Daily Journal, 01-04-12 (MCPS School Construction)

Back from some holiday down time! After breakfast with new Rockville City Councilmember Tom Moore and former Council Member John Britton, I headed down to Garrett Park Elementary School for the opening of a newly modernized school there. The students were actually on their first day in the new building, and we joined a few classrooms to watch the students working with their teachers in the new environment. It was gratifying to see so many happy kids… the county’s funds well spent… and our community values artfully articulated there in brick and mortar, advanced classroom technology, and even geothermal energy.

School construction is certainly on my mind as we prepare for the “CIP” budget, which is our six-year capital improvements budget. Last fall the County Executive proposed to cut about $150 million over six years from that budget, and is preparing a plan based on the lower spending amount now. The Council approved that amount although I voted against the cut. MCPS, meanwhile, has requested a near 10% increase in construction spending for the new capital budget. The council will have a tough time balancing it all together and I look forward to hearing from the community about the most pressing priorities as we receive the Exec’s new budget on January 17.

Photo by Patch

Daily journal, 10-17-11

Today’s Transportation Committee hearing focused on several issues
that I want to see us move quickly to address. First was pedestrian
safety. As a county we must move to promote walkability so that there
are meaningful alternatives to driving everywhere and clogging the
roads. The County Executive has implemented an effective pedestrian
safety initiative that appears to have had a strong positive effect by
reducing pedestrian crashes.

A big portion of that discussion focused on walkability and school
safety. I was interested to learn that the county reviews data and
makes improvements for a quarter mile “walk shed” for our schools, but
the actual walk shed for that school could be a half mile, three
quarters of a mile, and so on. I plan to discuss this issue more with
our transportation officials and see if there are any changes that we
need to make.

Finally, an invigorating discussion on bikesharing. The county has
pursued federal grants for several years to build a bikesharing
system, as DC and NoVa have done with great success. The revelation
in the meeting for me was viewing the bikesharing operation as an
additional transit system that we can put in place. Already since its
founding just over a year ago, the capital bikesharing program has
generated more than one million trips.

Committee Chair Berliner pushed very hard, noting that our relative
lack of a bikeshare transit system is embarrassing to the county and
needs to be resolved. I asked the County DOT for us to be the first
jurisdiction in the state to apply for a new bikesharing program that
the state government is going to fund on an 80-20 split. As our DOT
pointed out, we will need to figure out where the resources come from
on our end, as these are very tight budget times.

Walk To School Day

This is the spectacular view from my seat at the county’s Walk To
School Day, where I joined superintendent Starr, County Executive
Leggett, and Councilmember Craig Rice. Craig fired up the crowd of
students at James Daly Elementary and I tell you, the sound of
hundreds of kids screaming is something to behold (in a very good

Asked to speak I told the students how when I was a kid I walked 1.2
miles each way almost every day (I biked some too). It was always an
adventure. Eating plums, splashing puddles, making friends,
bickering with them, and trying desperately to get home before I peed
my pants. I think that formative experience of walking hours each day
helps explain why I’ve always preferred to walk to my job (can’t any
more tho) and why to this day I put such an emphasis on walkability in
our community planning.

Good times.

Daily journal, 09-26-11

Today was jam-packed with tough policy issues. First, a conversation
with the Fire Chief as a follow up to our committee meeting last week
on vehicle policy issues. Then a Gov Ops committee meeting where we
debated the level of borrowing we can afford to finance construction
of capital projects like schools, libraries, etc. I recommended, as
did Council president Valerie Ervin, that we should not reduce our
spending in this area because it will shrink our local economy. The
Count Executive is recommending $50 million in cuts to these projects
over the next 2 years.

Then a meeting with community advocates in the BCC cluster who are
opposed to the site that has been chosen for the middle school. I have
to give a shout out here to Cathy Fink, a local musician whose album
Pillow Full of Wishes is absolutely one of our family favorites. It’s
tough getting lobbied by the lady who sings your kids to sleep!

Then to T/E committee to discuss the issue of artificial turf fields.
There have been a lot of concerns raised about them. My conclusion is
that the science certainly raises enough concern to implement testing
but not enough to warrant a moratorium. I am pleased that the parks
department is implementing a rigorous test on runoff and environmental
impacts. That will tell us a lot. I requested lead tests for all our
existing fields and that we explore alternatives to tire crumb for
filler for these fields.

Now I’m prepping for a vigorous discussion tomorrow on the CR family
of zones. We are working to bring new plans to life for communities in
Wheaton, Kensington and Takoma/Langley but we need to get the zones
right or the investment will not come.

I love this job!

Montgomery County’s New Budget

Dear Supporters,

This morning, the County Council unanimously passed a new budget for the next fiscal year. As I cast my vote, I believe the Council has met its responsibility of balancing our residents’ priorities and keeping the government on a sustainable path.

Here is information that I think you might find useful.

Responsible Spending

The $4.4 billion total budget increased 2.2% from last year, but is still below the level of two years ago (FY 10). With workforce reductions now totaling nearly 10%, the county is becoming more efficient in order to protect priorities that really matter.

$31 Million Increase to MCPS

Tax-supported funding for our public schools will increase by $31 million, from $1.92 billion to $1.951 billion. As a result of this funding increase, class size will not increase even though enrollment is growing. As in past years, MCPS will receive more than half (56%) of all tax-supported spending for government agencies.

Council Service Restorations

The County Council made many program restorations to the Executive’s recommended budget. These were some of my priorities:

1. Libraries: The council restored $2.3 million in the public libraries’ budget. That includes $1 million for materials and a variety of staffing restorations to prevent significant cuts at theSilver Spring, Long Branch, Twinbrook andChevy Chase libraries. Friends of the Librarydeserves great credit for their advocacy.

2. Planning: The county needs a robust Planning Department in order to channel future growth towards transit, thereby enhancing our economy while protecting our quality of life and environment. The council restored $1.58 million to Planning’s budget, enabling them to fill 8 vacancies and proceed with analysis of a new county-wide rapid transit system. We also restored cuts to our parks.

3. Montgomery College: The council restored $4.6 million in proposed cuts toMontgomeryCollege’s budget to protect academic programs, student services, and more.

4. Public transportation – Kids Ride Free: This program allows students to use Metrobus and RideOn for free on weekdays between 2 PM and 7 PM. Kids Ride Free was suspended last year, but the council has now restored it, which will greatly help young people who want to participate in extra-curricular activities, earn income, and provide care to family members.

5. Health care: Working with non-profit clinics, Montgomery County provides a low cost health service for patients who are uninsured and cannot get Medicaid. We restored cuts that would have required us to turn patients away for the first time.

Restructuring Employee Benefits

The county is proud to provide its employees with health and pension benefits that exceed those provided by many other employers. These benefits are a major reason for the county’s outstanding retention rate and its excellent service provision. But over the next five years, their cost has been projected to rise by 48% while the county’s revenues are projected to rise just 2% annually. In order to preserve these benefits, we had to begin to restructure them. This was a tough decision, but it was superior to recurring layoffs, service cuts and tax hikes.

Fiscal Responsibility

Montgomery County’s general obligation bonds are rated AAA, which enables the county to borrow at some of the lowest interest rates in the nation, freeing up tax dollars for education, libraries, and so forth. But that privilege comes with the responsibility of demonstrating that the county is committed to prudent financial management. The council did just that by increasing its reserve contributions, saving money for future retiree health costs, creating a dedicated fund for snow removal and controlling its benefit costs. Nationwide, governments have failed to face up to their fiscal reality. California, Illinois, Michigan and many other states are paying the price for years of mismanagement. Nassau County, New York has been taken over by its state government. Even the federal government’s bond rating is apparently threatened. None of this is going to happen in Montgomery County.

There is no question that this was a difficult budget year. Reasonable people can disagree on some of the council’s budget actions. But I believe that our residents should feel confident that they have a responsive and effective county government. Unlike some governments, we can tackle our big challenges.

This council has met its responsibility by protecting residents’ priorities, controlling costs and carefully managing the county’s money. And we are doing that while protecting progressive priorities like education, public safety, the environment, the safety-net and a world-class quality of life.

Please continue communicating with me and if you find this helpful, consider sharing it with other residents.

Yours Sincerely,

Hans Riemer

Council Member At-Large

P.S. I want to thank the hundreds of readers who responded to my last email about our budget challenge with their personal stories, insights and priorities. I took what you said to heart as I worked through the budget process. Thank you.