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Council Update — confronting fiscal challenges at final session of 2018

Dear Resident,

As the holiday season gets into full swing, the Council is holding its final session of 2018 on Tuesday. We have a packed agenda, including interviews for County Executive Elrich’s appointments to three top positions.

County fiscal condition requires action
The Council will receive a briefing from Council and Executive Branch staff on the state of the County’s finances. While this year’s revenues are on track with what we estimated in the Spring when we passed the budget, last year’s revenues were lower and expenditures were higher than we expected. This has created a nearly $44 million hole in the County’s reserves, dropping our reserve-to-revenue ratio to 8.4%. The County’s goal is 9.4% this year and 10% by 2020. Given the importance of healthy reserves to our overall fiscal picture, the Council expects to take up a savings plan recommended by the County Executive in January, 2019. Read the full staff report.

Introduction of three zoning changes
I am introducing three zoning text amendments (ZTAs) for Council consideration. The first changes the minimum allowed fence height for a home confronting the Purple Line. The second changes the height limit for a building in a shopping mall. The third allows breweries and farm alcohol producers in rural zones, not just agricultural zones. I look forward to engaging with the public, stakeholders, and my colleagues on the Council as these measures move through the legislative process.

Voting reform town hall
I am excited to be working with Ranked Choice Voting – Montgomery County to host a community policy event on Saturday, Dec 15 at 9am at the Silver Spring Civic Center. You can RSVP here for the free event. Ranked Choice Voting is where the voting process counts not only first choices but also second, third, etc. In an election where the top vote getter does not get a majority of first choice votes, then the second choices count, until a candidate has a majority. Legislation in the State House is necessary to enable the County to adopt this system, which may move forward this upcoming state legislative session if there is sufficient community support.

Happy Holidays,

Hans Riemer Signature
Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

P.S., ICYMI, my remarks about the County’s future at the recent inauguration ceremony, my list of the Council’s 2018 accomplishments, and more about the Council’s progress on pre-k.

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Councilmember Riemer’s Remarks at Inauguration of the 19th Council

Councilmember Hans Riemer giving remarks at the 2018 Inauguration

Welcome to the beginning of a new era in County government and politics. I am Hans Riemer, president of the Montgomery County Council. It is my honor to bring greetings to you at the inauguration of the 19th Council and share my thoughts on the road ahead.

I will begin by saluting a remarkable man who inspired confidence in our County’s leadership: Isiah Leggett. Thank you for everything, Ike. Together with Catherine, you have guided this County on its journey as we have transformed from farmland suburbia to inclusive, metropolitan Montgomery.

For my colleagues from the 18th Council who are moving on, Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, thank you for your dedication to public service.

To our new County Executive, Marc Elrich, thank you for your work on the Council, congratulations on your victory and best wishes for success.

Today we welcome new voices to Council leadership, Gabriel Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Evan Glass and Will Jawando. We are looking forward to your contributions. You’ll join an outstanding Council including Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, and Craig Rice. In the four years ahead, we will engage in spirited discussions, while upholding our Council’s traditions of professionalism and respect.

We probably don’t all agree on everything at the Council, but friends, you don’t either. That is what makes democracy so vital and exciting. We work through our differences to find a way forward.

If there is one thing you can count on, it is that — even if the federal government is no longer responsive to the views of the majority — Montgomery County is going to continue to set an example of effective governance.

We will strive for an inclusive community that respects and values the contributions that every single person can make to our world, and we will reject politics that rely on telling some Americans that they are less than.

In Montgomery County, every resident counts, no matter who you are, what you look like or where you are from.

This is not just a matter of values, it is the key to our success. Montgomery County is changing. We are not the same community that we were 30 or even 15 years ago. Some might see it differently, but I believe that we are changing for the better, as more and more families are able to find success in the corner of the world that we have made.

Today our County is a complex, dynamic, inclusive, cosmopolitan community. From farms to high rise apartments, there are Montgomery County residents living out just about every kind of lifestyle you can imagine.

Our past decisions to support new housing, public transportation and education continue to pay dividends, but as our community has grown larger and more complex, so have our needs.

If we want to continue to be an inclusive and welcoming community — then there are some basics we have to get right. There needs to be a place for everyone to live. We need reliable transportation. Young people need a great education. Immigrants and others starting out need an on-ramp to the economy.

It all begins with economic development. Government can do a lot to improve our lives, but good jobs are the foundation of every successful family, neighborhood and community.

My wife Angela and I have two amazing young boys. I hope they will stay close when they grow up, but I’m worried that, even if they want to – they won’t be able to.

First they’ll need to find a job here that supports their dreams. The federal government, a key building block of our local economy, isn’t expanding that fast anymore.

To provide job opportunities for the next generation, we’ll need our private sector job base to grow.

If our boys can find their chosen career path here, then they will want to find a place to live. But we have a housing crunch as there is not enough supply. That causes prices to go up. The affordability crisis in turn causes resentment as our younger workers wonder why, after taking on debt to get the same education and career potential their parents had, they can’t afford to live where they grew up.

To make room for the next generation, we need more housing. And absolutely, that means we need to build schools, public transportation and other infrastructure to support that growth. But just as we reject an immigration policy that says, “Sorry, we were here first,” we must reject a housing policy that doesn’t recognize that we all share a responsibility for building and maintaining the infrastructure that we use, not just the new generation that is trying to make our County home.

Our region enjoys a growing technology economy. Our ability to attract technology companies and their employees here also depends on our ability to connect to other job centers in DC and increasingly in Northern Virginia.

We must restore Metro to world class status, but that is not enough, either. As a region we should re-envision MARC and Virginia’s VRE to create a DMV commuter rail network. Imagine: a one-seat ride from the 11 stops in Montgomery County all the way to National Landing.

While we thank Governor Hogan for putting the focus on I-270, now is the time for us to work with our State Delegation to support our clean energy future by ensuring this project makes transit a real priority.

Welcome to our state elected officials here in the audience today. We have made great strides on county issues these past few years and we know we can count on you. With the Kirwan Commission’s education recommendations coming soon, we will be working together to ensure that what happens in Annapolis is good for Montgomery County school children.

Because if we are going to create prosperity for everyone, nothing is more important than preparing our young people to step up and fill the tech and science jobs across our region.

It starts with early childhood. In the past two years, the Council has made great strides on early education. Providing a high-quality pre-k slot for every low-income 4-year-old is now within our grasp. We could do it this Council term or even sooner, within our budget, and ensure that every single child starts kindergarten ready to learn.

This generation of digital natives knows how to use technology. We just have to show them how they can turn a passion for technology into a career, no matter what zip code they call home.

As our education leaders know, we must reinvent STEM learning so that it is cutting edge, relevant and exciting. Luckily, Montgomery County is home to the KID Museum, a wonderful partner that is working with MCPS to do just that. And with the leadership of our Board of Education and the vision of our Superintendent Jack Smith, we are on the verge of a breakthrough.

But to achieve it, we need a new approach to high school that is outside the box. We need opportunities for students to learn in new environments that are closely related to our local employers and career pathways, aligned with course credit at Montgomery College and the University of Maryland.

Let’s look to our downtowns — downtowns that we are reinventing with contemporary bike and pedestrian infrastructure, breweries and nightlife, restaurants, transit, fast internet and affordable housing — and find buildings we can repurpose for 21st Century high school academies.

And finally, we must meet these challenges as we continue to be disciplined with our budget. Rainy days will surely come again. We must continue to save while the sun is shining. Ike Leggett put us on the right path, and we should not stray.

So welcome to my new colleagues on the County Council – I know how eager you are to meet the challenges before us. Working together with the County Executive, our State Delegation, our U.S. Senators and Members of Congress, and most of all our entire community, we will help the County achieve new heights.

Thank you everyone!

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Council Suggests Strategies to Improve Pedestrian Safety Along State Highways in Letter to Maryland State Highway Administration

ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 3, 2018— Council President Hans Riemer sent a letter on Nov. 30 to Greg Slater, administrator for the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), to suggest a number of strategies that should be pursued to improve pedestrian safety on state roads. The letter follows up on the Nov. 13 Council meeting with SHA, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Department of Transportation and others. The following is the text from the letter, which is also attached:

On November 13 the County Council had a wide-ranging conversation with you regarding both general and specific strategies for improving traffic and pedestrian safety along State highways in Montgomery County. I want to summarize for you the general strategies we wish the State Highway Administration to pursue going forward:

  • Reduce the lane widths to 10 feet in all our urban areas (11 feet if adjacent to a parking lane or a curb), consistent with the direction in the County’s Road Construction Code. This is the standard that has been applied to County roads since the Council updated the Road Code in 2014. It was developed after significant engineering review by our Planning Board and Department of Transportation staffs; the 10-foot-width standard was deemed sufficient to accommodate trucks and buses. The state roads in urban areas should adhere to the same standard. The County has formally adopted about 25 urban areas where this standard applies (see the attached map).
  • Set the speed limit on all state roads in urban areas to 25 mph unless a different target speed is specified in a local master plan. This, too, was a provision in the 2014 Road Code update. Target speeds in our suburban areas are not specified in law, but many of our most recent master plans do set them, and they are often lower than the current posted speed limits. As we noted in our earlier letter, the speed limit on Georgia Avenue (MD 97) in Aspen Hill should be reduced from the current 45 mph posting.
  • Audit the location and access to both transit bus and school bus stops on state highways to identify where stops and crosswalks should be relocated or installed, and where improved lighting is needed.
  • Identify where the next set of full pedestrian signals and HAWK signals will be implemented, and to develop the warrants for these types of signals.
  • Incorporate officially designated Safe Routes to Schools in the prioritization for pedestrian safety improvements.
  • Reconfigure state roadways where we have identified bikeways—especially protected bike lanes in the Bicycle Master Plan we adopted on November 27.
  • Reduce the time to analyze proposed pedestrian safety improvements as well as the time to install them once a decision is made to implement them.

The above initiatives should apply to all state highways; we would like to also proceed as we have discussed to work through a set of changes for Georgia Avenue specifically.

As promised at the November 13 worksession, I am attaching a set of individual locations along State highways of immediate concern to Councilmembers. I request that your staff evaluate each of them and report back with an action plan.

We look forward to a continuing partnership with SHA in achieving the Vision Zero goal in the foreseeable future. These steps will hasten us on that path.

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The Council Connection — welcoming the 19th Council

Dear Resident,

This will be my final newsletter of 2018 as your Council President. On behalf of my Council office team, we would like to thank you for your positive feedback as we seek to improve how we reach out to our communities. And we are going to keep it up–more to come on that soon!

I am also glad to share that some of the changes that were a high priority for me as Council President, such as a “subscribe tool” for residents to get updates on specific Council items, or the use of hashtags to extend our communications stream to the world of social media, will continue on into the future.

Thank you for your participation!

Hans Riemer Signature
Hans Riemer


The 19th Council and election of new officers
Today, the 19th Council was seated. Incoming Councilmembers Andrew Friedson (District 1), Will Jawando (At-large), Gabe Albornoz (At-large), and Evan Glass (At-large) join returning Councilmembers Hans Riemer (At-large), Sidney Katz (District 3), Craig Rice (District 2), Nancy Navarro (District 4), and Tom Hucker (District 5).

The 19th Council elected Councilmember Nancy Navarro as the new Council President and Councilmember Sidney Katz as Council Vice President. The Council will be well-served by their leadership. Council President Navarro also announced committee assignments for the 19th Council. See below for details.

Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee
Hans Riemer, Chair
Andrew Friedson
Will Jawando

Transportation & Environment (T&E) Committee
Tom Hucker, Chair
Hans Riemer
Evan Glass

Government Operations & Fiscal Policy (GO) Committee
Nancy Navarro, Chair
Andrew Friedson
Sidney Katz

Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee
Gabe Albornoz, Chair
Evan Glass
Craig Rice

Education & Culture (EC) Committee
Craig Rice, Chair
Will Jawando
Nancy Navarro

Public Safety (PS) Committee
Sidney Katz, Chair
Gabe Albornoz
Tom Hucker


Montgomery County Council’s Top Ten 2018 Accomplishments
By Council President Hans Riemer

Finally, here is my list of the Council’s top ten accomplishments during my year-long term as Council president, a position for which I am grateful to my colleagues for electing me.

10. Convened the Council’s first emergency session to respond to the GOP Congress’ Tax Act, passing legislation to allow County residents to prepay 2018 property taxes in 2017 and maximize their State and Local Tax deductions.

9. Approved funds to support organizations that provide legal assistance to county residents who are in deportation proceedings. Grants have been provided to Kids In Need of Defense, which helps children that have been separated from their families, as well as HIAS and other groups.

8. Funded a revised stormwater infrastructure program that will ensure efficiency and affordability while maximizing environmental benefits. Negotiated a solution to overcome an executive veto. Also approved a ten year update to the County’s Water and Sewer Plan.

7. Supported the County’s bid for Amazon HQ2, including a zoning plan to streamline the process for corporate headquarters to locate in the County.

6. Approved a zoning change for the Agricultural Reserve in the County enabling business owners there to operate wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries.

5. Adopted a visionary Bicycle Master Plan to guide the future of biking infrastructure in the county; and added funding for a Bethesda protected bike lane loop, in addition to the Silver Spring protected bike loop under construction.

4. Approved a zoning change to support additional wireless infrastructure (4g leading to 5g) in downtown and commercial areas (consideration continues on residential areas).

3. Supported major capital investment in WMATA. Locally funded new pedestrian access entrances for White Flint and Forest Glen Metros. Successfully advocated to expand rush hour service from Grosvenor to Shady Grove; similar expansion on Glenmont side is under study by WMATA.

2. Enacted legislation to increase affordable housing in the County by increasing the minimum percentage of Moderately Priced Housing Units (MPDUs) that are required to be built in new residential developments from 12.5 to 15 percent in high income areas of the county. Modernized the MPDU ordinance generally and established a clear MPDU incentive structure for bonus density.

1. Approved a $5.6 billion Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget without raising taxes. The Budget fully funded the Board of Education’s request for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), including an additional $3.3 million for expanded pre-k programs — raising the two year total of early education expansions to over $7 million and creating more than 650 new full day pre-k slots, for a total of about 3,200 children attending publicly funded pre-k programs. The Council also added Excel Beyond the Bell after school programs at two additional Elementary School.

Bonus: Did it all in an election year!