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Friday, June 29, 2012

Montgomery County Moves Money to Community Banks

Today, the county government announced a new initiative to invest its bank deposits in county businesses. I worked with business leaders in the county to request this initiative and I applaud the County Executive and his expert finance team for launching it.

Montgomery County collects and spends more than $4 billion a year. As part of running the government, the county has to maintain large bank deposits through which it can manage payroll, vendor payments, debt service and other expenses. As of June 30, 2011, the county’s cash and cash equivalents totaled $626 million. Most of this money is deposited with PNC Bank, a regional bank that ably provides the financial services needed by the county, which are very demanding. But while PNC is a sound institution, it is not rooted in our local community. PNC loans our deposits far and wide, and we don’t know how much of that money comes back to the county to generate local economic growth and improve our quality of life.

We have an opportunity to change that by investing a portion of our deposits in community banks, which target their loans to small businesses in local communities. Montgomery County is home to a number of these banks, including Capital Bank, Congressional Bank, EagleBank, Monument Bank, OBA Bank, and more. The county government has announced a new program that would invest up to $10 million in county-headquartered community banks over the next year. In return, those banks would have to loan that money along with $10 million of their own money to county-headquartered small businesses. The banks would have to report on their loan activity and the number of jobs those loans create.

This will be a great test of the value of community banking for governments. If it works, we should expand the amount of money that we invest with the community banks. At the same time, we will be developing a valuable policy framework that we can leverage into our county’s RFP for our overall banking relationship, which comes up for bidding in two years. We may be able to structure the RFP in such a way as to further these goals.

This program shows a lot of promise for leveraging county assets into local job creation. I’m happy that the County Executive is moving forward with it and I will be watching to make sure it works.

Daily Journal

It was a busy week indeed! On Tuesday, I taped a political talk show with Charles Duffy, which featured a lot of tough issues around education funding, transportation, and economic development. That will be upcoming on Political Pulse, you can watch it on TV or online.

Tuesday’s council session featured a debate over a proposal that would reduce the incentive to develop around the county’s MARC stations. I opposed the provision and am looking for a more balanced alternative. I support the idea of establishing a parking district in Kensington, where the proposal would primary have its impact, and begin to establish a more rational parking strategy for that area based on what kind of community it wants to become over the long term. More work on this to come.

Also on Tuesday we got the news that the executive has launched a community banking initiative! I have been working on this issue and, along with business leaders, requested this action. Great move by Mr. Leggett.

Wednesday morning I met with Jarret Smith, a candidate for Takoma Park City Council. I was very impressed by his background and I am going to support his candidacy, I think he would bring a new and needed perspective to the City Council there. We talked about a lot of issues including municipal tax duplication, an issue that I have wrestled with a lot since coming to the council and that we are going to try to address more comprehensively this summer.

That afternoon I joined a planning meeting for Purple Line Now!, where a group of activists is working to press for funding. The state has failed to find a transportation funding fix and we are getting to the breaking point for decisions about the Purple Line in Montgomery County and Prince George’s as well as the Red Line in Baltimore City. The next legislative session is make-it-or-break-it.

That evening, I attended the launch of Obama for America in upper Montgomery County. It was an awesome event with a full house and lots of energy. Everybody participated in a phone bank, including myself. This is how we are going to win.

Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Air Quality Committee, of which I am a member. We are working on plans to continue reducing pollution in the environment and my job is to represent the county in making those decisions. I am new to this discussion at MWAQC but I’m enjoying the learning process, and I’m also enjoying the chance to serve on a committee chaired by DC Council Member Phil Mendelson. He’s knowledgeable and engaged in the details and really keeps the meetings going.

Meanwhile, I am continuing work on Digital Government. My first big project out of the gate is to move the ball forward on how the county collects, manages and publishes data. More on this soon….

Monday, June 25, 2012

Budget Challenges Continue

Our latest six-year fiscal plan shows a sobering reality for Montgomery County: our resources will continue to be constrained, and that will necessitate very careful management of our spending.

Since 2010, the county government has issued six-year fiscal plans.  The plans project revenues, mandatory expenditures (such as debt service, retiree health pre-funding and reserves) and the amounts left over for services. 

This practice allows us to see rough estimates over time for how much we will have to spend on schools, parks, police and fire protection and other county services.

Due to the economy’s slow recovery from the Great Recession, the county’s revenues are projected to rise by just 2.3-3.6% per year through 2018.  That is not very different from what inflation will probably be over that period.  At the same time, the state has mandated local spending increases for MCPS matching its growth in enrollment.  Next year, we are projected to increase our local contribution to MCPS by 1.5% as a result of state law.  If we do, according to today’s estimates, we will have to cut most of the rest of the government by 5.2%.

Over the long run, the answer to our budget problems is to increase our rate of economic growth to expand our tax base.  I’m committed to doing that.  But in the short run, we have to continue to manage our spending carefully and show restraint with our resources.  You can count on me to do exactly that.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Daily Journal (June 22, 2012): Your Council on Video

Today began with continued work on our digital strategy; my new staffer, Arthi Subramanian, is working hard to assemble our thoughts into a road-map that we can publish and help guide our actions in the future.

As part of that effort, I am working to find money to televise 100% of the county council’s “worksessions.” A worksession is essentially a committee meeting and, as my colleague Valerie Ervin remarked, it is where most of the decisions are made on most of the issues that come through the county council. The exception is issues that are more controversial and are not resolved in committee, and therefore have full council debate and amendments. The share of those issues is small compared to the items that get worked out in committee and then placed on the “consent agenda.”

Unfortunately, the council does not usually have time to discuss the items on the consent agenda, so significant policy issues are passed with a vote at the council but no discussion.

For this reason, the Government Operations Committee (of which I am a member along with Valerie Ervin and chair Nancy Navarro) decided this year that we should televise 100% of the committee worksessions – to promote transparency and also create a very useful video archive of county council deliberations. Today we only take video of about half of the worksessions (they are all recorded by audio).

Another recommendation I am working on is better using a powerful video tool that we have, called Granicus, to “tag” all of the content from the council deliberations. Already, you can come to the council website and search the video by keyword---the search results will pull up parts of council meetings and worksessions that used that word.

Want to see what every council member has said in a public meeting about public safety, transportation, etc? This tool will allow you to find the answers. Pretty handy, right? The purpose of getting 100% of the worksessions is to make that keyword or tagging tool as useful as possible, and then to make it a more prominent feature of the Council website. This is one important step in improving our legislative transparency.

If you have any thoughts about how these systems can be improved, please let me know.

Daily Journal (June 21, 2012): Child Care, Green Fleet, Glenstone

I met with Michelle Green, the new Executive Director of the Montgomery Child Care Association. Like many families in Montgomery County, my wife and I struggle with finding quality and affordable care for our children near our home. We’ve been wait-listed at numerous facilities and we spend a huge share of our income – more than our mortgage by far – on child care. I think a lot about how families struggle with this challenge and if there are problems that the county government can solve that would boost the availability of quality affordable care.

This is why I was especially excited to meet with the Montgomery Child Care Association today. Montgomery Child Care Association has 14 locations throughout the County and they look at the child’s needs without letting finances be a barrier to accessing their services. They supplement vouchers, including the County’s Working Parents Assistance program, provide an emergency family fund, and also provide summer care.

In addition to their services, we also talked about the demands for affordable child care, licensing versus accreditation, and coming up with measurable criteria for determining quality child care services. I’m interested to hear from child care providers about their needs and am also curious to hear from other families about their experiences with finding quality child care in their neighborhoods. I think we can do more to make facilities available where providers can locate and I am looking into that issue.

In the afternoon I had a T&E Committee meeting on the county’s use of alternative fuels for its vehicle fleet. We are working to find the optimal and affordable approach to managing our vehicles and fuel that will reduce our emissions. Our county has long been a leader in this area. We also asked our excellent Department of General Services to present some ideas about how we could use our fleet management services to leverage economic development (for example, electric vehicle charging stations located in commercial districts?) and to explore how to collect better data about the fleet in order to inform our management decisions.

Next I met with Mitchell Rales along with his brother Joshua Rales and their lawyer Barbara Sears, about a museum that Mitchell and his wife are building in Potomac, called Glenstone. Mr. Rales has purchased over 100 acres of land and removed this land from residential development, instead building a word class art, architecture and landscape museum. They’ve opened the museum to the public, receiving over 10,000 visitors so far (if you have not visited, plan a few hours for a visit and you’ll never forget the experience).

The Glenstone Foundation is proposing to expand the museum using best practices for environmental management, saving trees and reducing runoff significantly from the residential development levels that would have otherwise occurred on the land (60 homes and septic systems, for example). Their “impervious” level is very low, about 15%, which basically means that only 15% of the property would generate stormwater run-off. This is much lower than residential uses and it would set a tough benchmark for institutional uses to meet.

Finally, we heard from residents at a public hearing on Glenstones’ request for plumbing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Wheaton Public Safety Task Force

As a long-time supporter of redevelopment in Wheaton, I have worked to ensure our County government continues to make Wheaton an important priority. Today, I am pleased to announce that the county is considering launching a Wheaton Public Safety Task Force.

When it comes to Wheaton’s future, we envision a safe and vibrant town bustling with community activity. An integral component of this is the provision of public safety. I understand some of our community members are hesitant to frequent Wheaton due to concerns about crime. Although Wheaton has experienced positive changes since the Wheaton Public Safety Audit of 2004, I firmly believe there is more work to be done.

In early April, Councilmember Nancy Navarro and I, requested the Montgomery County Police Department to establish a Wheaton Public Safety Task Force. This task force would focus on the following goals:

1.) Enhance public safety in Wheaton’s Central Business District
2.) Solicit community concerns about public safety and prepare responses/recommendations
3.) Work alongside other County agencies to improve safety for downtown retail and residential activity
4.) Engage residents and business owners as part of ongoing public safety efforts
5.) Improve public perception of Wheaton’s Central Business District
6.) Review, update, and implement any remaining recommendations from the Wheaton Public Safety Audit of 2004.

Last week, we received a letter from MCPD’s Chief of Police, J. Thomas Manger, calling a public safety task force “a good starting point for us working together. We look forward to getting this important initiatiave going soon and please get in touch with me if you would like my office to provide you with more information. Stay tunes for announcements.