educational programs at this new facility to meet workforce needs. This truly has been an expansion that’s been needed for a long time and I’m excited to see the changes and innovation that are born from this venture.

For more information on the courses, campuses, and opportunities that Montgomery College provides, please visit https://www.montgomerycollege.edu/.

Get Your Mail-In Ballots in Before Election Day

With Election Day fast approaching I urge voters who have received a mail-in ballot to return them one of our 50 drop boxes placed around the county or return them by mail. They must be postmarked by November 8 in order to be counted.

Around 139,000 mail-in ballots were requested. That coupled with low early voting numbers tells us that many people opted to get their ballots sent to them this year. Please realize that if you requested a mail-in ballot but then show up to the polls on Election Day you’ll be asked to fill out a provisional ballot so the Board of Elections can determine if you’re trying to vote twice.

While I expect results to take time – and I urge people to have patience for final results– I do not expect the same kind of delayed results that we saw in Montgomery County during the primary. This is due to the State courts stepping in and changing when mail-in ballots can begin being counted. I want to thank all of those who advocated and got this process changed.

Voters deserve results that are tabulated accurately and timely. There are over 200 officials around this nation on the ballot next Tuesday that do not think the 2020 Presidential Election was correct, including officials on the ballot here in Maryland. This lack of faith in democracy is scary, and another reason why our election process must be free from interference, intimidation, or any reason that would question the legitimacy of the count.

I want to thank everyone at the Montgomery County Board of Elections and all poll workers, volunteers, and observers for their service to this sacred process.

Cannabis Legalization Among Referendum Items on Ballot

I am glad to see that the residents of Maryland will finally have a vote on legalizing cannabis. It is long past time to do the right thing and legalize reasonable amounts of marijuana. Surveys show that most Maryland voters supported this referendum that would legalize cannabis for recreational use by those 21 and older.

I have long supported this effort to finally end this part of the failed “war on drugs.” Our nation’s justice system when it comes to cannabis enforcement has disproportionately impacted minority communities for decades. People of color are more likely to be stopped and sent to jail over marijuana possession.

Although this referendum would legalize cannabis in this state, smoking marijuana in public would still be banned and punishable by fines starting at $250. And the General Assembly will still have to create the tax structure, appropriate market rules, and ensure that there is equity in the growing and distributing licensing process. There is a lot of work to be done, but a “yes” vote on this referendum is needed to get these processes started.

There is also a question for Montgomery County residents only, added to the ballot late by the County Council. Question A would take away the power of the elected County Executive to remove and appoint a County Attorney, thus making the County Attorney position a lifetime appointment. In most counties with elected executives, the County Attorney serves at the pleasure of the executive. After an election, a new executive can replace the County Attorney. The charter change proposed in Question A would remove that authority from any future County Executive, a move I disagree with.

Please take the time to vote and have your voice heard through this election.

Booster Shots Continue to be the Best Medicine as Respiratory Illnesses Arrive Early

We continue to monitor a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases though our community threat level remains ‘low.’ However, we are seeing more non-COVID respiratory illnesses driving people to the hospital. This is very concerning, especially as we are heading into the winter months.

We are specifically concerned about the number of children hospitalized with RSV, a common respiratory illness that is hitting communities across the nation earlier than normal. That may be driven by the fact that many children have not been exposed like this in quite a while. We may be ready to have our kids return to school and after school activities, but our immune systems have had quite a break from what used to be normal. We need all parents to be aware of RSV and be on the lookout for any symptoms with their children.

With more people visiting the hospital with flu-like symptoms more people are being tested for Covid, leading to a slight uptick in positive cases over last week. Health experts are referring to it as a “wavelet.” They expect Covid-19 cases to rise over the upcoming weeks, but the hope is that we don’t go too far above 100 cases per 100,000 residents. Our main concern and focus will continue to be the rise in hospitalizations and any strains on our healthcare system this fall and winter.

The other development with COVID-19 is the variety of Omicron subvariants that we are seeing in Montgomery County. We must remember that the Omicron variant is different than the original COVID strain, but we now have a vaccine specifically made to protect against it. That’s why it’s important for families to get bivalent boosters for anyone 5 and up if it’s been more than two months since their last Covid vaccine.

At the County’s Boosterama last weekend at the Westfield Wheaton more than 100 families received their shots. We had a steady stream of folks for the three hours that we were there. I want to thank Westfield Wheaton, our partners Latino Health Initiative’s Por Nuestra Salud y Bienestar, and our DHHS department for organizing.

Getting these shots done prior to Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season gatherings is critical. So far about 14% of all County residents have gotten their bivalent booster, and 24% of those over 50 have taken the updated shot. These rates are about twice the national average but still too low for the protection we need this winter.

Getting the flu shot is also a priority as this flu season is predicted to be one of the worst. The County has a free flu clinic next Thursday, November 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring. Appointments are required. Most pharmacies, urgent care centers, and health care providers in the community also offer the flu vaccine.

Vaccines are our best defense against viruses like Covid and the flu, but you can also help protect yourself and others by washing your hands regularly, staying away from those who are sick and staying home when you’re sick.

November is Native American Heritage Month

This month we honor the contributions made to our nation by Native Americans with Native American Heritage Month. Their culture and traditions proved to be an example for our forefathers long before we became a nation.

There are many places nearby to us to learn and explore Native American history and cultures. The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have all joined together this month to pay tribute to Native Americans. Native Veterans will be honored Friday November 11 with a procession through Washington DC that will be live streamed. A native Cinema showcase is also planned to end the month at the National Museum of the American Indian.

The Indigenous People of this country have shown remarkable resilience in the face of tremendous challenges. I encourage everyone to learn more about these great people. Their struggles and contributions are an important part of the nation’s story.

We Must Talk About the “Silent Killer” – Carbon Monoxide

Earlier this week I joined the County Council in marking this Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month. It is known as the silent killer because as a colorless, odorless gas victims have no idea they are breathing a deadly poison.

Every year more than 400 Americans are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. Many of those victims mistake the symptoms like headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath for early signs of the flu.

Since 2019, many existing homes in Montgomery County have been required to place carbon monoxide detectors outside bedrooms. They have been required in new home construction across Maryland since 2008. We know this can typically be a dangerous time of year with people switching on their heaters for the first time.

This year there are additional concerns because of the high cost of rent. Trying to keep your heating bill down by heating a room with a gas heater instead of your whole house can put you in a dangerous position. We don’t want people to expose themselves to poison or a house fire because they’re trying to avoid high heating costs. Using an oven or gas-powered stove for heat can be a danger as well.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the most common source of carbon monoxide poisoning is an unvented space heater. Other common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning are malfunctioning appliances, clogged chimneys, and exhaust from running automobiles in closed garages.

Please keep yourself safe and follow this link for more information about housing complaints and what is expected of rental properties regarding CO detectors.

Operation Greenlight Honors Montgomery County Veterans

Veterans Day is next Friday, November 11th – a day we pay tribute to every American who has served our country through the military. In the week leading up to Veterans Day you’ll notice Montgomery County honoring military service through Operation Greenlight.

There are an estimated 36,000 veterans living in Montgomery County. Operation Greenlight is a symbolic gesture that organizers believe can help take the stress off vets returning to civilian life. A Pew Research Center study found show that between 44 to 72 percent of service members experience high levels of stress when they transition out of the military.

Just saying thanks to our veterans is not enough, we must also re-commit this government to provide support, services, and resources they need. Our veterans were willing to sacrifice their safety for our freedom, and many of them are still dealing with physical pain and mental health issues. Veterans have a 57% higher risk of suicide than those who haven’t served. An estimated one in every ten to fifteen veterans suffers from a substance use disorder or addiction. Veterans also account for 11 percent of homeless adults in the U.S.

Whether it is veterans of my generation who are still dealing with the trauma from the Vietnam War to younger men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan – every veteran’s military experience, aftermath, and coping ability varies. We cannot expect a “one size, fits all” solution. We must provide support for their physical and mental health and ensure they have economic opportunities whether that is improving our hiring of veterans in the County government or increasing access to procurement agreements with veteran-owned companies.

We must be deliberate in our effort to show love and care for all of them. By lighting buildings and facades green this November, participating groups are showing vets that we are behind them and that they have a “green light” to move on with life. This is an important time to highlight the many resources available at the County, state and federal level to help military members with that transition.

You’ll be able to see the County’s green light shine starting Monday, November 7. All that week we’ll have green lamp posts lit in the plaza between the County’s Executive Office Building and the Circuit Courthouse in Rockville.

I hope you will also shine a “green light” at your home or business this week to show our veterans your thanks and appreciation for their service and sacrifice.

Gearing Up for Montgomery County Budget Forums

Budget forums that focus on Fiscal Year 2024 are right around the corner. These meetings give the public several opportunities to weigh in during the early stages of the budget process and bring the County’s attention to items that need to be considered for inclusion.

This year there are eight meetings scheduled between mid-November and mid-December. Some of the forums will be in different languages like Spanish and Chinese. You can get a look at where these budget meetings are being held and sign up to speak by following this link to our budget forums page on the OPI section of the County website.

You’ll also find information there about attending virtually if you wish but getting input from the public is one of the crucial steps in developing a budget. We want to make these forums are accessible and interactive. I encourage residents to participate in these discussions because they are for you. No matter where you live or your age, I want to hear from as many people as possible.

We have been fortunate to maintain a very strong financial position throughout the pandemic highlighted by our 50th consecutive AAA bond rating awarded earlier this year. Being in excellent financial standing enables us to consider projects that other jurisdictions may not be able to finance. Through our budget we will continue to support programs and services through an equitable framework that are needed to improve our community.

Maryland Emancipation Day Celebration in Sandy Spring this Saturday

As next Tuesday’s Election Day will determine our future course as a nation, it is always important and critical to learn our history and remember our past. We are very fortunate to live in a County that reflects our history accurately and provides events and opportunities for residents to learn and reflect on our painful past.

Maryland’s Emancipation Day will be recognized this Saturday at the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Parkin Sandy Spring. They’ll be honoring the day in 1864 when Maryland’s new state constitution freed all slaves, one full year ahead of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery nationwide.

Guided hikes along the Underground Railroad will be available starting at 10 a.m. I’d like to thank Active Montgomery for its role in presenting the tour along with Montgomery Parks for hosting this event and bringing to life this important part of our state’s and nation’s history.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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