Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

My budget priorities

Dear Resident:

The County’s budget for the next year is done. There is good news to share, as well as unfinished business.

Our budget process has two stages. The Executive prepares a draft and submits it by March 15. The Council then makes changes and finalizes the budget by the end of May.

Here are some of my highlights from this year, reflecting my own priorities.

Starting with education, we fully funded the MCPS budget request, thanks particularly to an increase in state funding. We also fully funded Montgomery College. Neither were fully funded in the Executive’s budget. MCPS will now reduce class size guidelines further.

On child care and pre-k, this is the third year in a row that we will expand pre-k for low income kids. Including this year’s expansion, the number of poor children benefiting from full-day pre-k will reach 1500, from 750 three years ago. This has been my highest priority in early education policy.

I want to salute Council President Nancy Navarro and Council Education Committee Chair Craig Rice and for their work on early education, and the County Executive for including the funds in his budget. We are making progress, though we have more to do.

I’m particularly thrilled by our expansion of after school programs. I have worked hard to add programs every year to our budget. This year I was joined by Councilmembers Albornoz and Jawando as we added four new high poverty elementary schools to our comprehensive Excel Beyond the Bell program, bringing the total to 8 that we have added in 3 years.

Each of these programs serves 120 children, five days a week. With 8 schools, we will now reach nearly 1,000 elementary age children served every school day!

We also added 3 middle school programs and we created a new initiative called Skills for the Future to support youth STEM programs.

On transit, we were able to restore four of the seven routes proposed for reduced service in the Executive’s budget. I am disappointed that we could not restore all seven. Cutting bus service is sure to increase driving and works against our social equity and environmental goals.

I am however happy that RideOn and WMATA bus service will now be free to students, all the time. This should create a whole new generation of transit riders. Thanks Councilmember Evan Glass for your advocacy!

I am particularly grateful that my colleagues agreed to reject the Executive’s proposed cuts of $5 million to the bicycle and pedestrian “Priority Areas” program (BiPPA). This is a construction program that builds new safety infrastructure in areas of the County with older infrastructure. It has projects planned in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and along the Purple Line corridor. Thank you Transportation Chair Tom Hucker!

We also restored funding for new Metro station entrances in White Flint and Forest Glen, both badly needed to make these station areas more accessible. The Executive had proposed cutting them from the budget.

On the climate emergency, I want to thank my colleagues for supporting my proposal for $400,000 to begin a comprehensive climate change planning initiative.

And finally, we were able to restore crucial funding to our Parks system, which was slated for significant cuts in the executive’s budget. I want to thank Councilmember Friedson, our Council’s Lead for Parks, who pushed until we got it done.

You may wonder how the Council was able to fund these programs. The answer lies in changing certain priorities within the budget. We did not raise taxes. We did, however, make changes in other ways, including scaling back some compensation that was excessive.

The County Executive’s proposed 9% raises were not affordable. Scaling them back enabled the Council to add funding to many of these key priorities mentioned above. (Though my view is that the 7% raise the Council agreed to for many employees was still more than we can afford, and I opposed that proposal too).

So as for unfinished business: while we crafted a better budget, the County still has an underlying problem — we have a structural deficit. A structural deficit is when our revenues continually come in below our expenditures. It happened again this year. The budget that we passed is substantially funded by using reserves intended for retiree health expenses. That practice needs to end.

We need to fix our structural deficit by bringing our expenses in line with our revenues. The County Executive has talked about “right-sizing” County government, and Councilmembers have indicated support. That would help ensure that compensation does not grow faster than revenues, leaving room to fund critical priorities.

Going forward, we need to work together to make changes that will put us on a more sustainable path.

Thank you for reading!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Transit, safety, and street trees

Dear Resident:

If you care about transportation, energy and environmental issues, this update is for you.

Zooming out, I am sure you are following the Governor’s proposal for I-495 and I-270. In a letter to Secretary Pete Rahn that I organized with Transportation Committee Chairman Hucker and the County Executive, the County has insisted that the State stick within existing rights-of-way and add transit to the project, which would protect our neighborhoods and parks. We have our work cut out for us as this discussion continues.

We also call for expanded MARC service on the Brunswick Line, including the possibility of MARC-VRE through-running so County residents could have a fast, one-seat trip to job opportunities in Virginia and visa-versa.

Zooming in, last week the Council’s Transportation Committee, where I serve along with Chairman Tom Hucker and Councilmember Evan Glass, worked on the Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) budget for the upcoming year.

Following are our recommendations to the full Council. You can read the Council staff report here. Any new proposals will need to be funded by the full Council by reordering priorities within the overall budget. We will see where things end up and now is a great time to share your views at the Council.

Transit

Bus Service: Students Ride Free
The committee recommended that kids under 18 (or 18 year old students) should be able to board for free on RideOn and WMATA buses in the County during all hours of service. The initiative, championed by Councilmember Evan Glass and which I strongly support, will hopefully build a new generation of transit riders. I will never forget the freedom that the bus provided me when I was young and I want all kids to have that opportunity.

Currently, elementary and secondary school students can ride free from 2:00-8:00pm weekdays, a measure that I championed with Councilmember Navarro in my first term.

Rejecting cuts to RideOn
The County Executive recommended cutting service on RideOn Routes 26, 38, 49, 55, 57, 59, and 64. Cutting bus service is not the way to go. The Committee rejected those proposed cuts.

Bus Rapid Transit on Veirs Mill and 355
Earlier this year, I advocated for the acceleration of planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd, as I have for years. The Committee, however, has agreed to defer a decision on Veirs Mill BRT until MCDOT announces their recommended alternative for BRT on MD 355, which is expected early this summer. Should fiscal capacity not allow both, the fuller picture on MD 355 will allow the Committee to better weigh the relative priority of each corridor and decide which BRT route should go first.

Electric buses
To help us reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, the County has begun transitioning the RideOn bus fleet to fully electric buses. While the price difference between electric and diesel buses is narrowing, it is still quite substantial at about $350,000 per bus. Thanks to federal grants, 14 electric buses are on order and will be in service within the next year. I am committed to doing more, which is why I recommended an additional 5 electric buses. Note that plug-in buses would draw power from a 100% renewable County energy portfolio due to our County law.

Vision Zero – bicycle and pedestrian safety

Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAS)
The County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our safety goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I championed that allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County. To make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, I advocated to not only restore funding but to add new funding to those BiPPA programs. We also created specific BiPPAs for Wheaton, Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, and the East County stops of the Purple Line. Now we need to keep it all together in the final budget.

Pedestrian Safety Audits
At Councilmember Rice’s initiative, the Committee recommended adding $100,000 to MCDOT’s budget for pedestrian safety audits. These audits target specific “high-incident” areas and recommend improvements to make them safer. We need more audits.

Street Trees

The County Executive recommended cuts to various programs that plant and maintain trees as well as remove stumps; the Committee did not agree and instead increased funding in future years. Due to funding, the backlog for removing a stump is currently 17 years. That is unacceptable.

Mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities

A few years ago, the County imposed a small charge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to fund programs that provide transportation for those with disabilities and seniors of limited income. The charge has generated over $5 million for critical programs such as Call-n-Ride and Seniors Ride Free. One of our more challenging problems is ensuring that there are enough taxis and/or ride hailing vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. The Committee discussed ways to use funds from the charge to incentivize more wheelchair accessible vehicles in taxi fleets. We expect the County Executive to transmit an executive regulation in the coming weeks that addresses this issue.

We have a ways to go before we will know what we can afford to add into the final budget. But the Committee’s actions are the right calls.

Best regards

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Gaithersburg Book Festival
May 18, 2018

If you are a lover of great books and great writing, I highly encourage you to check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Meet authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Lulu Delacre, attend writing workshops for adults, teens, and kids, visit the Brew & Vine Cafe, and much much more. Best of all — entrance is free, parking is free, and it’s awesome all day long.

Pay raises we can afford

Dear Resident:

Today the Council took an initial vote on next year’s compensation for County employees, as proposed in the County Executive’s budget.

As part of our annual budget process, the County Executive is responsible for negotiating labor contracts with the unions. The Council then has the final responsibility of making sure that compensation is affordable.

While I support a raise for our employees, the County Executive’s proposal includes a 9.4% increase for many County employees in the MCGEO bargaining unit. (Increases for Fire and Rescue and Police officers are about 5.9%; teachers and school support personnel are scheduled to get 4.5% increases, on average.)

MCGEO members are the workers you will see driving a bus for long hours, inspecting rental housing, or providing health services. Like other public employees, they keep this county humming, and they deserve a raise.

But after careful consideration, I voted no on the 9.4% raise, as did my colleagues.

I cast that vote because I take my obligation seriously to look to the future as a steward of our tax dollars.

Under the County Executive’s agreements, total compensation would grow at nearly double the rate of county revenue. When compensation grows faster than revenue, it consumes more of the budget over time, leaving less for new initiatives.

I think you will agree that we must be careful to preserve funds for goals such as reducing MCPS class sizes, expanding pre-k and afterschool programs, improving transportation and fighting climate change, to name a few.

By comparison, Federal employees, who make up a large share of our taxpayers, are receiving increases this year that are less than half of that amount.

While there is no doubt that the Recession was tough on our employees, with pay freezes for several years, since then, they have received steady raises.

The County Executive’s proposed 9.4% raise is all the more difficult because it is plain now that our budget has a structural deficit. The only way the budget achieves balance is through an extraordinary measure — using revenues from last year identified for the retiree health benefit fund.

Like a large ship, the County’s budget changes direction slowly. I think this is an important moment to begin to “turn the ship” and express the Council’s strong desire to start taking steps to resolve our structural deficit.

The County Executive talked about our fiscal challenges on the campaign trail, as did Council candidates. The County Executive’s mantra was that as a leader trusted by the County unions, he could work with them to right-size County government — recognizing that it is more affordable to provide raises to a smaller workforce.

He’s right about that, and I hope he follows through. I am prepared to work with him.

The budget we received, however, adds 90 new positions, exacerbating the impact of compensation increases.

I share the County Executive’s stated desire to make County government more efficient, and I also strongly believe that we can do more to promote economic growth in the County. If we achieve major savings and our revenue growth accelerates from a hotter economy, then I absolutely believe that County employees should share in those gains.

But let’s not count the chickens before they hatch: we have to make the necessary changes before claiming savings.

I look forward to supporting a raise that we can fund over time — one that is more in line with the wage increases that other bargaining units and our taxpayers are experiencing.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

COMMISSION UPDATE
This past February, Councilmembers Jawando, Rice and I sponsored a resolution to establish the Remembrance and Reconciliation Commission to secure our County’s memorial from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to commemorate the three known lynchings in the County. The Commission will include 10 voting members of the public. If you’re interested in being involved as a member of the commission, you can apply online up until May 13, 2019.

Council Committee amends proposal for Accessory Dwelling Units

Recommended zoning changes for ADUs include limits on size and lot coverage

ROCKVILLE, Md., April 16, 2019—In January 2019, Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-01, Accessory Residential Uses—Accessory Apartments, to support county residents who want to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. An ADU is a separate housing unit on the same lot as the primary home. Examples include backyard cottages and basement apartments. These housing units are generally more affordable than existing housing stock and are often used as in-law suites or apartments for young people.

Following a Council public hearing as well as consideration by the Planning Board, the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee conducted three worksessions in March and April. PHED Chair Hans Riemer and Committee members Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando considered alternatives and amendments to the original proposal.

After making various changes, the Committee has concluded its work. The PHED Committee recommendations will go to the Council for review in mid-June with a vote expected this summer. The revisions advance the overall vision of allowing ADUs, while creating a proportional size standard to ensure that smaller properties will be limited to smaller detached ADUs.

PHED Chair Hans Riemer said,

“I am grateful for the substantial work my committee colleagues have devoted to this proposal. Accessory dwelling units are a housing option that should be available to homeowners in Montgomery County. They enable, for example, two generations of a family to live on one property — together, but with measured separation and privacy. We heard strong support for ADUs from both seniors and young families. As we look to the future of how families and communities are living, ADUs are a positive solution desired by many.

“The Committee recommendation responds to public feedback about the potential size of the units, among other issues. As we worked on the proposal we were mindful that homeowners can expand their homes already and frequently do. The Committee’s ADU proposal does not increase the amount of space a person can build on their lot. ADUs are subject to the same limits as additions — and in fact they are somewhat more restricted in smaller lot zones under this proposal.

“Careful research by our planning department has found that houses in the County with ADUs have no more children in the schools than those without ADUs. While some residents have voiced concerns about crowding of rental housing, county data does not support the assertion that properties with ADUs are a source of the problem.

“Separate research has also found that allowing ADUs will advance racial equity goals. I intend to follow up on that opportunity with additional measures.”

As amended ZTA 19-01 allows detached ADUs or backyard cottages in the R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones and removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU. Interior units would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size.

For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet, and 1,200 square feet would be the maximum size allowed. This would limit the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones

Parking requirements would remain the same as those found in existing Montgomery County law for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station. Generally, an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available on-street parking. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park (as requested by the City), there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

For more information about ZTA 19-01 as recommended by the PHED Committee, see the attached fact sheet or Council staff report.

Residents can also send their comments to the Council on this issue at
County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov or via social media using #MoCoTinyHouse.

Questions about the Committee recommendation may be directed to Council Attorney Jeffrey Zyontz at jeffrey.zyontz@montgomerycountymd.gov. Questions for Chair Riemer may be directed to Chief of Staff Ken Silverman at ken.silverman@montgomerycountymd.com.

Fact Sheet

Backyard cottages: Detached ADUs would be allowed in areas of the County that are zoned R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones. ZTA 19-01 removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU.

Unit size and lot coverage: The size of an ADU would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size. For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet. This limits the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones.

Parking: The current parking requirements for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station would remain the same. Generally, this means that an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available parking on the street. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

Distance restriction: The requirement that no ADU may be built within 300-500 feet of another ADU was removed.

Setbacks and height: Existing setback and height requirements for accessory structures were retained. This allows existing accessory structures including garages, guest houses (without a kitchen), offices, studios, and sheds. Setbacks for new ADUs would be the same as existing setbacks for accessory structures; however, an ADU that is 32 feet in length or shorter (i.e. container size) would not be required to have an increased setback.

Existing structures: Current law allows backyard structures like garages, guest houses, pool houses, offices, and sheds. In older neighborhoods, existing structures were often located closer to the lot line before modern zoning standards required setbacks. These could be converted to ADUs with some restrictions, if they were built legally at the time. For example, no new window would be allowed facing a neighboring property and adding height or expanding the footprint would trigger setback requirements matching new structures.

Additional rental prohibition: The proposal retains the prohibition on any other rentals on a property where an ADU is licensed.

Short-term rental prohibition: A property with an ADU license may not also have a short-term rental license (i.e., Airbnb) and an ADU cannot be used for short-term rentals.

Owner occupancy: As is the case under existing law, there is an ownership-occupancy requirement for a license.

Occupancy limit: The proposal retains the current ADU occupancy limit of two adults (and their children). New construction: The requirement that a new house cannot be constructed with an ADU already in it was removed, which would enable owners to design a new house with this feature.

Future Legislation
In addition to ZTA 19-01, the PHED Committee identified several additional provisions that will need to be modified in a subsequent bill amending the licensing section of the Montgomery County Code. These include:

  • The applicant for an ADU license must certify that they have reviewed their home owner association (HOA) rules and that an ADU is allowed by those rules.
  • Revise the ownership requirement in licensing to allow the owner to live in either the main home or the ADU.
  • Change the name of accessory apartments to accessory dwelling units to match the standard terminology in other jurisdictions.

Further Discussion
Many important issues emerged during the ADU discussion and will be presented for Committee discussion in the future. They include:

  • Racial equity analysis: An outreach plan will be developed to include low-income communities, so all residents are aware of the opportunity to build ADUs and ways to expand financing options for homeowners of all incomes.
  • Objection process: The current licensing law (unchanged by ZTA 19-01) allows a neighbor to object to an ADU based on a claim of insufficient parking, even if the applicant has met the parking requirement in the code. The hearing examiner can apply additional requirements or reject the application.
  • Enforcement staffing and budget: A review of staffing in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs will occur to make sure that applications are processed in an efficient manner and that inspections and enforcement measures are robust.
  • An evaluation will occur to review how fees will be used to support ADU code enforcement and outreach.
  • The Committee will also review if there needs to be a fee waiver provision for ADUs constructed for individuals who have disabilities.