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Friday, December 19, 2014

Montgomery County Shows Value of Open Data with SpendingMontgomery Initiative

Rockville, Md., December 19, 2014---The Montgomery County Government has taken another giant step forward in financial transparency by releasing spendingMontgomery. Using open data, the new initiative will allow taxpayers to see like never before how the county spends money, who spends it, what it is spent on and with whom the county does business.

The link to spendingMontgomery is:

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, the Council's lead member for digital government and the chief sponsor of the legislation that created a County open data policy, praised spendingMontgomery.

"The new spendingMontgomery initiative is a groundbreaking application of the open data vision, and I applaud the County Executive and his team for bringing it forward," said Councilmember Riemer. "This is the kind of innovation in government services that I hoped would result from establishing both an open data policy and a strong collaboration with the Executive Branch to implement the vision. Budget and spending data is complex, but Montgomery County, in partnership with our vendor, Socrata, has managed to take the raw data and make it accessible, understandable and meaningful. This level of financial transparency will set a new standard for government organizations."

Some of the key highlights of spendingMontgomery include:
  • Guided view of all the payments made by the County
  • Ability to search payments based on category, amount, recipient and more
  • Graphs, charts and other visuals that make help make sense of data

"Every single check cut by the Department of Finance, save those omitted for safety and privacy concerns, is now at the public's fingertips," said Councilmember Riemer. "For example, if a resident wants to know how much money is being spent on office supplies, they can find it easily. Likewise, spendingMontgomery allows access to the raw data for more robust analysis by residents, budget analysts, advocacy groups and other interested parties. I couldn't be more pleased with the results of our open data initiative."

The tool is powered by raw data from dataMontgomery, an initiative called for Open Data Act of 2012, which was authored by Councilmember Riemer and approved unanimously by the County Council. The law requires all County departments to catalogue and publish their data sets on the County's open data web site, and the implementation plan describes the schedule for publishing.

Montgomery County has a $5 billion operating budget and a $4.45 billion capital budget for Fiscal Years 2015-20. The county recently launched an Open Budget tool, also piloted with Socrata, that revolutionizes how the government provides budget data, by moving entirely away from paper based budget documents and fully utilizing the power of open data and visualizations to present valuable information.

Councilmember Riemer's work on open data has been described by Open Innovation Magazine, published by Socrata, as "a model for county council members across the country."

The next step in the County's quest for greater financial transparency is contractsMontgomery, which will further reveal the County's financial relationships with contractors. ContractsMontgomery will likely be released in 2015.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Spurring Economic Development With High Speed Networks

County Executive Ike Leggett proposed several new initiatives to improve the County’s economic development efforts in his inauguration remarks delivered on Dec. 1. The initiatives would combine to launch a new County economic agenda that reflects on a number of the key positions I have long advocated for.

I heartily welcome the County Executive’s decision to focus on economic development and entrepreneurship. I have long been a believer that, in order to continue to thrive, Montgomery County must have an economic base that is more diverse and competitive for new and growing companies in our region.

Building on my “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks” initiative, County Executive Leggett is proposing creation of UltraMontgomery, which would be a high-speed fiber network that will connect Montgomery’s businesses and its academic and federal institutions.

I am extremely pleased that County Executive Leggett is moving forward with next-generation network infrastructure that will power economic growth and vitality in the County for years to come.

In August, I published the strategy paper “Moving Montgomery Forward with Gigabit Speed Networks” that addresses how new technology initiatives can drive growth in the local economy and leverage critical economic assets such as federal research labs. The plan led to me being named one of 16 finalists of the NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders) New Ideas Challenge. The New Ideas Challenge gives recognition to smart, pro-growth progressive solutions that are being developed and tested by state and local leaders across the country.

To spur economic development and job creation in key sectors of Montgomery County's economy, my white paper proposes building ultra high-speed, ultra reliable and ultra secure data networks in the County's centers of research and economic activity. These are our innovation districts, such as the future White Oak development, the Great Seneca Science Corridor, Bethesda and Silver Spring.

These districts are attractive for investment and job creation because of the presence of federal agencies, such as the FDA, NIST, NIH and NOAA. He also points out the County’s significant private sector strengths and its highly educated resident workforce base focused around the life sciences, earth sciences, biotech and cyber-security industries.

The proposed development in White Oak, next to FDA, will be a great proving ground for these concepts.

I also praise County Executive Leggett’s initiatives to streamline the development process—an area where I have has successfully championed a variety of reforms. In addition, I support the Executive’s proposal to create a new tech-sector incubator.

I will join a roundtable discussion with County Executive Leggett and County-based entrepreneurs on Monday, Dec. 8, at the tech-sector incubator 1776.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wayne Avenue and the Purple Line

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with neighborhood activists in the community surrounding Wayne Avenue. We discussed the anticipated construction of the Purple Line route, which, as you know, I strongly support.

As our council has reviewed various parts of the Purple Line route, we have requested changes from MTA and MC DOT. For example, many of us agreed that the plans for Lyttonsville needed to be improved, and we got a great result there.

I am concerned about plans for Wayne Avenue. Particularly, I am concerned that MTA and MC DOT are seeking to overbuild the new Wayne Avenue with more lanes than are necessary. For example, today, there are two lanes inbound to Silver Spring on Wayne Avenue, and they seem sufficient to handle the auto traffic. The new design would widen the existing four-lane road to effectively a six-lane road (by adding turn lanes and an additional transit-only lane) at the Dale Drive Station. The addition of left turn lanes at this intersection would result in negative consequences for pedestrian safety. This intersection is directly adjacent to both a middle school and an elementary school. While the signals would be timed to allow a 3.5-foot-per-second crossing speed for pedestrians only when other traffic along Wayne Avenue is stopped, we should forgo the turn lanes at this intersection in favor of building a pedestrian refuge on the west leg of the intersection, as well as providing for a better operation of the Purple Line.

A similar overbuilding of lanes at the Wayne Avenue/Fenton Street intersection, adjacent to the Silver Spring Library Station, would also have potential negative impacts on existing mature trees along Wayne Avenue.

Residents in the area are hopeful about the possibility of creating a “green street” or “boulevard” on Wayne Avenue. They want to optimally design and rebuild the infrastructure there with the planned Green Trail. This important opportunity to upgrade this street should be considered carefully by the County Council.

Accordingly, I am requesting that the T&E convene a worksession to review plans for the Purple Line alignment from the new Silver Spring Library to the Manchester Road Station. It would be helpful to consider the comments made by MNCPPC in their mandatory review about this segment, and to hear about neighborhood visions as well.

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.