By

The Council Connection — housing affordability (cont’d)

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

Before we head into the August recess, the Council meets this Tuesday with a full agenda (pdf).

Housing Affordability
After extensive discussion, the Council will take action on two significant pieces of legislation that make improvements to our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) 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, below-market rate 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 (pdf), sponsored by Councilmember Floreen, would make several changes to update and strengthen the law. Bill 38-17 (pdf), sponsored by Council President Riemer, would increase the requirement to 15% in the areas of the County with the least affordable housing.

Following are some other highlights of the Council’s week:

Renaming New High School After Josiah Henson
Last week, First Lady Catherine Leggett and Council President Hans Riemer sent a letter to the Board of Education (pdf) urging them to name the new high school on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville after Josiah Henson. Reverend Henson, one of the great unsung heroes in the County, lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle School now stands on what was once Riley Farm.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, please attend a special screening of the documentary film “Josiah” on August 10 at 7:00 p.m at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring. Tickets are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office.

Crime Statistics
The Council public safety committee reviewed the County’s 2017 and 2018 year-to-date crime statistics. While crimes against persons have ticked up in 2018, the total number of criminal offenses are trending lower than 2017 (-48.8%). Please see the full update here.

Wireless infrastructure zoning changes
At the request of the County Executive, the Council will introduce zoning changes (pdf) that are designed to speed the deployment of wireless infrastructure in residential areas while maintaining appropriate safeguards for neighbors. The public hearing will be on September 11, beginning at 7:30pm. You can also provide feedback by writing to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Converting streetlights to LED
The Council will vote on an appropriation proposed by the County Executive to begin phase 1 of an ambitious plan to convert all County street lights from high pressure sodium (HPS) to light-emitting diode (LED). LED streetlights use less energy and are easier to maintain, which saves the County (and taxpayers) money.

And finally, an update on the Council’s efforts to promote local craft alcohol production.

Farm Alcohol Production Zoning Changes
In order to improve Montgomery County’s offering of wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries in our agricultural areas, Councilmember Riemer and Rice introduced ZTA 18-03. After making a number of changes suggested from stakeholders, the zoning committee (PHED) unanimously recommended the ZTA to the full Council this week. The full Council will take up these zoning changes in September.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

By

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.

By

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

By

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