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Proposal to Name New High School for Josiah Henson

I have joined with the First Lady of Montgomery County Catherine Leggett to send a letter to the President and Vice President of the Board of Education, Michael Durso and Shebra Evans, urging Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to name the high school that will open on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville for Reverend Josiah Henson. Reverend Josiah Henson lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle at Charles W. Woodward High School now stands. MCPS plans to renovate and re-open a high school at that location in 2022. Henson, whose autobiography helped to end slavery, is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, we invite the community to join us on August 10 at 7:00 p.m. for a special screening of the documentary film Josiah. Josiah, which is a 39-minute documentary, narrated by actor and activist Danny Glover, that traces Josiah Henson’s harrowing journey from slavery to freedom in Canada and his contributions to the historical forces that lead to the Civil War. The film screening will take place at AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

Tickets to see the film are five dollars and are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office. Proceeds from this event will go to the Josiah Henson Special Park.

For more information about the film visit josiahhenson.com

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Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Durso and Ms. Evans,

We are writing to share an unusual opportunity and request your consideration relating to the naming of a high school. We propose that a new high school should be named for Reverend Josiah Henson.

Old Georgetown Road runs the same route today that it ran 200 years ago, when Josiah Henson was enslaved on the Isaac Riley Plantation. The Riley Plantation or Farm was a large property where now you will find homes in the Luxmanor neighborhood and office buildings on Executive Boulevard. A small park with an old farm house stands on part of the plantation grounds and is now owned and operated by MNCPPC as Josiah Henson Special Park. It features the slave-owning family’s house with attached log kitchen, and will soon feature a new visitor center and museum on Henson’s life and slavery in Maryland.

Across Old Georgetown Road from the farm’s boundary today sits Tilden Middle School, formerly Charles W. Woodward High School. Inside of the Farm’s 1863 boundary sits the Tilden Center as well as Luxmanor Elementary School.

In 2022, the Tilden Middle building will reopen as Woodward High School. The middle school will move to the Tilden Center and open in 2019. The new high school is presumed to be named for Montgomery County Judge Charles W. Woodward, as it was previously.

The High School instead should be named for Josiah Henson, one of the most consequential figures to live in Montgomery County and a man who walked the very ground where these schools sit today.

A reverend, Josiah Henson escaped to freedom and wrote an autobiography in 1849 of his incredible accomplishments, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Josiah Henson inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her book, the top selling novel of that century, contributed significantly to mobilizing public opinion against slavery, leading President Lincoln to call her, “the little lady who started this big war.”

Josiah Henson, by struggling for freedom and writing his story, which provided the inspiration for Stowe’s novel, played a crucial and very specific role in the story of how our country finally ended slavery. Reverend Henson has never received the recognition that he deserves. He is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

Henson was also an educator. After escaping to freedom, he founded a trade school in Dawn, Canada — the first trade school in Canada, which helped his community of formerly enslaved people to thrive.

Josiah Henson’s work managing the business of the Riley farm or plantation included taking goods to market in Georgetown on Old Georgetown Road. As a result, he walked the ground in this area for many years, where both school properties, as well as Luxmanor ES, sit today. In Henson’s time, the farm was more than twice the size of what it was in 1863; the 1863 boundary, which we have in property records, is shown in the attached map.

Naming a high school in his honor would serve to pay tribute to his achievements, reminding our community of our unique history and the role of African American leaders in our County since its earliest days. It will give our residents and children some ownership of the fight for freedom that Josiah Henson embodies. It will help portray our County in its true light.

To raise awareness about the idea of naming the schools for Reverend Henson, we invite you to join us along with a number of community leaders to see a remarkable new film about his life, Josiah, at the AFI Silver, on August 10th, at 7pm. The films corresponds with a new biography about Henson’s life by Jared Brock, called The Road to Dawn.

Thank you for your consideration!

Riley Plantation Map

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The Council Connection — housing affordability

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council returns to session this week, and we have a full agenda.

Housing Affordability
The Council will introduce legislation sponsored by the members of the planning and housing committee (PHED) that will enable changes for accessory dwelling units. The legislation would allow the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs to approve applications rather than requiring hearings before the Board of Appeals. The Council is also seeking input about additional changes that could be made to enable this type of housing construction. Please share your thoughts with us by writing a note to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. The public hearing will occur on September 11, 2018 at 1:30pm.

The Council will also take up significant legislation changing the code for our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit program – a visionary law first enacted in Montgomery County in 1973 and since copied in jurisdictions across the Country. The MPDU law requires that 12.5% of all new developments with more than 20 housing units be set aside in the County’s affordable program. The law has produced more than 11,000 affordable units since its creation (though many aged out of their control period before it was extended to 99 years). Bill 34-17, sponsored by Councilmember Floreen, would make several changes to update and strengthen the law. Bill 38-17, sponsored by Council President Riemer, would increase the requirement to 15% in the areas of the County with the least affordable housing. Both laws will be before the full Council after extensive committee discussion.

Next, a number of specific items of interest:

Council research projects
The Council’s research arm, the Office of Legislative Oversight, plans projects including: minimum wage, 311, racial equity, and student loan refinancing. The Council will approve the full work program on Tuesday.

Economic development incentives
Partnering with the State, the Council agenda includes the approval of a number of economic development incentives for the expansion of companies based in Montgomery County, including Altimmune, Abt Associates, HMS Host, and Applied Biomimetics. You can learn more here.

Arts nonprofit taking space at Silver Spring Library
After a competitive selection process, the County entered into an agreement with Arts on the Block to occupy space in the Silver Spring Library. Arts on the Block is a local non-profit organization focused on empowering creative youth. Welcome to the Silver Spring Library, Arts on the Block!

New Assistant Police Chief
The County Executive has nominated, and the Council is poised to confirm, Mr. David C. Anderson as Assistant Police Chief. The current Police Commander of District 1 station, Mr. Anderson will bring 28 years of distinguished service at MCPD to his new role.

Stormwater
We will act on a special appropriation to the County’s stormwater program. This appropriation is the result of a compromise between the County Executive and the Council that allows for greater efficiencies in our stormwater program while maintaining Council oversight.

And finally:

Update on mobile communications infrastructure
The Council recently approved carefully calibrated zoning changes in our commercial and industrial zones to speed the deployment of next-generation wireless technology. There is still work more to be done, but the Council is making progress on this important issue. Nevertheless, there are efforts underway at the FCC and in Congress to strip away our authority on siting wireless infrastructure.

To combat these efforts, this week I met with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, on behalf of the County, to share our concerns with these preemption efforts and to request an update of the decades old radio frequency (RF) emissions standards. Commissioner Carr has been designated as lead Commissioner on small cell deployments and is believed to be drafting a proposal for Commission consideration in the fall. I reiterated for Commissioner Carr the message delivered to Chairman Pai by Ike Leggett, Jamie Raskin and myself last year — that the FCC should not preempt local governments but rather work with us as partners to ensure successful deployment; and that FCC should refresh its RF standards.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

  • Members of the Council’s Public Safety Committee received an update from Montgomery County Police Department officials on the department’s internal affairs investigation process, in light of the recent officer-involved shooting in Silver Spring.
  • Members of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee reviewed bills on solar panels and climate policy, and receiving a briefing on the County’s composting and food waste plan.

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The Council Connection — transportation and parks budgets

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council’s meeting this week was productive. We took up a number of substantial items, including changes to the County’s stormwater program and legislation that makes it easier for seniors who have lived in their homes for 40 years to get a property tax credit. You can view the Council’s full agenda here. More information about the senior property tax credit is here.

Now, I’d like to continue our exploration of this year’s budget, reviewing transportation and parks.

Budget Update: Transportation
Transportation funding was a high priority for the Council in this year’s budget. The Council funded the Department of Transportation’s budget at more than $217 million. This includes funding for items like road maintenance, leaf collection, Ride On and the parking lot districts. Despite the challenging fiscal climate, the Council was able to make the following important additions to the County’s transportation budget:

  • New pilot bus service on Route 52 between Glenmont Metro Station and Rockville. This new service will use microbuses to broaden the service area.
  • New bus service between several points in Clarksburg and the Germantown MARC station starting in January 2019
  • $100,000 to restore signal timing optimization to help keep traffic moving
  • Creation of a Vision Zero Coordinator position within the County Executive’s Office
  • Addition of $2 million for residential resurfacing in FY20
  • New funding to design and build pedestrian underpasses at the White Flint and Forest Glen Metro Stations
  • $2.8 million in additional funding to accelerate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects in the Wheaton, Veirs Mill, Takoma-Langley, Long Branch and Piney Branch Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA)

Budget Update: Parks
The Council funded $153.6 million for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Included in this amount is more than $107 million to maintain the County’s park system, which includes 419 parks and more than 36,800 acres of land. The Council added $200,000 to create urban parks through placemaking and $343,995 to provide service for new and expanded parks across the County. Some of the high priorities have been trails, including natural surface trails, and athletic fields.

  • Added $2 million for Parks to increase their stream protection efforts
  • Increased funding by $750K to support the renovation of school ballfields
  • $1.5 million in funding to support Vision Zero improvements Trail – Road intersections
  • Kept the Hillandale Local Park renovation on schedule to be completed in FY22

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

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The Council Connection — the County’s overall fiscal picture

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council has passed the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year (July 2018 to July 2019). In recent newsletters we have reviewed the MCPS and public safety budgets. This week, however, we step back to review the overall fiscal picture.

Revenue
This was a restrained budget year as the Council grappled with revenues that were lower than anticipated and only allowed for an increase in expenditures in a few highest priority areas.

Although the local economy continues to perform well with low unemployment, strong job growth, and rising incomes, tax revenues have remained below expectations. Tax revenues for this fiscal year are down $106.1 million from the budget we approved last summer. The revenue shortfall stems in large part from a significant decline in revenue from capital gains, but other revenues were softer than expected, too. Recognizing the need to get ahead of the problem, the Council approved over $125 million in reductions to the FY18 budget mid-year.

While revenues are below expectations, they did allow for a modest increase in FY19, which through the budget process was almost entirely devoted to MCPS.

The Council did not raise taxes in this year’s budget. In fact, the weighted average real property tax rate fell by 1.98 cents this year, and by a combined 4.50 cents over the past two years.

The property tax will generate approximately $1.8 billion in revenue, about a third of total revenue. The next largest revenue source is the income tax at an estimated at $1.6 billion. The income tax rate remains unchanged. Read more about the Council’s decisions on the property tax here (pdf). More information on the other revenue sources can be found here (pdf).

What does this all mean for the average household? Adjusted for inflation, the County share of taxes relative to personal income has remained virtually unchanged for the last five years.

Expenditures
The operating budget for the upcoming year totals $5.6 billion, a 2% increase from the previous year. There are real differences though by agency. MCPS expenditures will rise by about 3%, Montgomery College will rise about 1%, and Montgomery County government (provider of public safety, libraries, HHS and other services) will rise at 0.2%.

I always find that the rate of increase overall is the most useful number to focus on when trying to understand the overall budget picture. This year’s increase, 2% overall, is very modest. Consider that in 2004, 2005, and 2006, the County budget increased by over 10% annually each year.

You can find a rough breakdown of how expenditures are programmed in the chart below.

County Expenditures Pie Chart

The chart above demonstrates our priorities: MCPS funding is about half of all County spending with the next largest program being public safety. Debt service, though, is not far behind, which is why we are reducing our borrowing levels in our capital budget.

Reserves
This Council strengthened its commitment to fiscal discipline in this budget, by setting aside additional funds for our reserve. By adding enough new funding in this budget to have a fund equal to 9.4% of our revenues, the County stays on track to meet its 10% goal by 2020. After making adjustments to our retiree health fund (OPEB) for the FY18 revenue shortfall, we also fully funded our FY19 commitment to OPEB.

Sufficient monies in reserves are critical for us to weather downturns in our revenues, which we have experienced regularly over the years — including this past year.

Healthy reserve funding helps the County maintain our coveted AAA Bond Rating, the highest possible. The AAA Bond Rating means we get the lowest interest rates, allowing us to build more schools and facilities with our capital funds.

Don’t just take my word for it, here is what the ratings agencies say:

“The County’s budget management demonstrates a strong commitment to bolstering its reserve cushion in preparation for the next downturn,” said Fitch. “Given the County’s conservative management practices and emphasis on increasing reserves, operations are expected to remain strong.” Moody’s noted that “the county’s financial flexibility remains sound,” while S & P indicated that the County’s “financial practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.”

Big picture
The Council produced a budget that is restrained and responsible and meets critical goals for fiscal discipline. It does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

Next week we will turn to budgets for transportation and parks. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President