Daily journals, 11-27/28-11

Monday began with a briefing from council staff about the health care and wellness task force that the council convened this year. The task force identified some helpful information, such as: the expenses per person for health care in MCPS and the county are basically the same, the county in total insures about 100,000 lives, roughly 20% of the insured population accounts for 80% of the expenses (which mirrors national trends), and the only real way to save money in health care spending over the long term is to reduce the growth of total county spending per plan member. The council and particularly the Gov Ops committee will return early next year to this topic. We need to find better ways to manage the spending of what is nearly $500 million per year on health care benefits and we do not invest enough to do that job right.

Monday evening I went to Clarksburg for a meeting with the Clarksburg Civic Association. We had a colorful and even contentious discussion over whether Clarksburg development has collapsed or not (I said it has, while some residents asserted that Clarksburg is booming; I believe the number of housing units that have been constructed in Clarksburg vs. the number approved supports my point), and talked about issues such as the proposed M-83 highway, sidewalks on 355, and so forth. Years ago, Montgomery County residents agreed to establish Clarksburg on certain terms, such as a development tax district that is higher than anywhere else in the county, in order to ensure that the new infrastructure in Clarksburg would be paid for by tax revenues generated in Clarksburg. Now, with rising energy costs and without the benefit of a real estate bubble, it is a question whether this model of development is fiscally sustainable.

Today’s highlight was passing the Wheaton Sector Plan, a document that describes how we want development to proceed in the future, largely in the Wheaton central business district. I am very happy about the plan on several fronts, including the more aggressive approach to job growth that it embraces for the downtown, the environmental protections that it encourages including in the Westfield green buffer, and, particularly, the neighborhood protections that it codifies. I listened closely to advocates from the surrounding neighborhoods and urged the council to find solutions for reversing the dismal commercial developments that have encroached on their single family neighborhoods — truly, there is nothing more depressing than having a storage facility in your single family neighborhood. I was glad to see that Council staff and the PHED committee found a great solution by putting in guidance and a zoning formula that will hopefully result in those properties being redeveloped in a town home style, which would be much more compatible with the neighborhood.