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The Council Connection — Council prioritizes fire and rescue services

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

This Thursday, May 24, the Council will formally approve the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The Council has worked hard and collaboratively throughout this process. With our remarkable staff and engaged community, we have produced a budget that is restrained and responsible, does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

I credit the County Executive with making many great decisions in his budget, including fully funding Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The County Executive’s budget also presented some daunting challenges in public safety.

Faced with cuts that would have negatively impacted fire and rescue service in Germantown, Hyattstown, and Silver Spring, the Council found a way to change priorities to fund over $7 million for critical public safety services. This amount was about half of all of our adjustments, demonstrating the importance we place on the issue. People take for granted that when their house is on fire, or when their spouse has a heart attack, that someone will respond quickly. We prioritized that quick response time in this budget.

Last week we reviewed some highlights from the MCPS budget; this week we take a closer look at public safety.

Fire and Rescue:
The County Executive’s recommended MCFRS operating budget totaled $211 million, down 1.7% from last year. This would have cut a total of $3.5 million and 29 career firefighter positions from the Fire and Rescue Service. The most significant proposed cuts would have taken three response units out of service, including a paramedic engine in Hyattstown, a paramedic engine in Germantown, and an aerial tower in Hillandale. Together, these cuts totaled $5.8 million.

All three cuts would increase response times in the response units’ first due areas. Hyattstown and Germantown each would have increased from 6-8 minutes to 10-12 minutes. Hillandale response times for an aerial unit would have increased from eight minutes to 12 minutes. While the County Executive had a plan to transfer firefighter positions to mitigate the increased response times, the Council ultimately chose to restore funding for all three response units and provide funding for additional staffing in Burtsonsville and for volunteer firefighters. All in all, the Council provided an additional $6.5 million to Fire and Rescue.

Police:
The County Executive’s recommended Police budget totaled $279 million, up 1.5% from last year. The Police Department budget was one of the few public safety budgets that had a budget increase for FY19. However, the County Executive’s proposed budget did not include any new police officer positions, and in fact, it lapsed six police officer positions for the year.

The Council discussed School Resource Officers at length, given the “Maryland Safe to Learn” act that the General Assembly just passed this year in response to the recent school shooting in St. Mary’s County. Currently, the SRO program, which includes not only MCPD officers, but also officers from the City of Rockville Police Department, City of Gaithersburg Police Department, and the Office of the Sheriff, provides 27 officers and deputies assigned to each County public high school. These officers are also responsible for assisting with any issues within their respective middle schools. The new state law, however, requires that each Maryland jurisdiction has either an SRO or “adequate local law enforcement coverage” at every school for the 2019-2020 school year. Given the complexity and reach of the new state law, Council committees will examine the law and its mandates in more depth on July 19.

This year, however, the Council added three new SRO positions that will be assigned to middle schools. The Council also added one new vice unit detective position that will address human trafficking concerns in the County.

Sheriff:
The County Executive’s recommended Sheriff budget totaled $23 million, down 1.1% from last year. An important issue for the Sheriff’s Office this year was body worn cameras. In October 2017, the Sheriff’s Office took advantage of a free body worn camera pilot program offered through Axon, the vendor who supplies body cameras for the County Police Department. The Sheriff’s Office has 162 deputies who are outfitted with body worn cameras. These cameras are important both for accountability as well as safety purposes. Deputies are often in potentially volatile situations while serving domestic violence protective orders and mental health-related emergency evaluation petitions. This risk is especially true after the General Assembly passed additional domestic violence and gun control laws, such as the “red flag” law (HB1302) that permits the Sheriff to confiscate guns from individuals who have been deemed by the court to be an extreme risk to self or others.

The Council approved an additional $229,903 to permit the Sheriff’s Office to maintain the program through FY19.

The next few weeks we will continue our exploration of the County budget. Stay tuned.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

How do I…

… find out what items and grants the Council added to the budget?

Although the County Executive sent the Council a very good budget, the Council has the final say. The Council reconciles competing community priorities and available resources through its “reconciliation” process. This year, the Council was able to identify almost $15 million in resources to invest into critical services identified by the community. The Council also programmed over $2.8 million for grants to non-profits in the County. Check out the details here.

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Council voices support for the “Reform on Tap” Act

House Bill 518 supports the State’s breweries by lifting outdated restrictions on selling and purchasing craft beer

ROCKVILLE, Md., February 22, 2018—The Montgomery County Council sent a letter to the chair of the Economic Matters Committee, Delegate Dereck E. Davis, in unanimous support of Maryland House Bill (HB) 518, the Reform on Tap Act. HB 518 would lift restrictions on the selling and purchasing of beer at craft breweries throughout Maryland.

The House Economic Matters Committee has scheduled a hearing for HB 518 on February 23 at 1:00pm.

“Local breweries have a big impact on Montgomery County’s economy,” said Council President Hans Riemer. “Not only have they created good middle-income jobs, they have helped revitalize urban districts such as Silver Spring, bring life to industrial districts in Rockville, and create destination tourism in our farmland reserve communities such as Laytonsville and Brookeville. But there is much more to be done to make our State truly supportive to the industry. Our goal should be for Maryland beer to gain a much larger share of the market, both in Maryland and across the Country. The Reform on Tap proposals accomplish that objective.”

The complete text of the letter is below.


Dear Chair Davis,

I am writing as Council President to express the unanimous support of the Montgomery County Council for HB 518, “Reform on Tap.”

In recent years Montgomery County has been fortunate to benefit from the success of a number of new breweries, including Denizens, Seven Locks, Waredaca, Brookeville Beer Farm, and Saints Row. At least four more breweries will open their doors in 2018 (Silver Branch, Astro Lab, True Respite, and Brawling Bear). Nevertheless, we are presumably at the earliest stages of growth in our industry. Loudon County, by way of comparison, with just one third our population, has more than 30 breweries, cideries, and distilleries.

While our breweries may be small relative to the global corporate giants of the beer industry, they have a big impact on our local economic development. They have helped revitalize urban districts such as Silver Spring, bring life to industrial districts in Rockville, and create destination tourism in our farmland reserve communities such as Laytonsville and Brookeville. Breweries are a key part of our creative economy landscape. They naturally produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by providing the quality of life that many employees and employers are looking for.

Our local breweries have also created their own good middle-income jobs in manufacturing, management, marketing, and sales. Statewide studies have shown that Maryland brewers alone will generate nearly a billion dollars in economic impact by 2019, contribute over eleven million dollars in state tax revenue, and capture between 7.6% – 11.5% of all beer sales. Those figures are sure to rise, and it should be our policy goal to see them rise.

That is why we have worked hard to support a brewery industry here, and look forward to its robust long-term growth. Working in partnership with our Maryland Delegation, the County has taken many steps to support breweries include:

  • Exempting breweries from water and sewer connection fees
  • Expanding a County economic development incentive program (a grant to defray the cost of new leases) to include breweries
  • Allowing breweries as a primary use in commercial and industrial zones
  • Allowing craft breweries to self-distribute
  • Reducing and/or eliminating food-to-alcohol ratios

These reforms, when taken as a whole, have made Montgomery County and the State much friendlier to local production. Many entrepreneurs in the sector call Montgomery County “the best place in the region” to open a business. But there is much more to be done to make our State truly supportive to the industry. Our goal should be for Maryland beer to gain a much larger share of the market, both in Maryland and across the Country. The Reform on Tap proposals would accomplish that objective.

Accordingly, the Montgomery County Council urges the General Assembly to adopt the business-friendly reforms in HB 518. Thank you for your careful consideration of our views.

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Councilmembers Applaud New Economic Development Incentive for Craft Breweries, Cideries, Wineries and Distilleries

Incentive program for filling Class A and B office space expands at request of Council President Riemer and Councilmember Leventhal

ROCKVILLE, Md., Feb. 1, 2018—County Executive Isiah Leggett expanded an economic development incentive for new businesses taking office space to include craft breweries, cideries, wineries, and distilleries, which is a change requested by Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer and Councilmember George Leventhal.

Following a Council committee discussion, Council President Riemer and Councilmember Leventhal wrote to County Executive Leggett in October 2017 urging him to expand the eligibility criteria for the MOVE (Make Office Vacancy Extinct) Program, which is part of the County’s Economic Development Fund, to include businesses that produce alcohol, beer, cider, and wine. Their request noted the importance of the craft alcohol production sector to the County’s overall economic development goals and the significant financial barrier to entry for this business sector because of high capital costs. The County Executive sent a response letter on January 24, 2018 stating that he had made the change.

“Local alcohol producers such as breweries contribute to vibrant downtowns, where workers and companies want to be,” said Council President Riemer. “Because many breweries also sell beer directly to customers who walk in, they have a retail component. As a result of the retail component, these businesses were not eligible for the MOVE new lease incentive program when taking office space. Having a brewery take a ground level office space is a win-win for the County. I applaud the County Executive for changing the MOVE program to include them. This is another strong step forward for our local production industry and hopefully one more reason for entrepreneurs in this industry to call Montgomery County the best place in the DMV to start a business.”

Initial investments for craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries can reach several million dollars, which these entrepreneurs cite as one of the largest hurdles to launching successful businesses. In return for the County’s investment in these businesses, they produce good-paying jobs and contribute to the vitality of the neighborhoods they are located in.

“This regulatory change is an example of ‘government that works,’ said Councilmember Leventhal. “Craft alcohol business owners met with their local government representatives to find a new way that we could invest in their futures and the County’s economic prosperity. In addition to creating good middle-class jobs, these establishments also help to create a sense of place in our communities. This is a win-win proposition for businesses and the residents we represent.”

Building on work initiated by the County’s Night Time Economy Task Force, the Council has worked with State legislators and local businesses to address many regulatory and legal issues associated with the craft alcohol production industry including:

  • Eliminating water and sewer connection fees for craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries
  • Allowing craft brewers to self-distribute their own products;
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell growlers;
  • Repealing distance requirements of breweries from churches and schools;
  • Extending hours of operation for alcohol licenses to 2 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday;
  • Reducing the food to alcohol ratios for alcohol licensees to allow for more flexibility;
  • Clarifying rules to allow craft breweries and distilleries in the County’s urban and light industrial areas; and
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell more beer on-premise and allowing farm brewers to self-distribute.

More information and an application for the MOVE Program

The October 2017 request from Council President Riemer and Councilmember Leventhal to County Executive Leggett

The January 2018 response from County Executive Leggett

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A Protected Bike Lane Loop for Bethesda

Provided the Council supports the funding, new protected bike lanes will soon be coming to downtown Bethesda. The County has unveiled a new plan to build a “low stress” bike loop in the downtown, running to the west on Woodmont Ave, to the south on Montgomery Lane/Montgomery Avenue, to the east on Pearl St./Maryland Ave, and to the north on Cheltenham Drive.

The loop will help provide safer connections to Metro, Capital Bikeshare, the interim Georgetown Branch Trail and future Capital Crescent Trail, the Bethesda Trolley Trail, nearby neighborhoods, local businesses, and many activity centers in Bethesda.

Construction could begin as early as Spring 2019.

Protected Bike Lane Loop in Bethesda

The loop is essentially an advance and initial implementation of the plan outlined by the Council in our new vision for Downtown Bethesda. Thanks to projects such as the Silver Spring and White Flint protected bike lane networks, the County has a growing expertise in building this infrastructure and now has the know-how to move quickly from concept to implementation.

The bigger vision we have is to make our roads safe for bicyclists of all ages and all skill levels. We know that more people will choose to ride their bike for trips to work, shopping, recreation, and transit if we provide “low stress” connections to their destinations. Indeed, this message was amplified by the public through hundreds of letters to the Council and their participation at community meetings, public hearings, and our Great Montgomery Bike Summits.

The closing of the Georgetown Branch Trail for Purple Line construction, however, brought great urgency to improving the safety for bicyclists in an around Bethesda. I heard from a number of residents including Anna Irwin,Tom and Barbora Bridle, Andrew Forsyth, and others, about the urgency of acting to improve biking in Bethesda, along with some specific requests to build protected bike lanes on Woodmont Ave among other streets. In response I organized a community meeting on November 1, 2017 where, joined in sponsorship by Councilmember Berliner, we discussed bicycling in and around Bethesda. With over 100 community members in attendance, MCDOT, MNCPPC, and WABA gave presentations and led a discussion on how to improve bicycling in the downtown. MCDOT presented a concept for a Bethesda loop built upon the master plan recommendations and their work on the interim route for the Georgetown Branch Trail. The concept was well-received by the community and bicycle advocate groups.

I followed up the meeting by writing a letter (pdf) with Councilmember Berliner to the County Executive requesting that he include funding for the loop in his recommended Capital Budget. The community followed up by raising a powerful voice. A new group, the Bethesda Bike Now Coalition, organized along with WABA to push for the infrastructure. They even did an awesome video that went viral. See below.

The County Executive agreed with us and included $3 million in new funding for the loop in Bethesda. While we must press on to keep the funding in the budget here at the Council, this is a great step forward, and I salute the County Executive for moving so quickly.

The residents, employees, and visitors of Bethesda will be well-served by building this bicycle loop, and we are all are eager to see tangible benefits from the master plan process.