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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Montgomery County Online Budget Tool Recognized as a National Model

County Councilmember Hans Riemer’s Open Data Initiative Shows Continued Progress Through Innovative Web Site

The Montgomery County Government has unveiled a new online budget tool that is already becoming a national model for financial and budget transparency. The budget tool is the result of a partnership between the County Government and Socrata, the company that provides the technology for Montgomery County’s open data web site.

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, the Council’s lead member for digital government and the chief sponsor of legislation to create a County open data initiative, praised the new tool that will help residents more easily find budget information.

“I am pleased to see Montgomery County working closely with Socrata to develop an innovative tool that will help residents better understand our County’s budget and finances and more effectively participate in the decisions our government makes,” he said. “We are working to replace the lengthy paper budget books and endless PDF files that have provided all of our budget information for years, with web-based tools that allow residents to see spending patterns and priorities over time, crunch their own numbers, and hold government more accountable.”

Some of the key highlights of the new budget tool include:
  • Allows residents to digitally navigate the current and past budgets with interactive graphs and charts.
  • Enhanced search capability and optimized for mobile, tablet and desktop.
  • Translatable into more than 90 languages.
  • Future modules of the tool will include spending and procurement data.
“It is a great step forward for Montgomery County to partner with Socrata and develop this pilot financial transparency tool,” Councilmember Riemer said. “This puts our County into a select category of local governments that are pushing the envelope of open government and civic technology and it is exactly the kind of initiative that I have envisioned as part of the Open Montgomery program. As the County Council’s Lead Member for Digital Government, I have used my budget oversight role of Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Finance to request a toolset for financial transparency. This new program is the result of those requests, and I am very excited by this great step forward.”

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 tool is powered by raw data from dataMontgomery, an initiative called for in the Open Data Act of 2012 (pdf), which was authored by Councilmember Riemer. This fall, the County Council will take up the Open Data Implementation Plan, mandated by the Act. 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.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Challenges with child care?

I am the proud parent of two boys, age six and three. As we all know, kids bring challenges, joy, love and even a bit of craziness now and then. Our kids have also brought my wife and me into contact with a patchwork system of child care services. And I can tell you from my personal experience: finding quality, affordable child care is a real challenge.

1. Care is expensive. The state reports the average cost of care for two children as $25,234 per year in our county -- more than two thousand dollars per month.

2. We don’t have enough care. In 2012, Montgomery County had 65,162 residents under the age of 5 in 2012 (Census). However, licensed child care providers in the county could only accept 26,719 children. That means we have 38,000 more children than licensed spaces.

3. We aren’t doing much about it. Out of 28 major school renovation or expansion projects in our school construction budget, only two are scheduled to include child care. More than 90% of these schools are not planning for space. We need to do better.

Child care has been a high priority for me during my time on the County Council. In 2012, I passed a law requiring the county to assess the feasibility of including child care in all of its new building projects, and I added an incentive for providing child care to our zoning code for new development.

In the current budget, I suggested to my colleagues that we require child care in every new school project unless it was found to be cost-prohibitive or impossible to fit in because of site conditions. And I have been working with child care providers to ensure fair procedures for bidding out public space to their programs.

But I know that we need to do more – much more. For that, I need your help. I know a lot of our residents grapple with these challenges. If you can spare a minute, please take my Survey on Child Care. I am looking to measure this problem and to gather ideas for how we can do better. And I know we can do better if we work together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Making my mark on the budget

Last week, the County Council passed a new budget for the year. As we steadily climb out of the Great Recession, we are beginning to restore critical services at a responsible pace.

My number one budget priority is education, and our new budget fully funds MCPS and Montgomery College. Our record funding amount of $2.28 billion will enable MCPS to reduce English and Math class sizes in the highest poverty schools and provide additional English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) staffing in 21 schools. We are also investing a record amount of local money on school construction. Our capital budget includes 27 new or expansion school projects all over the county.

These funding improvements are made in the context of a budget that overall is responsible. We have met or exceeded our reserve requirements, and the rate of growth is affordable (in fact, it is less than the rate of growth in personal income).

As in years past, I put my own stamp on our county priorities. Following are several initiatives that I successfully spearheaded with support from my colleagues at the County Council, largely through my work on the Transportation and Environment committee.

1. An Increase in the County's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): nearly 35,000 families in our county depend on the EITC to increase their incomes by reducing their tax burdens. The EITC was cut during the recession, but I passed legislation to restore it. The average eligible family will receive a $526 local tax credit next year, a record amount, adding to their Federal and State returns to provide a substantial increase in their incomes.

2. I also successfully worked to expand the county’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance service, which helps residents fill out their tax returns and claim credits owed to them like the EITC -- because you can’t claim the EITC if you don’t file taxes.

3. I created a new program in the capital budget that will help make Montgomery County more walkable and bikeable by funding bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the county’s more urbanized areas. The Department of Transportation will begin looking at improvements in Glenmont, Grosvenor, the Silver Spring CBD, Veirs Mill/Randolph and the Wheaton CBD and will then move on to the rest of the county.

4. I was stunned to learn that Montgomery County cannot expand bus service to meet our vision for transit because we are out of buses! I took action to add five more buses to our capital program. We discussed adding service to the 55 route from Germantown to Rockville as a high priority, among others.

5. One of the more important recommendations of our Night Time Economy Task Force was to improve the circulator services in our urban districts. So I took the lead to secure funding to expand and rethink the Silver Spring circulator, with a goal of creating a unified program across the county.

6. I also secured a funding increase for creating new natural surface trails in our parks -- I would like to see our county become more of a mecca for hikers and bikers.

7. Finally, the county will begin a new tree planting initiative that I am working with the County Executive to design. Seed funding for this program was created in this year's budget as well.

As you can see, I am working hard to fund public education and public transportation, our safety net, our environmental programs and more, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Please contact me if I can be of service.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The marvelous Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 17

Please join me for a special event as I introduce Brian Floca, the author of the marvelous book, Locomotive, which my wife Angela and I have read to our youngest son, Travis, more times than we can count. The story is superb and the artwork is unforgettable -- for which it deservedly won the 2014 Caldecott Medal (best picture book).

Floca will be among the dozens of nationally acclaimed and noteworthy authors at one of the region’s finest cultural events, the Gaithersburg Book Festival. There is food and a playground for families and books and activities for every interest, and we are expecting as many as 20,000 attendees. See more details on the festival below:

The 5th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival

Where: Gaithersburg City Hall, 31 S. Summit Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD 20877 (Parking and Directions info here)

  • Talks and signings from dozens of best-selling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors
  • Writing workshops for adults and children
  • Numerous children's activities, readings, and performances
  • More than 100 author and literary-industry exhibitors
  • On-site book sales by Politics & Prose Bookstore
Cost: FREE to attend

2012 Featured Author Sheela Chari signing for young fans