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Monday, November 10, 2014

Reducing property taxes for seniors

Seniors often have fixed incomes and rising expenses. About 9% of our seniors live in poverty. For some, property taxes are a significant burden on their small incomes.

I am pleased to share that the County Council unanimously passed my legislation that doubles the senior property tax credit.

Specifically, this bill will reduce the property tax liability for seniors whose property tax payments represent a large portion of their household’s income. In 2012, there were 3,063 recipients and the average recipient received $179.15 from the tax credit. Under this legislation, the average tax credit will double to $358.30. The additional tax credit will begin for the 2015 tax year, starting on or after July 1, 2015.

The age of eligibility will also change from 70 to 65.

While this may seem like a small amount, for our struggling seniors it could mean a lot.

Do you know someone who might be eligible for this tax credit? Please help us reach these vulnerable residents by sharing this information.

Learn more about this important tax credit, and find out how to qualify here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winter is coming

The Montgomery County Council enacted my bill that aims to better prepare the County for future snow seasons by creating a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan. I first introduced the bill last April, with support from Councilmember Nancy Navarro, after a particularly long and snowy winter that led to some sidewalks remaining buried in snow for long stretches at a time.

Below are the remarks I made at the Council session.

Last winter, a resident named Bill Smith sent me a photograph of a long stretch of sidewalk that was covered with ice, inside a central business district, several days after one of the ice storms that hit the county. Mr. Smith has a visual impairment and does not drive. He needed to use this sidewalk in order to get to the store. As we can all appreciate, walking over ice is very dangerous, and falls are common. By not ensuring that the adjacent property owner, a church, had cleared the sidewalk, Mr. Smith felt that the county was failing to meet the vital needs of its residents. It was hard to disagree, especially since we have a law on the books requiring property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks within 24 hours of a storm, an important law championed by Councilmember Phil Andrews.

I believe we can do better. Not only can we do better, but with the operational excellence of our DOT, I think we have an opportunity to lead the nation.

The goal of this bill is to make our county more walkable, in every season. This bill promotes public safety and mobility as well as resiliency---by making it safer for people to walk where they need to go, including to our transit corridors, after major storm events -- which increasingly seem like the new normal for our region.

The Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan is intended to improve how the County Government fulfills the vision of our law requiring snow removal.

Fundamentally, it requires the county to create a plan for sidewalk snow removal.

By requiring a plan, the bill will establish an iterative process for improving how the county handles sidewalk snow removal, where resources can be prioritized effectively and according to lessons learned.

The Plan ensures flexibility in implementation for the executive branch, because that is necessary for an operational issue such as sidewalk snow removal.

For this coming winter, PIO, DHCA and urban districts can improve their operations, while DOT creates the plan itself and implements the highest priority provisions of the plan according to available resources.

The executive branch can begin immediately with provisions of the law that call for communications plans and public education campaigns, including a website that helps residents engage on this issue.

The county can also begin to build the digital map of sidewalks in the County, which will be used in the future to improve the plan. This map is expected to take about three months to create, according to DOT, and will have many useful applications all year round.

The Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan will be published on the County website, and will provide details about how we handle access for priority areas including:

  1. Bus-stops and metro stations
  2. Near schools
  3. Along state highways (in discussion with DOT, DOT recommends beginning with primary and secondary arterials, which is preferable and includes most state highways)
  4. Along the highest priority pedestrian routes
  5. In urban districts
  6. on Hiker-biker trails
Due to resource limitations, the plan will not result in the removal of all snow from all public property in every location every time it snows. Instead, the plan is intended to help the county rationalize where it does spend money, and budget appropriately -- through the Council budget process -- for sidewalk snow removal.

We can do better, if we plan to do better. I thank Councilmember Navarro for co-sponsoring this legislation, and Councilmembers Berliner and Floreen for supporting it at committee.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Making Silver Spring even better

What would YOU like to experience in Downtown Silver Spring?

To discuss this topic, I am pleased to announce that the Montgomery County Planning Department, in partnership with my office and the Silver Spring Regional Center, will be hosting three design workshops focused on "placemaking" strategies for Downtown Silver Spring.


Over the past 10 years, county, state and private investment has transformed Downtown Silver Spring for the better. But there is still work to do. Do you have ideas for how we can make Silver Spring a better place to live? Attend our workshops and put your ideas on the table, hear what others have to say, and get involved!

This process is a new way of using our planning capacity, and I hope that it will succeed and become a model for other parts of the county.

What: WMATA Transit
Center Placemaking

Where: 8787 Georgia Ave
Silver Spring, MD 20910

When: Wednesday, October 15,
7:00 PM

RSVP for Workshop A

We have put together the following three workshops:

Workshop A – October 15, 2014 7-9pm, 8787 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring, MD
The session will examine enhancements such as temporary short-term green space and bike facilities as well as improving pedestrian experiences from the Transit Center to Downtown Silver Spring via Wayne Avenue.

Workshop B – October 29, 2014 5-7pm, Denizens Brewing Company
Focus on the community character of the Ripley District and the pedestrian experiences in the area to heighten community identity within the district. Creating a civic green space within the area will also be considered.

Workshop C – November 5, 2014 11am-1pm, TBD
We will examine the areas immediately surrounding the proposed Purple Line station in Downtown Silver Spring. These areas are slated for high density development. Participants will explore design options for the redevelopment of the Metro Plaza site (located on the northeast corner of East-West Highway and Colesville Road), a prominent gateway to Downtown Silver Spring from the District of Columbia. So that redevelopment can proceed in a manner best suited to this location, the workshop will address transit support structures and streetscape enhancements aimed at improving pedestrian connectivity.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Banning Expanded Polystyrene Foam in Montgomery County

On September 9, I introduced a bill (pdf) that that would ban the use and sale of certain forms of expanded polystyrene (sometimes called “Styrofoam,” although Styrofoam is just one brand of expanded foam) in the County.

With this ban, Montgomery County would join a growing list of other communities that have taken action to ban expanded polystyrene, including Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City.

My bill closely tracks legislation passed in Washington, DC, and signed by Mayor Gray in July, 2014. Our implementation timeline would match Washington’s, allowing for a smoother regional effort to raise awareness as well as helping to strengthen the local market for alternative products.

Specifically, the bill includes the following key provisions:
  • Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
  • Prohibits the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam food service products (bulk foam cups and plates) beginning on January 1, 2016.
  • Requires the use of compostable or recyclable food service products by the County, County Contractors, and food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2017.

This is important because foam, which is a petroleum-based plastic, is a meaningful share of the litter and pollution found in our watersheds. Over time, discarded foam breaks down into small pieces, but it does not completely dissolve and it is very hard to clean up. When it is ingested by marine life, it causes harm. For human health, the National Research Council has recently “upheld the listing of styrene as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.’”

Fortunately, there are reasonable alternatives to expanded foam.