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Remarks on the FY18 Budget

It’s no secret that I think that the cost and availability of quality PreK and child care is one of the most pressing issues Montgomery County families face. This Council’s attention to this issue has yielded an Early Care and Education Strategic Plan and an OLO report that light the way forward. It seems clear to me from these reports that the first concrete step we can take is to make full day PreK available to all four year olds from families living below 300% of the federal poverty line. These students are overwhelmingly not receiving PreK now, and are starting kindergarten already behind their peers. We then spend many millions more to try to help them catch up.

OLO estimates that this PreK expansion might cost $35 million. I had suggested that we try to find $5 million in this budget to begin this investment. While we learned that it was not possible to get that full amount up and running for this next school year due to space, staffing, and procurement constraints we were able to invest $2.5 million – which will provide 240 new full day pre-k slots this school year for our most vulnerable children. We also expanded our child care subsidy program by $2 million.

For next year’s budget I suggest we try to provide $10 million to continue this PreK expansion. I’d like to work with my colleagues, MCPS, HHS, the County Executive, and other stakeholders to make this happen. Combined with the $2.5 million expansion in this year’s budget, that would get us much closer to the $35 million goal.

I am hoping that Councilmember Rice will be able to bring us a major new investment from the state. I also recognize that, for a broader expansion to be sustainable we need a dedicated revenue source as Councilmember Navarro has been advocating and we should seek private investment as well. I know Councilmember Hucker has been working on this as well. But in the meantime, I am no longer willing to wait – this is a step we can take within our existing system while we pursue these other options.

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Montgomery Council cuts costs to start new breweries, wineries and distilleries

Council Vice President Hans Riemer’s latest initiative builds on success in supporting local craft production

ROCKVILLE, MD., May 17, 2017—The Montgomery County Council approved the Fiscal Year 2018 budget for Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which includes a key reform promoting the local production of alcohol proposed by Vice President Hans Riemer.

Local producers of alcohol in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will now be exempt from the system development charge (SDC) generally imposed on every applicant for new or increased WSSC service from the bi-county agency. Council Vice President Riemer was the primary sponsor of the initiative from Montgomery County.

The councils of both counties have created exemptions from SDC charges for purposes benefiting the public, including for affordable housing, revitalization projects, senior housing and biotechnology research and manufacturing facilities. As part of the revitalization exemption, the local alcohol production exemption seeks to promote the growing industry of locally produced alcohol that provides good paying jobs and investment in the community.

“My goal is to make Montgomery County the best place in the region to start a brewery, winery or distillery,” said Vice President Riemer. “Fitting out a new beverage manufacturing facility often requires new larger pipes because alcohol production itself has high water needs. These connections can cost tens of thousands of dollars. By exempting alcohol production from the WSSC system development charge, we will lower startup costs for new breweries, wineries and distilleries.”

The County’s efforts to open the doors to the craft industry, initiated through the County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force spearheaded by Councilmember Riemer, have resulted in entrepreneurs coming in to the County to establish new businesses. These efforts include:

  • Allowing craft brewers to sell directly to stores and restaurants without going through a middleman / warehouse distributor (the County’s Department of Liquor Control).
  • Increasing the amount of beer that craft brewers can sell per year to customers on location.
  • Clarifying zoning rules to allow craft distilleries to locate in urban and light industrial areas, where they were not previously allowed.
  • Allowing wineries (and farms) to host food trucks—areas where they were previously prohibited.
  • Easing regulations on the sale of beer and wine growlers.
  • Allowing wineries to also sell beer on their premises.
  • Repealing distance requirements that breweries could be located from churches and schools.
  • Extending hours of operation for alcohol licensees to 2 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
  • Reducing the food to alcohol ratios for restaurants, allowing them to get more revenue from alcohol sales.

Montgomery County is currently home to at least seven breweries: Brookeville Beer Farm (Brookeville), Denizens Brewing (Silver Spring), Gordon Biersch (Rockville), Growlers Brew Pub (Gaithersburg), Rock Bottom Brewery (Bethesda), Seven Locks Brewing (Rockville) and Waredaca Brewing (Laytonsville). Wineries in the County now include the Olney Winery, the Rockland Farms Winery (Poolesville), Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (Dickerson) and the Urban Winery (Silver Spring). The County’s only distillery is Twin Valley Distillers.

Several of these businesses opened in recent years as State and County laws have been modernized to reflect the rising interest among residents for craft beer, wine, and spirits.

“The reforms we have pursued in recent years have made the County much friendlier to local production,” Councilmember Riemer said. “Our new breweries and wineries are already having a tremendous impact by revitalizing areas in our urban, industrial, suburban and agricultural communities. The culture is just taking off, and the potential is great.”

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Funding a study for dedicated lanes on US 29 BRT

If a bus could move past traffic, wouldn’t you be more likely to ride it? That is the premise behind the need for “dedicated lanes” for buses. When a bus has a dedicated lane, it can move past traffic jams. At that point, riding the bus becomes a much better service for those who do not have the opportunity to own a car as well as a real alternative for people who have a car. But if the bus is stuck in traffic, many people will prefer to just drive.

Today, the Council’s Transportation Committee supported my request for further study of an exciting and potentially effective proposal to create dedicated lanes for buses south of Industrial Parkway as part of a US 29 BRT plan. The key to this proposal, which was initiated by county residents and transit activists, particularly Sean Emerson and Sebastian Smoot, is shrinking the regular travel lanes from 12 to 10 feet. This makes enough room to add a dedicated lane for buses without taking a lane away from cars, a potential win-win situation.

The County Department of Transportation agreed to prepare a supplemental appropriation to fund the study for the Council’s review at a later date. My MEMO is below.

MEMORANDUM

To: Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee
From: Council Vice President Hans Riemer
Date: May 2, 2017
Re: US 29 BRT Dedicated Lane Proposal


I am writing to urge your support to further develop a potentially effective concept for a dedicated bus rapid transit lane south of Industrial Parkway for the US 29 BRT.

Like many of you, I recently met with Sean Emerson and Sebastian Smoot to discuss their proposal to improve BRT on US 29. As you know, the current proposal before the County Council calls for BRT vehicles to ride in the shoulder on the northern section of corridor, providing a dedicated lane. South of Industrial Parkway, to the Silver Spring Transit Center, the vehicles would travel in mixed traffic.

While the overall plan is a meaningful step forward for bus service, the game changer for the corridor is securing dedicated lanes where congestion is the worst, south of Industrial Parkway. Mr. Emerson’s proposal envisions a dedicated lane and platforms in the median of US 29 south of Industrial Parkway. Mr. Emerson’s proposed dedicated lane can largely be accommodated within the existing curbs and without removing travel lanes, which reduces additional impacts. In fact, it seems possible that most or all of the elements of the Executive’s proposal would nest readily into Mr. Emerson’s more comprehensive plan.

My understanding is that MCDOT and SHA have expressed interest in the proposal. I believe the next step after approving the Executive’s proposed project is to identify the funding to flesh out the design of Mr. Emerson’s proposal, as well as engaging the US 29 Citizens Advisory Committees.

Therefore, I respectfully request your support for the further study of a dedicated BRT lane between Industrial Parkway and Downtown Silver Spring.

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Head Start and Pre Kindergarten Expansion

I would like to thank my colleagues on the joint ED/HHS committee as well as our partners at Montgomery County Public Schools for supporting my focus on expanding existing half-day Head Start and pre-k programs to full-day for our lowest income children. The committees requested Council staff to identify how investments could be most efficiently targeted in the budget for next year, information that will be very valuable as we conduct our budget review over the next 6-8 weeks. I am hopeful that we can get to the $5 million expansion goal that I have proposed, but we will have to make some tough choices to create resources at that level.


To: George Leventhal, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee
Craig Rice, Chair, Education Committee & Member, Health and Human Services Committee
Nancy Navarro, Member, Education Committee
Marc Elrich, Member, Education Committee
Council President Roger Berliner, Member, Health and Human Services Committee
From: Council Vice President Hans Riemer
Date: March 13, 2017
Re: Head Start and Pre Kindergarten Expansion

When this Council passed Bill 13-15 eighteen months ago, we began to build the capacity to plan and implement a major expansion of programs to ensure access to quality, affordable early care and education for every child. Since that bill’s passage, the County has funded and hired a new Child Care Policy Officer in the Department of Health and Human Services and completed a Child Care Strategic Plan. The HHS and ED Committees recently held an exceptionally informative work session to hear from New York City about how they achieved their pre-k expansion, and the Committees instructed the HHS Department to determine how we could undertake a similar “universal” expansion.

With the receipt of OLO Report 2017-7, “Pre-K in Montgomery County and in Other Jurisdictions,” we have several approaches to consider as well as a crucial piece of the puzzle – clear evidence that the benefits of government-funded pre-k, at least for low income students, far outweigh the costs.

I am thrilled that the OLO report includes a series of discrete increments in which we could stage an expansion, with digestible cost estimates. I understand that Council staff intends to work with stakeholders to further define the costs and requirements of the incremental steps laid out in the OLO report.

I seek your support to direct Council staff to identify how we could best invest $5 million in FY18 to provide full-day pre-k for our lowest income children.

Over the past few weeks, my staff and I have conducted our own research and held meetings with staff from HHS, MCPS, and other stakeholders. My office has identified specific high poverty schools and the scope of their existing programs. Some of these schools already offer full-day pre-k, others offer half-day pre-k programs. Combined with the existing full-day slots, I believe $5 million would allow us to offer full day prekindergarten classes to ALL children who qualify for Head Start at all elementary schools, and begin to expand MCPS half-day pre-K to full day at the schools with the greatest concentration of children in poverty. This expansion could be accommodated on site at many schools, but would require some classes be provided through community partners or at other spaces such as Recreation facilities.

The following schools have programs that could readily be expanded.
Expand half-day Head Start to full day for about 250 kids in:
Bells Mill ES
Clearspring ES
College Gardens ES
Drew ES
East Silver Spring ES
Fairland ES
Glenallen ES
Maryvale ES
Montgomery Knolls ES
Christa McAuliffe ES
Strawberry Knoll ES
Twinbrook ES
Viers Mill ES
* Students from families living below 100% of the federal poverty line are eligible for Head Start

Expand half day pre-K to full day at highest FARMS schools for about 185 kids in:
Broad Acres ES
New Hampshire Estates ES
Harmony Hills ES
South Lake ES
* Students from families living below 200% of the federal poverty line are eligible for Pre-K

There are about 435 children in half day Head Start and pre-k programs in these schools. Our estimate is that creating full day Head Start and pre-k for all schools listed above would cost about $5 million, and we believe it can be done in FY18. Nevertheless, a more precise roadmap is required.

Both the OLO report and the HHS’s Department’s Early Care and Education Strategic Plan identify expanding existing half-day pre-K programs to full day as a top priority. The Early Care and Education Strategic Plan states:

S4. Work toward a guarantee of quality, affordable, full-day prekindergarten for all three and four-year old children in a mixed delivery system (e.g. services provided by both public schools and community-based programs).

Research shows that for low-income children, two-years of high-quality preschool improves children’s early literacy and math readiness for school compared to one year of prekindergarten. The number of hours in school, also known as dosage, is also an opportunity to close the readiness gap and meet the needs of working families. The new Head Start Program Performance Standards increase the number of hours a year Head Start programs must provide services. Early Head Start programs already operate for a full day.

Next Steps: In FY2018 and succeeding years, expand targeted assistance for low-income three and four-year-old children to have full-day prekindergarten in a mixed delivery system and increase the local contribution for full-day Head Start.

I look forward to working with you on this important County Council priority.