April 1, 2010

Noyes Library patrons fear possible temporary closure

Raphael Cohen had his daughter, Talya, on his lap, carefully studying "Baby's Very First Animals Book" at the Noyes Library for Young Children in Kensington. Perhaps captivated by other toys, 16-month-old Talya crawled off in search of other stimulation.

"It's really my favorite place indoors to come with my daughter," Cohen, 26, said recently of the county's only library dedicated to children 8 and younger.

But Cohen, a Silver Spring resident, might soon have to find a new place for Talya's animal research. As part of his proposed fiscal 2011 budget, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has called for closing Noyes temporarily as the county attempts to fill a $779 million budget hole. The library could be closed for up to two years if Leggett's proposal is approved, according to Michele Sellars, a Montgomery County Public Libraries administrator. In addition to saving the county $202,000 per year -- the facility's annual operating budget -- the closure would allow the library system to reorganize the space and make it handicapped-accessible, Sellars said. Cost estimates for the changes were not available.

Leggett's proposed operating budget for the library system is $29.3 million, $8.5 million less than in the current fiscal year. The proposed cuts include 71 staff positions, along with cuts to programs and hours at the system's 20 libraries. Libraries in Gaithersburg and Olney also are scheduled to be closed for renovations in the budget.

SOURCE: Washington Post

March 31, 2010

Ervin, Trachtenberg spar over ‘berating' IG

Montgomery County Council Vice President Valerie Ervin accused Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg of purposefully "berating" the county's inspector general in a public setting. Ervin's comments came after a council committee meeting Thursday in which Trachtenberg questioned findings in Inspector General Thomas Daley's report on the county's Tuition Assistance Program. At issue was whether the county's ethics law had been violated. Some council members, including Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda, said Dagley's report implied it had been.

"Today I certainly made no personal effort to indict the inspector general, but I am well within my rights to ask some very hard questions," Trachtenberg said.

Dagley said after Thursday's committee meeting that he did not intend to imply a violation in his report. Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring questioned why Dagley, who was investigating wrongdoing, was the focus. Ervin said it likely was connected to Dagley's recent accusations that County Executive Isiah Leggett's office has obstructed his investigations.

SOURCE: Gazette

Following Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County could lose AAA

Concerned about preserving Montgomery's AAA bond rating, County Executive Isiah Leggett is offering several changes to his proposed budget to bolster the county's reserves. Leggett is seeking to increase an energy fee as early as this month and to move money into the county's reserve fund sooner than expected. Leggett's recent revisions were based on a warning from Fitch Ratings that the county's diminished reserve fund could affect its bond rating in the future, he wrote in a memo to the County Council on Thursday. Fitch, one of three major bond rating companies, kept the county's general obligation bond rating at AAA — considered the gold standard — according to a report also released Thursday. Fitch recently lowered Anne Arundel County's bond rating over concerns that mirror Montgomery County's budget situation.

Montgomery County's AAA bond rating, which it has held since 1973, is the highest available rating and is an indicator of the security of the county's financial debt, such as bonds. The rating, which is assessed annually, also determines the interest rate at which the county can borrow funds.

SOURCE: Gazette

March 30, 2010

OPINION: The real drag on Montgomery's budget

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and the County Council are facing serious budget problems that will dramatically impact the quality of life for county residents. Numerous articles, letters to the editor and statements by politicians point the budget-busting finger at the unions that represent our police, firefighters, teachers and other county workers.

As a recently retired Montgomery police officer, I find these accusations insulting to the dedicated employees of this county. No one from Mr. Leggett on down has seriously addressed the No. 1 budget problem: an ever-increasing population of illegal immigrants that is rapidly depleting our tax dollars and services. Mr. Leggett and the council’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for illegal aliens and their families has caused a huge influx of residents without “legal presence” in Montgomery County.

While these residents can no longer get a driver’s license, there are no restrictions on enrolling their children in schools, qualifying for in-county college tuition, obtaining medical, dental, mental health, prescription drug, housing, food and energy assistance, job opportunities and training, and more. Yes, there is a free lunch and a lot more in Montgomery. It’s time for Mr. Leggett and the County Council to address this major problem area of the budget. Why should dedicated employees and taxpayers of Montgomery County suffer because of the county’s ineffective approach to illegal immigration?
SOURCE: Washington Post

despite concerns, woodside skate spot could open by june

Last Friday, five local skaters met with a designer and staff from the county Department of Parks to discuss building a temporary skate spot at Woodside Park in Downtown Silver Spring. Everyone hopes it'll be open by this summer, but concerns remain about how other park users will interact with the facility. The proposed skate spot would be located on the north side of the park located at Georgia Avenue and Spring Street, in a clearing between the gym and the basketball courts. It's about 65 feet wide and 56 feet long, or about 4,000 square feet. It's next to an existing set of stairs that skaters already do tricks on, affectionately called Big Four. Plans for the skate spot, shown above, would contain several modular pieces like a pyramid, a "fun box" or low shelf, and a quarter-pipe that would be dropped into a concrete slab. The pieces would be arranged around a new, ornamental tree. Planners envision ledges around the tree for sitting and a short ramp for doing tricks on. They say the tree's a way to make the skate spot look more attractive.
SOURCE: Just Up The Pike

Montgomery council supports Wheaton Costco with gas station

Montgomery Council President Nancy Floreen said in a memo that five of the nine council members support a $4 million subsidy, which would help Costco Wholesale Corp. construct a $60 million, 232,000-square-foot store in the Westfield Wheaton Shopping Center, The Washington Post reported. The store, which would fill the space formerly occupied by the Hecht's department store, may also include a 16-pump gas station if a zoning amendment backed by County Executive Isiah Leggett is approved.
SOURCE: Washington Business Journal

March 29, 2010

Montgomery officers' gun purchases are subject of federal probe

A Montgomery County tuition-assistance program that allowed police and other law enforcement officials to purchase sharply discounted firearms for their own use has prompted a federal investigation, a senior county official said Thursday. There is "now an ongoing criminal investigation related to this program," said Timothy L. Firestine, Montgomery's chief administrative officer. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said federal authorities have shown interest in the gun transactions and how the firearms were valued.

Firestine discussed the investigation at a contentious session Thursday before members of the Montgomery County Council, who met to discuss a county inspector general's report. The report found that lax oversight had allowed 216 Montgomery law enforcement employees to purchase rifles or Glock semiautomatic pistols after taking expensive training classes paid for with county tuition-assistance money. Officers would pay $99 for a pistol that retailed for more than $500, and $350 for a rifle that retailed for more than $700, reported the inspector general, Thomas Dagley. Federal investigators appear to be interested in county police officer Aaron Bailey.

Charles Rand, Bailey's attorney, said his client received three federal subpoenas requesting information on companies that Bailey ran that were involved in firearms training. All three subpoenas indicated that the FBI was involved and sought corporate records and data, which were delivered to the U.S. attorney's office in Greenbelt in January, Rand said.

SOURCEWashington Post

March 28, 2010

Md. Senate passes budget that would shift cost of teacher pensions to counties

Maryland's Senate passed a $31.9 billion budget Wednesday that would shrink overall state spending and fundamentally shift responsibility for teacher retirement costs from the state to counties. The retirement-cost plan faces stiff resistance and is not expected to survive in the House of Delegates. But fiscal watchdogs and longtime lawmakers said the fact that the Senate passed the controversial change probably means it's now a matter of when, not if, Maryland counties will soon be responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars annually in teacher pension costs. Maryland pays nearly the entire cost of every teacher retirement plan in the state, although counties negotiate the teacher salaries that ultimately dictate the amount the state will have to pay in retirement costs. The counties make Social Security payments. In recent years, as Maryland has significantly increased funding for education and many counties have gained national attention for the quality of their classrooms, teacher pay has increased, and in turn, the state's long-term teacher pension costs have soared. SOURCE: Washington Post