May 22, 2010

Court gives police officer slap on wrist for false theft claim

An officer with the Prince George’s County Police Department will spend five years on probation and pay $15,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to a single count of insurance claim fraud. David Wayne Johnson, 43, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court May 18, according to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. The judge in the case imposed a five-year suspended sentence for the officer and he must also complete 100 hours of community service.

While off duty, Johnson reported his 2006 Toyota Tacoma truck stolen in Oxon Hill, Md., Sept. 3, 2006. He then filed a claim with Erie Insurance Group, claiming the vehicle had been stolen, and a month later, received $25,019 from the insurer. On Jan. 24, 2009, the truck was recovered in Cleveland, Ohio, and the man driving the vehicle, Joe Houston, told police that Johnson gave him $1,000 to get rid of the truck but he instead kept it. Johnson confirmed Houston’s account to the Maryland Insurance Administration’s Insurance Fraud Unit and Maryland State Police, indicating he filed a false claim with Erie. SOURCE: IFAwednews

Facebook CEO quitting time?

For Facebook CEO and President Mark Zuckerberg, life's been good. Since 2003, he's turned what the Harvard Crimson described as a campus "Hot or Not" website into the world's largest online social network, revolutionizing the way our generation communicates. Thanks to him, we now have new and invaluable ways to, as Entertainment Weekly put it, "stalk our exes" and "bug our friends." According to Microsoft, invaluable equals roughly $15 billion. Zuckerberg has made it from dorm room to boardroom - congratulations. But as we learned from Spider-Man with great power comes great responsibility, and sadly, Zuckerberg seems more intent upon exploiting the information Facebook users have given him than responsibly policing the network he's created. We've covered Facebook's previous issues with privacy, specifically the company's attempts to retain rights to anything and everything you've ever posted to your profile, even after an account deletion. But the company repealed their changes and people kept using their profiles.

Now, a year later, Facebook is caught in another perfect storm of privacy concerns and negative publicity. Their privacy policy now centers on the vaguely-defined issue of Connections. It's unclear what a Connection is, or rather, what a Connection isn't. What's known is that plenty of previously private personal information - education, interests, activities - fall under the Connection category. They stay indexed long after you delete them and according to Facebook's privacy policy, can be "imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed...without privacy limitations."

Not only does this have advocates up in arms, but everyday Facebook users will also be interested in a leaked IM conversation between Zuckerberg and a Harvard classmate, where he calls early users of the social network "dumb f*****". There's also the assertion by an unnamed Facebook employee that Zuckerberg doesn't believe in privacy. This time people are listening. Millions of people have joined groups protesting Facebook's cavalier attitude towards the protection of our personal information. "Delete facebook account" is now one of the top search queries on Google. Sites such as are urging users to quit the network en masse on May 31. Over 3,000 people have already committed.

Deleting your profile might be a little extreme, but as always, use your common sense when deciding what to publish - Facebook will still remember that you "Liked" Justin Bieber and the "Twilight" franchise when you're in your mid-forties. But also know that the tables will soon be turning. A new movie about Zuckerberg, titled "The Social Network" and helmed by "Fight Club" director David Fincher, is coming to theaters this fall and according to the Times Online, it depicts Facebook's founder as a "ruthless and untrustworthy sex maniac." We'll see how Zuckerburg reacts when it's his privacy being violated. SOURCE:Silver Chips

UNCAPPED: James Carville blames BP, Obama for oil spill

Compromise bus plan at University of Maryland

BREAKING NEWS: In an email sent to members of the University Senate today, UMD Vice President of Administrative Affairs Anne Wylie announced a compromise plan that will keep transit on Campus Drive for most of the summer. The plan cuts in half the length of the UMD administration’s original plan for a summer trial closure of the road to transit (from 8 weeks to 4). Cars will still be banned from the campus’ main street for the full 8 weeks beginning June 19th and running till August 13th. Most transit vehicles (Shuttle UM and WMATA) will be diverted to Regents Drive during the second half of that period starting July 17th (Read a Q & A from the University about the closure).

This represents a mild victory for advocates of sound transportation policy in College Park and across the region and is a clear response to the widespread criticism the administration received for their original plan. It remains to be seen whether the consultant that UMD will hire to analyze the effects of this closure will properly weigh the implications of this experiment on long-term ridership and the viability and convenience of transit in/thru College Park. RTCP believes the consultant should be hired on jointly by UMD and WMATA.

A firestorm erupted over UMD’s original plan that began at a May 4th SGA forum and culminated a week later with a letter written to USM Chancellor Brit Kirwan by a diverse coalition of concerned stakeholders. Not only does this new plan maintain transit access on Campus Drive for longer this summer, but it will more appropriately inform the Campus Master Plan Update process than the originally proposed eight-week transit closure. That update will be presented to the Board of Regents in September 2011 and is the whole impetus for this trial closure. Long term implementation of some form of a Campus Drive closure could begin as soon as 2011.

This outcome would not have been possible without SGA Director of Environmental Affair Joanna Calabrese (and the SGA Legislature), the Graduate Student Government, the Residence Halls Association, County Councilmember Eric Olson, the College Park City Council, Purple Line NOW. All worked in close partnership with Rethink College Park, which provided coordination and technical assistance. In the Q & A sent out by Dr. Wylie, she presents two distinct “visions” for Campus Drive; one of which she believes will emerge after the conclusion of the summer trial and during the Facilities Master Plan Update process. The first “Vision” is her and outgoing UMD President CD Mote’s myopic long-term vision of Campus Drive as a “pedestrian walking mall”…. one that “does away with streets and sidewalks.” The second is the Vision held by every transit expert, smart growth advocate and stakeholder group that has weighed in on this issue. Wylie casts it in a rather unappealing light. Note how Vision 1 is 160% longer than Vision 2…. also take note of how Dr. Wylie now frames the Purple Line alignment in Vision 2:

Vision 1
This plan would restrict access to Campus Drive between the M Circle and Cole Field House in order to create a beautiful, nearly traffic-free pedestrian mall in the center of campus where pedestrians and cyclists are safe from vehicular traffic and can travel and relax unencumbered by cars and buses. The University of Maryland has envisioned an automobile-free central plaza or mall along what is now Campus Drive for decades in order to create something that really doesn’t exist now: a true “campus center.” Creating such a space focuses on a pedestrian-friendly design that does away with streets and sidewalks. This vision calls for nothing less than a change in the environment of what will become the true central heart of campus. Imagine being able to walk, meet, sit, surf the net, enjoy entertainment and much more in a space that is virtually traffic-free and environmentally friendly.

Of course, there would still be traffic on campus — it would simply be diverted around this core mall area. As proposed, this pedestrian-friendly mall would flow into a plaza from Cole Field House, across to the Health Center and Stamp Student Union, down to Hornbake Plaza, across to the new teaching center, and then end at the M Circle.

Vision 2 This plan would dedicate Campus Drive as a centralized mass transit corridor, facilitating the movement of the Shuttle-UM buses and other forms of public transportation through the campus by limiting access for private vehicles. This second vision — that of a transportation corridor — reflects the reality that Campus Drive is the central road for campus commuters and a traffic cut-through for the larger community traveling to and from Route 1 and Adelphi Road. It is the path taken by Metro buses, and has been suggested as one possible alignment for the Purple Line. In giving access only to public transportation and the university’s shuttle buses, the “campus center” would have more of the flavor of an urban street. Restricting private vehicles may encourage the use of public transportation. SOURCE: Rethinking College Park

May 21, 2010

Newborn Lion dies at National zoo

Keepers at the National Zoo are mourning the death of their first new African lion cub in more than 20 years. The cub died days after it was born. The mother, Nababiep, gave birth Tuesday. Craig Saffoe, an interim curator at the Zoo, says the cub died of pneumonia last night.

"The animal ingested the top of a haygrass seed that has a little bit of [a] spiky tip to it," he says, "and that migrated into the lungs."

Saffoe says Zoos often use haygrass as bedding. He calls the death a "one-in-a-million" fluke, but says "we want to make sure we're reducing that if possible. So we will likely continue some form of a hay bedding. I just don't know if it will be the same grass hay we're using now." The cub was Naba's first. Saffoe says it isn't fair to say whether she is "grieving."

"When we get in to trying to think for animals, or trying to apply human emotions to animals, it's a very slippery slope," he says. "So what we do as animal husbandry managers is we react to what the animals' needs are."

That's why they've reunited Nababiep with her sister, Shera. Saffoe says he hopes the pair soon will rejoin Luke, the male of the pride. SOURCE: WAMU

Bike Commuters get incentives

For all of you who don a helmet and bike to work each morning, could be your employer is also one of the many companies like Toole Design Group, who are using incentive programmes to encourage more employees to bike to work. Friday is Bike to Work Day, a national event encouraging bicycle safety and awareness, however, cycling enthusiasts hope the idea will provide an incentive to many people to participate and bike to work. The 35 relief stations scattered across the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia will help the expected 8,500 riders complete their trips.

Organizer Doug Franklin hopes the truly regional effort, will empower and encourage cyclists, including a lot of new ones who have never done it before, to do so now. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments reports, around 1% of residents in the area already cycle to work, with communities encouraging more people ride their bicycles as a main mode of transport. A financial-incentive programme was begun by the federal government in 2008, administered through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to encourage people to cycle to work. A tax benefit will be given to companies providing a $20 per month subsidy to their employees, to buy, repair or store their bicycles.

The city launched its first bike-share programme in the District in 2008, and plans to expand the programme from 10 to a 100 bike stations by December. According to Jim Sebastian, responsible for managing the city’s bicycle programme and who cycles to work thrice a week, 3% of D. C. residents cycle to work. He says, in a bid to reduce the number of people who drive to work, they are doing their own marketing to encourage people to cycle or walk.

The District’s network of 45 miles of bicycle lanes will be expanded 80 miles across the city, with bicycle lanes expected to be opened within the next few weeks, along the centre of Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to the Capitol. Alexandria’s City Council has ear-marked $7 million over the next 10 years for pedestrian and bicycle safety, including bike lanes, markings and trails. Montgomery County, by encouraging more employers and developers to provide bike amenities, is also promoting bicycling in places like White Flint, Takoma Park and Bethesda.

Toole, with around 25 employees, initiated a bike incentive programme four years ago, with 20% of its staff members cycling to work regularly. Every six months, Toole employees who cycle to work receive up to $200 in gift cards. While, some use them to buy more bike equipment, Amazon and iTunes gift cards are also popular among employees.

To reduce their employee’s carbon footprint, the American Society of Landscape Architects in Northwest Washington, offers the IRS backed reimbursement to its 43 employees, along with an extra $50 a year, showers and a courtyard with bike racks. Over 100 employees participate in the bike-to-work programme at the law firm Perkins Coie LLP of the District, which also participates in the federal reimbursement programme, including providing bicycle pumps, tools and bicycle storage for its 1,800 employees across the country. SOURCE: Visit Bulgaria

Montgomery Council gives Leggett "99% of everything we requested"

After spending weeks grinding through a review of painful cuts and listening to pleas from a variety of groups for a reprieve, the Montgomery County Council on Thursday endorsed the final pieces of a $4.3 billion budget that cuts overall spending for the first time in decades and includes a plan that would also furlough police officers and firefighters. Now they face a pair of new tests. On Monday, a pair of council members will join a county delegation headed to New York City to try to convince financial analysts that Montgomery has the wherewithal and discipline to improve its fiscal standing into the future. And in the coming months, county officials will try to convince Montgomery residents of the same thing.

"We cannot be all things to all people. If we haven't gotten this message yet, after all we've been through, shame on us," said council member George Leventhal (D-At Large). The county, added council member Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), has "laid the groundwork for getting to the place where our fiscal house is in order, where we do have a sustainable budget."

Montgomery's officials are heading to Wall Street with news that the just-minted budget will increase the county's reserves, and that the council on Thursday endorsed a range of modest salary cuts for about 10,000 employees after many years of significant raises.

"Those are tough decisions to be making in a strong labor environment in an election year," said Timothy Firestine, County Executive Isiah Leggett's chief administrative officer. "They are going to take any actions they have to sustain us fiscally" after a severe recession.

The budget endorsed Thursday will raise reserves and the county's rainy day fund to 6 percent of major governmental revenue. Moody's bond rating agency last month put the county on a watch list for possible downgrade, in part because Montgomery leaned heavily on its reserves as it hobbled through the current fiscal year. Losing its coveted and cost-reducing Aaa rating would be expensive and humiliating for a wealthy county with ambitious plans to borrow money to build schools and other government projects.

The council also adjusted Leggett's plan to furlough employees, making it progressive. Those earning less than $50,000 will have three unpaid days off. Those earning $50,000 to $100,000 will have five furlough days. Those earning more than $100,000 will have eight. Police and firefighters are now also covered, along with general government employees. In all, those furloughs would save $10.7 million. Employees at Montgomery College, and those at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will have furloughs as well, but public schools officials say they will not. County officials are also recommending that Montgomery adopt a long-term goal of 10 percent reserves, according to a draft of the proposal being taken to New York. Officials said it could take as long as 10 years to get there. The budget endorsed in a straw poll Thursday must still be finalized next Thursday. It makes significant cuts across county government, including libraries, health and human services and recreation programs.

"The council has adopted about 99 percent of everything we requested," Leggett said. "We made a strong recommendation, they accepted it, and I think that speaks very well."

The council did add or restore about $15 million outlined on their "reconciliation" list. They restored some funds to Montgomery Cares, a health program for the uninsured. Payments to many human-services nonprofit groups will drop 5 percent rather than 7 percent. Cuts in tax breaks for the poor will be moderated.

"I stay focused on the little people and those who assist them," said council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large). She said her son Walter is a recovering schizophrenic, and time on a visit with him reminded her of the need to have sympathy along with fiscal toughness. "The Walters of the world depend on both our compassion and our wisdom."SOURCE: Washington Post

DC Metro police, Montgomery police involved in protest

The family of Greg Baer, Bank of America executive, is located in a jurisdiction protected by the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD), which responded promptly to a disturbance call from his neighborhood last weekend. According to Corporal Dan Friz, an MCPD spokesperson in Rockville, Maryland, the department received a disturbance call from one of Baer’s neighbors at 4:10 pm last Sunday. Four MCPD units arrived at Baer’s Greenville Rd. address at 4:15 pm. At least two Metropolitan Police Department units from the nearby District of Columbia were already at the scene when they arrived.

Why? Because police cars attached to the Washington MPD’s Civil Disturbance Unit had escorted the SEIU protesters’ buses to Baer’s home. Such cross-jurisdictional escort activity is not uncommon for both departments according to Friz and Metro Police Department spokesperson Officer Eric Frost. Still, the District police did not inform their colleagues of what was about to happen in one of their Maryland neighborhoods. The Maryland officers reported there were approximately 500 protesters on and near the front lawn of Baer’s house. Montgomery County was not given a “heads-up” concerning the planned protest. Although a protest permit is technically required in Montgomery County, in practice no citation is issued if the protestors disperse when requested to do so by the owner of the private property they occupy.

The primary role of the Washington cops in this event was to protect the protesters. The D.C. officers had no authority to act to disperse the protesters even had the homeowner been present and asked them to vacate the private property. The event ended as a “dash one”– no arrests, no citations – according to Friz. The Montgomery County units left the scene at 5:29 pm.

According to Friz, “members of protest groups know how far to push the envelope” and wait for “the key words” – for example, the property owner’s request that they leave – in order to avoid arrests or citations. For example, protesters are required to keep on the move, since a standing protest violates a Montgomery County code. And, while photographs clearly suggest that many of the SEIU protesters were stationary, the District police don’t have any authority to enforce Montgomery County laws. So, let’s sum this up: A caravan of SEIU buses receive a Metropolitan (D.C.) Police Department escort to a private home in Maryland where the protesters, from all appearances, violate Montgomery County law by engaging in a stationary protest. The Montgomery County police were not informed by their cross-jurisdictional colleagues of the impending, unusually large protest pending in their jurisdiction.

What’s up with that? Had the mob decided to torch the house, the D.C. police would not have been authorized to intervene. Not their jurisdiction. They’re just escorts. Meanwhile, a teenage boy is home alone, frightened by what’s happening outside his front door. There’s something very wrong with this picture. SOURCE: Big Journalism

Santos, Postal listed in Top 50 Corporate Philanthropists 2009

Santos, Postal and Company P.C. (, a C.P.A. and Business Advisory Firm headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, was once again listed as one of the Top 50 Corporate Philanthropists in 2009, as ranked by the Washington Business Journal. Charles Postal, Managing Partner of the Firm, stated “giving back to the community we do business in is an important part of our corporate culture. We not only donated money, but our staff volunteered for numerous charitable endeavors too”. SantosPostal is located at 11 North Washington Street, Rockville, Maryland. Phone 240-499-2040.

VIDEO: Basketball shot made from plane!

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Harford County Executive Candidate Stephen Wright Killed in Single-Car Bel Air Crash

Stephen Wright, president of the Route 40 Republican Club and a candidate for Harford County Executive in this fall’s election, was killed in a single-car crash on Wheel Road in Bel Air Thursday evening, according to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. Wright, 50, of Churchville, was the sole occupant of a 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee which struck a utility pole along the 500 block of Wheel Road in Bel Air, according to Harford County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Monica Worrell. A preliminary investigation by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit determined that Wright’s vehicle was traveling southbound on Wheel Road at “a normal rate of speed,” when it went off the right shoulder of the road and struck the pole.

The vehicle’s driver and passenger side airbags deployed, according to the Sheriff’s Office, but “there were no indications the driver was wearing a seatbelt.”

According to Worrell, a 911 call was received at 6:53 p.m., and witnesses began CPR on the scene. Wright was transported from the scene to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center at approximately 7:30 p.m., where he was pronounced dead.

On his Facebook page, “Wright for Harford County Executive,” Wright wrote, “I will be attending the Harford County Right to Life Meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m., at the Abingdon Public Library located at 2510 Tollgate Road, Abingdon, MD. I am pro life, because, in particularly, of the uniqueness, sanctity and value of human life.” It was unclear whether Wright was en route to or from the event. He contacted The Dagger at 6:39 p.m., minutes before the accident, and left a message in which said he had to “duck into a meeting” at 6:45 p.m.

Traffic was detoured on Wheel Road between Laurel Bush Road and Patterson Mill Road for approximately two hours while repairs were made to the utility pole. The office of County Executive David Craig was informed of the situation Thursday evening, and Craig was expected to issue a statement Friday morning, according to his chief of staff, Aaron Tomarchio. Republican Central Committee of Harford County Chairwoman Kim Wagner praised Wright’s dedication to the party. “I’m absolutely stunned,” Wagner said. “Steve was a very hard worker for the party, he had very strong beliefs and he was a conservative through and through. He was someone who followed through on his beliefs, he’s got a lovely family, I’m going to pray for them tonight.”

County Councilman Dick Slutzky said he had known Wright for more than 25 years. ““I’m sad for [his wife] Krista, his children and his family,” Slutzky said. “It’s a shock, it’s incredible.” SOURCE: The Dagger

Fire fighters and public anger

The immediate future doesn't look bright for firefighters across the nation. Yesterday afternoon several cities and counties, including Montgomery County, Maryland, announced they were going to take measures to reduce their budgets by eliminating firefighter positions or using unpaid furloughs. One of the issues is how public service workers are being perceived. Many people seem to be upset over pensions and what some call a sense of entitlement by government workers, including public safety. Public safety is a far cry from workers in government who never place their lives on the line. Yet, to the dismay of firefighters, some in the public are angry at all who work for government.

One item passed around from The American Thinker states:

Public "servants" are a different problem. They live in their own insulated world, divorced from the realities of markets. For too many years they have only seen their numbers expand and salaries increase. To believe that either group will accept what's coming graciously is the height of naiveté.

ONE BRANCH: Montgomery County Council rubber stamps Executive's budget

The County Council voted to approve a new operating budget today by 7-2, with Council Members Phil Andrews and Mike Knapp dissenting. Following is the council's press release. Montgomery County Council Agrees to $4.3 Billion Total Operating Budget for FY11. 4.5 Percent Decrease for All-Agencies Budget Is First Since Adoption of County Charter in 1968. Tax-Supported Budget of $3.66 Billion Is 4.9 Percent Decrease; Approximately 450 County Government Positions Eliminated. Schools, Public Safety, ‘Safety Net’ Are Priorities; Property Tax Stays Within Charter Limit; $692 Tax Credit for Homeowners

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 20, 2010—In an austere year caused by the deep recession, the Montgomery County Council today approved a $4.3 billion total County operating budget for Fiscal Year 2011, which begins July 1. The budget is 4.5 percent less than the approved budget for FY10, marking the first decrease in a total budget since the adoption of the current County Charter in 1968. Since March 15, when County Executive Isiah Leggett presented his recommended budget, the Council has worked to achieve equity in the allocation of limited funds. On Wednesday, the Council unanimously agreed to reduce the budget for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) by $24.4 million, 1.3 percent less than proposed by the Executive. These funds will be used to mitigate deep cuts in the safety net and other vital services, including Montgomery College.

At today’s meeting, the Council voted to restore a number of significant items to the budget, including key additions that address health and human services needs. Items added today include additional funding for the Montgomery Cares, the Patient Navigator program, MCPS school health room aides, residential treatment providers, the Community Vision program, Parent Resource Centers, residential treatment provider supplements and the Mental Health Association suicide hotline. Funds also were restored so that contracts for health services would be reduced by 5 percent, instead of the 7 percent recommended by the Executive.

The budget re-establishes the reserve at 6 percent, which should help maintain the County’s AAA bond rating. The reserve was reduced to 5 percent in FY10. The overall tax-supported budget of $3.66 billion reflects a decrease of $190.3 million from the FY10 adopted budget, a decrease of 4.9 percent. This is the second consecutive year the tax-supported portion of the budget has decreased.

“In this austere budget year, we are all in this together,” said Council President Nancy Floreen. “Despite a record drop in revenue, we have worked to develop a budget that is fair – fair to our residents who rely on County services, fair to taxpayers and fair to employees. We have also increased our reserve, and we are working on a balanced fiscal plan for the next six years. In allocating sharply reduced resources, we have given top priority to our school children – the MCPS share of total agency spending is 57 percent, up from 55 percent in FY10 and over the last decade – as well as Montgomery College, public safety and the safety net.”

The Council also approved the total Fiscal Years 2011-16 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) of $3.9 billion. The six-year CIP plan for all agencies (excluding the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission) addresses major projects. The approved CIP is an increase of $167 million (4.5 percent) from the previous CIP. The $3.86 billion for the tax-supported part of the CIP is an increase of $197.5 billion (5.4 percent) from the previous CIP. The CIP for Montgomery County Public Schools increased by about 10 percent, including funds for 28 new schools and additions (including 11 projects new to this CIP).

In a budget year complicated by the national and regional economic downturn, the Council’s budget protects core services and “safety net” programs, but does not exceed the County’s Charter Limit on property tax revenue. The budget includes a $692 property tax credit for owner-occupants of principal residences. It freezes pay for employees of County government, Montgomery College, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and MCPS. Employees at all agencies except MCPS will be asked to take unpaid furlough days in FY11. Furloughs for County Government employees, including elected officials, will be progressive: three days for employees whose salaries are less than $50,000; five days for those with salaries of $50,000 to $100,000; and eight days for those with salaries greater than $100,000.

The budget includes a plan to consolidate recreation facility and athletic field permitting, class/program registration and additional recreation programs into County Government from the Department of Parks to create a more streamlined and user-friendly system for County residents. The Council believes this consolidation, over time, will lead to budget savings and operational efficiencies.

Councilmember statements on the budget agreement:

Councilmember Phil Andrews: “Although I strongly support the Council's decisions to eliminate pay increases and furlough employees to minimize layoffs, I cannot vote for an operating budget that most unwisely relies on revenues from ambulance fees that will likely be rejected on referendum and that hikes energy taxes on homeowners by 150 percent."

Councilmember Roger Berliner: “In the most difficult and painful year in our County’s history, our task was to allocate pain equitably. If we are measured by that standard, I believe we performed well in respect to our responsibility.”

Councilmember Marc Elrich: “Today the Council ended an extraordinarily difficult budget process in which we reduced spending from last year’s budget by 4.5 percent. This could not have been done without the very close collaboration of my colleagues. But most importantly we had the cooperation of the County employee unions who gave up cost of living raises, length of service step increases and will get an average of five furlough days. In addition, 450 County employees will lose their jobs. Even with these sacrifices, we have been forced to make major cuts to county services while raising new revenues to address the challenges of an almost $1 billion deficit. I will continue to push efforts to reorganize and restructure County Government because our long-term sustainability depends on our ability to achieve all possible efficiencies.”

Council Vice President Valerie Ervin: "As a former member or the Board of Education and Chair of the Council's Education Committee, I know there has been a lot of anxiety about the additional $24.4 million in cuts to the school system; however, I am confident that this reduction will not impact the classroom. We always put children first, and this Council has protected the services that children need each day. In addition to providing a top-notch education, many children and their families rely on Montgomery County for health care, housing assistance, and transportation. We are partners with the Board of Education, and we must work together to repair any damage to our working relationship that has occurred over the last several weeks. The future of our County depends upon our leadership and this collaboration."

Councilmember Mike Knapp: “While this budget is significantly more responsive to the needs of our residents than the one proposed by the County Executive, it still relies too much on tax increases, tenuous assumptions and one-time solutions—which all but guarantees that we will be addressing many of the same issues a year from now. I appreciate the work that has gone into this budget, but regret that, ultimately, I cannot support it.”

Councilmember George Leventhal: “In his 1996 State of the Union message, President Bill Clinton said, ‘The era of big government is over.’ Many of his liberal supporters were dismayed, but we face a similar moment in Montgomery County today. President Clinton said further, ‘The era of big government is over. But we can't go back to the era of fending for yourself. We have to go forward to the era of working together as a community, as a team, as one America, with all of us reaching across these lines that divide us—the division, the discrimination, the rancor—we have to reach across it to find common ground. We have got to work together if we want America to work.’ In Montgomery County today, we know we must reorient our expectations and reinvent county government so that our taxpayers can afford it. As we look ahead to the years to come when we must develop a long-range plan for economic sustainability, I am optimistic – just as President Clinton was -- that our future will be bright if we work together.”

Councilmember Nancy Navarro: “In order to create this budget, my colleagues and I had to make many difficult decisions and some important changes to the County Executive’s proposed budget. Recognizing the importance of our public school system, we approved a final budget for Montgomery County Public Schools that amounted to only a 1.3 percent reduction from its FY10 budget, while increasing its capital budget by 10 percent. I am confident that our School Board and Superintendent Jerry Weast will institute any necessary reductions in a manner that minimizes any impact on schoolchildren. My two daughters are MCPS students and I served on the Board for five years, so I know that their education is in good hands.”

Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg: "Serving on the Montgomery County Council has been a continuation of my life's work to represent our most vulnerable citizens and to give them a voice in policy and budget decisions. As I've often stated, they are not strangers to us, for they are the neighbors and friends and sometimes family members who ride our buses, receive a free meal at the senior center, or seek shelter and refuge in time of crisis. In this year's budget, the Council has once again demonstrated its commitment to putting people first. Despite the reversal of economic fortune, we have prioritized the needs of our citizens and there is no wiser investment in our future than that. In the months ahead, the Council will need to define a sustainable fiscal plan; an improved reserve fund policy; a collaborative effort to address our very large compensation and benefit obligations; and a constructive approach in consolidating and restructuring our County service delivery. We must succeed in these efforts for our residents deserve nothing less."

Key Council Actions Regarding FY 2011 Montgomery County Operating Budget:

§ Increased the July 2010 candidate class from 30 to 36 at a cost of $278,100. This would allow those who have already received job offers the opportunity to move forward in the hiring process, since the January 2011 class has been abolished.
§ Restored $126,920 to retain the four Police satellite facilities at Olney, Piney Branch, East County and Clopper Road

Montgomery College
§ Restored $2.5 million for enrollment growth and $1.9 million for operation of new facilities

Health and Human Services
§ Restored $112,000 for the Patient Navigator program
§ Restored $462,340 for the Montgomery Cares program, allowing for an additional 70,000 primary care visits retaining the current reimbursement rate of $62
§ Restored $183,300 for Fund 3 Eligibility Screeners
§ Increased funding $70,000 for Respite Care
§ Retored $1,541,340 for School Health Room Aides
§ Restored $66,530 for residential treatment providers
§ Restored $218,790 for the Community Vision program
§ Restored $48,120 for Parent Resource Centers
§ Provided $487,010 so contracts to health providers would be reduced by 5 percent instead of 7 percent
§ Provided $165,000 so contracts for development disability service providers would be reduced by 5 percent instead of 7 percent
§ Provided $20,250 so contracts for residential treatment provider supplements would be reduced by 5 percent instead of 7 percent
§ Restored $25,000 for the Mental Health Association’s suicide hotline

Children Youth and Families
· $21.4 million for Child Welfare Services
· $15 million for income supports for low-income families and individuals in need of food, medical and other assistance
· $4.1 million for services that support youth involved in or at risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system or in need of substance abuse of other services.
· $4.8 million for Linkages to Learning
· $3.8 million for Child Care Subsidies
· $3.5 million for evaluation, assessment, and early intervention services to families with children under age three when there is a concern about development
· $3.1 million for services focused on increasing the quality early care and education programs available to young children
· $1.8 million for positive youth development and gang prevention and intervention for youth at risk of joining or involved in gangs

Arts and Humanities
§ Provided $500,000 for Olney Theatre, available if the theatre meets certain conditions

Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
· Voted to consolidate recreation facility and athletic field permitting, class/program registration, and additional recreation programs into County Government from the Department of Parks to create a more streamlined and user-friendly system for County residents. The Council believes this consolidation, over time, will lead to budget savings and operational efficiencies.
· Voted to consolidate the Park Police and the Montgomery County Police communications and dispatch operations
· Restored 95,000 for consulting services for Route 29 Corridor Plan
· Restored $81,900 for the deer management program

Community Grants
§ Approved $968,300 (approximately half of the $1,845,800 approved for Council grants in FY10) for a total of 33 grants to nonprofit organizations to support a variety of programs and services, including food, eviction prevention, utility assistance and other safety net services to help low income families facing severe economic hardships. This includes programs such as Manna Food Center’s weekend food program for low income school children and A Wider Circle’s donated furniture distribution to low income families.
§ Funded several youth development proposals from community nonprofit organizations working to prevent teen pregnancy, help low income first generation students get into college and provide needed after school programs for County youth.
§ Provided $100,000 to assist with capital improvements for the Ivymount School, a special education school for students with disabilities.

Municipal Tax Duplication
§ Provided $748,820 to restore half of the cut in payments to municipalities recommended on April 22 by the County Executive

Working Families Income Supplement
§ Provided $1 million to restore part of reductions recommended on April 22 by the County Executive

§ Restored funding for Summer Teen Programs

Historic Preservation
· Restored $109,420 for the Historic Preservation Commission’s responsibilities

· Voted along with Prince George’s County Council to increase water and sewer charges for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission by 8.5 percent
· Increased the Water Quality Protection Fund budget to cover the inspection and maintenance of stormwater management facilities transferred into the program
· Increased the Water Quality Protection Fund budget for additional staff to assist in the implementation of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.

Highlights FY 2011-16 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for MCPS.
The FY11-16 CIP adopted by the Council will be just under $4 billion, about 6 percent higher than previous approved CIP. The Montgomery County Public Schools CIP will increase by more than 10 percent. The key changes are:

§ Funds 28 new schools and additions, including the 11 projects new to this CIP: Bradley Hills Elementary addition, Clarksburg/Damascus Middle addition, Clarksburg High School addition,,Clarksburg Village Elementary (new school), Darnestown Elementary addition, Georgian Forest Elementary addition, Somerset Elementary addition, Viers Mill Elementary addition, Waters Landing Elementary addition, Westbrook Elementary addition, Wyngate Elementary addition
§ Adds $6.6 million for one or more additions to elementary schools in the Richard Montgomery Cluster, where MCPS forecasts overcrowding within the next 5 years. In the next year or two the Board of Education will identify where the addition(s) will be built
§ Keeps all 27 school replacement/modernization projects on the Board of Education’s requested schedule
§ Funds $11.3 million in FYs11-12 to build gyms in the remaining 7 elementary schools that do not have them
§ Increases HVAC Replacement funding by $9.4 million (168 percent) in FY11
§ Increases Planned Lifecycle Asset Replacement funding by $1.9 million (45 percent) in FY11
§ Increases funds for ADA Compliance by $0.9 million (87 percent) annually
§ Increases funds for Indoor Air Quality projects by $0.8 million (61 percent) in FY11
§ Adds $6 million to renovate restrooms in 71 schools during FYs11-16

To achieve a balanced budget, the Council took action on several proposals to increase revenue. These actions included:

§ Approved Bill 13-10 that creates the Emergency Medical Services Transport Fee (or ambulance fee) proposed by the County Executive. Bill 13-10 authorizes the County to charge the health insurance companies of those transported by County ambulances between $300 and $800, depending upon the level of care needed. They also will be charged $8.50 per mile of transport. Residents without health insurance will not be charged. It is estimated the fees could raise approximately $12.9 million annually for the County. Fees could be charged as early as July 1.
§ Approved Expedited Bill 29-10, which will make Montgomery County the first County in the nation to create a carbon emissions tax on major emitters of carbon dioxide. The carbon tax, whose chief sponsor is Councilmember Roger Berliner, will require a major emitter of carbon to pay an excise tax of $5 per ton of carbon emitted. Currently, the only impacted emitter would be the Mirant Corporation power plant in Dickerson.
§ Approved a resolution that reflects the County Executive’s proposal to increase the County tax on energy use, including on home heating oil, electric and natural gas. The Executive proposed doubling the energy tax, but the Council reduced the increase to 85 percent. The measure will split the increase between residential and commercial users. The average County household will pay $13 more per month than it currently does, depending upon the type of energy primarily used in the home and the amount of energy used. The bill will sunset after two years.
§ Approved an increase to the current tax on cell phone lines from $2 to $3.50 per line per month. SOURCE: MCD

May 20, 2010

SHOCK: Immigration officials ignore girl's question to Mrs. Obama about her mother

Immigration officials will not swoop in to deport a woman whose daughter asked first lady Michelle Obama about "taking people away" if they don't have proper paperwork, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman said Thursday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations are based on "solid law enforcement work and not classroom Q and As," said DHS spokesman Matt Chandler. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a part of DHS. The statement comes after a student concerned about her mother's legal status asked the first lady about the president's immigration policies Wednesday.

"My mom said, I think that she says that, Barack Obama is going to take away everybody that doesn't have papers," the young girl told Mrs. Obama as she visited a Washington-area school with Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala. The unscripted moment was sandwiched between examples of Michelle Obama's signature policy initiatives -- a lesson on healthy eating and an exercise session -- and forced the first lady to walk the fine line of immigration reform policy language.

"Yeah, well, that's something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That's exactly right," she said.

The girl replied, "But my mom doesn't have any."

"[W]ell we have to work on that; we have to fix that and everybody's got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens. That's right," Obama said before moving to the next question.

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for Montgomery County, Maryland, schools, said the district would not identify the student and does "not ask about the immigration status of our students and their families."

"There was a Supreme Court decision that makes it clear that if there's proof of residency in the county, then we educate the child," Tofig said.

"And we're not going to identify the student or her parents. We protect the identity of our students." Immigration took center stage in Washington on Wednesday as the president welcomed his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, to the White House.

Both leaders used the occasion -- the fourth time they have met for bilateral talks -- to take sharp aim at Arizona's controversial new law meant to crack down on illegal immigrants. Calderon characterized the measure as discriminatory; Obama called it a "misdirected expression of frustration."

Obama also repeated his call for a comprehensive immigration overhaul. SOURCE: CNN

Robert Dyer rebukes Montgomery County Council

NOTE: The below is a statement from Robert Dyer, an at-large candidate for Montgomery County Council

Montgomery County At-Large Councilmembers George Leventhal, Duchy Trachtenberg, Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich voted unanimously with a council majority to pass the dangerous Ambulance Fee yesterday. This is their biggest and boldest move to put the public's safety at risk yet. Recently, George Leventhal described the rush job to merge the Park Police with the County Police as a "leadership moment." I call it a failed-leadership moment. Madly grasping at straws at the 11th hour, to keep budget funds for political cronies and the developers, and making a hasty decision before the impact on the safety of park users is fully understood, is not leadership. It's just plain reckless. But a whopping Ambulance Fee on seniors, the poor, and the disabled is the biggest political game yet. This isn't only the latest attempt to undermine our county's volunteer fire departments by this council.

It is a trick played on the public. It is a law passed despite the opposition of a majority of county residents (that's called "governing against the people," last time I checked). It brought about unprecedented and unethical spending of taxpayer dollars, to produce a slick TV commercial and widely-distributed brochure touting the Fee - before it was law! You can let the proponents of the Ambulance Fee know how you feel this November 2nd! And show your support for the brave men and women of our volunteer fire departments and BCC Rescue Squad, by voting for candidates like me, who oppose - and will strike down - this dangerous Ambulance Fee. Help is on the way. No fee necessary.


This just in. The County Council and school board have reached an "agreement." They agree to cut 24.4 million dollars from MCPS. This is in violation of the state law requiring a minimum funding of schools - just like last year. The whole reason this law exists, is to prevent just such a set of wrong priorities from draining easy cash from education budgets, when times are tough.

It seems that all of these politicians are looking out for each other. Dr. Weast's threat of a lawsuit - which was the right thing to do - turns out to have been an empty one. No one will ever believe him again. No one can believe that any politician who signed off on cutting $24.4 million dollars from disabled and special education students, and ESOL and ELL students, is truly committed to meeting the current challenges faced by MCPS. It's time to believe in a candidate who will stand up to the developers and special interests, and preserve the funding necessary to ensure Equal Opportunities in Education for every child in Montgomery County, regardless of race, disability or income level. That candidate is Robert Dyer. But it's not enough to "believe" in change. We need leadership that can deliver Change Beyond Belief. A change that will close the achievement gap and graduation rate disparity. A change that will close the early education, nutrition and technology gaps that cause the achievement gap. A change that will connect students to the changes in the county's economic engines that I will bring about. Finally, a change that lifts people up across the spectrum of education: from ensuring Pre-Kindergarten/Head Start for every eligible student to having economic opportunities and high-paying jobs available upon graduation from college.

We can have a Change Beyond Belief. All you have to do is join my crusade! Can you email my video to ten of your friends today? Can you bring 1 person to the polls to vote? Can you email me through my website at to request a yard sign for your lawn? Would you like to volunteer for my campaign?

Each one of us can take a small action to bring a big change to Montgomery County this November - a Change that is Beyond Belief.


Wow! Seniors and working families across the county are about to get hit with massive electric bills. First, PEPCO is raising your rates. Second, the County Council voted to raise the tax you pay on electricity 300%! Three. Hundred. Percent. Even if you wear sweaters like Jimmy Carter, you'll still get a huge bill. It's outrageous.

Then add on the next increase in your electric bill that will result from the County Council's other new Carbon Tax - the tax is on Mirant, but guess what: you pick up the tab, as you do with any other tax on business. Simple rule of thumb: any tax on business is a stealth tax on you. (I hear the council prefers the term "ghost"). Can you imagine the impact of all of this on those with fixed incomes, or who are just getting by paycheck to paycheck, even with food stamps?

Apparently, the councilmembers cannot. That's because they've made around $100,000 a year - at your expense. They don't have trouble paying their bills, and that can make a person grow out of touch with the reality of being a working person in Montgomery County. Not everyone here is rich. They are just getting by, often to give their children the advantage of the high-quality education available in most county schools.

Flat, regressive taxes are not the answer. Making the real spending cuts the council is once again avoiding - and fundamentally restructuring government - are the only ways we can effectively fix our structural deficit. We can't go on like this.

This new energy super tax has also ensured - ironically - that the county's revenues will continue to be low. That's because many county businesses will go out of business paying the tax, and because new businesses planning to relocate here have just called off those plans. Where does the Chamber of Commerce come down on this? Will the Chamber finally stand up to the council? Will the Chamber endorse ANY of the incumbent councilmembers? Are you tired of serving this council? Do you believe that public service means that the council serves the public, not the other way around? Do you think the council is required to keep the public trust by judiciously managing your taxpayer funds?

Then you are ready for Change Beyond Belief! You are ready to transform our government into one that serves the People, not the other way around! Take action November 2! Tell the council who's boss! You pay their salaries. It's your turn to make a bold statement. You have the power. Take advantage of it, and exercise your right to vote. SOURCE: Robert Dyer

Ambulance fee passes with 5-4 vote; volunteers oppose

Montgomery County will join Prince George's County, Washington, D.C., and other neighboring jurisdictions in charging a fee to use ambulance services. The council voted Wednesday to allow fees of about $400 to be charged for out-of-county residents to use county ambulance services. Supporters say that insurance companies, for the most part, will pay the fee. Those without insurance will receive a bill, but the fee will be waived for those who cannot afford it. The ambulance fee was one of several new fees and taxes the Montgomery County Council approved Wednesday to help fill the county's $1 billion budget shortfall.

The vote was 5-4, with council members Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, Nancy M. Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring opposed. After the vote, Eric N. Bernard, executive director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association, said his organization would oppose the five council members who voted in favor of the fee in this year's election.

"All they see are dollar signs," he said. "Not life signs."

Bernard said the public overwhelmingly opposes an ambulance fee, which was first proposed in the county about seven years ago. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has proposed an ambulance fee for the past three years, including this year, when he said the fee would help raise about $13 million in fiscal 2011. The tax will support the county's fire and rescue services. During the first year, the fees can supplant other tax money, but in subsequent years, the money can be used only for new projects and programs. SOURCE: Gazette

MCEA's Doug Prouty on WAMU; Vovak asks him question about partisanship

Daniel "The Whig Man" Vovak asked MCEA President Doug Prouty a question about partisanship during his interview on WAMU. Vovak's question (in the second clip at 2:00), addressed the fact that every elected person living in Montgomery County is a Democrat. Prouty's interview is extensive and great to listen to.

"I hope the 'Apple Ballot' will be fair with its endorsements for Montgomery County candidates," said Vovak. "My concern, though, is why would a teacher's union endorse any candidate whom it is suing? The monopoly of Democrats in our county needs to end and the unions need to remember what promises these elected officials made to them and deduce if the people they will endorse in 2010 are honest or not. Unions are non-partisan, and I want to see that tradition continue in the endorsement process.

Vovak is on this clip at 2:00:

Montgomery Council taxes hurt the poor

ROCKVILLE, Md. - The Montgomery County Council, in an effort to close a projected budget gap, has voted to cut spending on schools and raise some taxes. Spending on the public school system, previously a sacred cow, will be cut by about $163 million next fiscal year. Teachers and other county employees will forgo raises. Most departmental budgets will be cut. Council members concluded that the budget reductions were not enough to close the gap. So the tax on cell phone service will rise from $2 a month to $3.50 a month. The local tax on power consumption will go up for homes and businesses. The average homeowner will pay about $6 a month more. And the Mirant power plant in Dickerson will face a new carbon tax.

After a seven-year fight, Montgomery County will impose ambulance fees. After July 1, expect to receive a bill for $400 for basic transportation by ambulance. The fee for advanced life support transport could be $800. Insurance companies are expected to pay in most instances. School board members, who previously threatened to sue if the cuts were more drastic than County Executive Ike Leggett recommended, have decided to live with the cuts. Leadership in the volunteer fire/rescue community may not be so accommodating. There is serious talk about using a referendum to allow voters in Montgomery County to decide whether to keep or to kill the ambulance fees. SOURCE: My FOX

MCEA President Doug Prouty on Kojo


Langley Park second grader begins press conference on immigration

First lady Michelle Obama is questioned by a second grader about immigration policy while promoting her anti-obesity campaign at a Maryland elementary school. (MSNBC)

Tax Day comes to Montgomery County

A month after the IRS deadline, Tax Day came again Wednesday in Montgomery County. The County Council, trying to balance a budget squeezed by sagging income tax revenue and far-reaching expenditures, passed a long list of money-raising measures to help cover the county's $4.3 billion spending plan. Council members raised the energy tax by more than 80 percent, increased cellphone taxes by 75 percent, and imposed a tax on carbon emissions at a local power plant. They also passed a new ambulance fee that had been debated in the county for seven years.

"Welcome to the May 19 revenue day of the Montgomery council," said the council president, Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), at the start of a day of closed-door meetings, impassioned public debate and brinksmanship.

It was also the day the council voted to give Montgomery's public schools their allotted budget cut. After adjusting for a one-time debt payment in the current budget, the schools' operating budget will be reduced about $20 million next year and $4.7 million more will come out of capital projects. The total school budget is more than $2 billion. School officials noted that they had requested a significantly higher amount, and that enrollment is increasing.

"It will be painful, and it will be harmful," Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said.

The school system and council were deadlocked early Wednesday, but after they reached an agreement, school officials dropped a threat to sue the council over the cuts. Weast ruled out furloughs, which are being imposed in other county agencies, saying that school employees were forgoing all raises and that there would be deep educational harm if they were made to take time off. Class sizes are already scheduled to rise one student on average, and millions of dollars in cuts have been made to the central office, officials said. "We will now concentrate on how to operationalize these cuts," Weast said.

Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) said schools officials control what cuts are made. "The children will not be hurt in this budget," Ervin said. The Board of Education must find ways to cut, she said, "without hurting classroom instruction or programs. We know that can be done." The tax increases the council passed to maintain generous spending on schools and other programs were assailed by a number of county advocates.

"It's an easy way out," said Joan Fidler, a retired Environmental Protection Agency official who is president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. "As taxpayers, we do believe in good public schools. But we believe the cuts should be at least proportional," and many other parts of the county government are facing much deeper cuts. SOURCE: Washington Post

May 19, 2010

Police say college student sold gun to detective

Authorities say a college student sold four handguns to an undercover Montgomery County police detective outside the Bethesda Metro station. In documents filed in federal court, authorities say David Bonett, 22, of Mount Airy sold the guns during four sting operations between January and April. Bonett, a Montgomery College student, was arrested on gun-related charges April 28. Authorities filed the court documents recently to obtain a search warrant for the house he shares with his parents. A county police spokeswoman confirmed the detective's role. Reached by phone, Bonett's mother said neither she nor her son would talk about the case. SOURCE: WJZ

PAY UP: County to tax cell phones, electricity, EMS services, etc

If you live in Montgomery County, there are some new taxes and fees coming to help fix a billion dollar budget shortfall. Ambulance fees, which have become common in the D.C. region, were proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett and approved by the Montgomery County Council Wednesday morning in a close 5-4 vote. If residents are transported in a Montgomery County ambulance, insurance companies will be charged a fee between $300 and $800 depending on the level of care. Insurance companies will also be charged $8.50 for each mile the ambulance takes someone.

The fee is expected to raise nearly $13 million a year to help fund the county's fire and EMS operations. It will take several months to implement the fee, but it could take effect as soon as July 1.

Volunteer firefighters are threatening to take the issue to a referendum, and let county residents vote on it. If that happens, there's a chance they can stop the fee from ever taking effect. The volunteers say the fees will discourage people in need of medical care from calling an ambulance.

The Council also voted Wednesday to temporarily raise the county tax on fuel and energy use for things like electricity, natural gas and home heating oil. The change, which takes effect immediately, is expected to cost the average homeowner an extra $15 per month. After two years, the tax rate will drop again. A county tax on cell phone lines will also rise from $2 per month to $3.50 starting July 1.

Lastly, Montgomery will become the first county in the nation to tax major carbon emitters. It will force companies that produce huge amounts of carbon to pay a tax of $5 per ton of carbon produced. The tax, set to take effect July 1, will only affect the Mirant power plant in Dickerson. Montgomery County is trying to deal with a massive $1 billion budget shortfall. SOURCE: WTOP

Fire Fighter John Sparks speaks about Leggett breaking promise to union

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously killed a set of retirement benefits known as "phantom" cost-of-living increases, taking a concrete step toward piecing together a $4.3 billion post-recession budget that remains a source of intense political jockeying. After making a deal last year with the local firefighters union, the county began paying benefits to thousands of employees based on raises that were not given. The arrangement was intended as a consolation after negotiated salary increases were scaled back, but critics said the ghost increases were unaffordable, given Montgomery's fiscal shortfall, and indefensible as a matter of policy. Officials said the vote to eliminate them would save more than $7 million next year and $200 million over 40 years. The move was also designed in part to assuage concerns from bond rating agencies, which have questioned county spending practices, including officials' use of reserves to help make up for a sharp decrease in income tax revenue.

"This sends a clear signal to the rating agencies that the county is serious about addressing the structural budget deficit," said council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg). He proposed the legislation to undo the retirement benefits and cast the sole vote against the arrangement last year. If you look at what the trends are in spending over the next few years against projected revenues, there's a gap of hundreds of millions of dollars," Andrews said. "That is independent of the economy. So this is a first step to help address that."

John Sparks, president of the firefighters union, said his members "have a lot of heartburn with the council breaking an agreed-upon concession." Members of police and general government workers unions also received the pension benefit. Sparks said firefighters are forgoing significant raises, including a 10.5 percent boost that had been set to start in July but was canceled in the budget squeeze.

"We gave back a 10.5 percent pay raise this year. That is a significant amount of money. In two years, firefighters have given back to the county over a 14 percent pay increase," Sparks said. "We're not greedy employees. We're not trying to get back our concessions."

A labor administrator ruled this week that the county had violated its agreement with the firefighters by not negotiating over the change and directed officials to "engage in such bargaining forthwith." Sparks said that was a moral victory but would not change the outcome of Tuesday's council decision. Council members said they would consider legislation to reduce the impact of their decision on employees who had already applied for disability retirement benefits.

Council members struggled Tuesday over key elements of their budget package. President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) had said an agreement on the contentious question of school funding would be disclosed Tuesday, but it wasn't. Public schools account for roughly half of the budget, and the proposal by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) calls for giving schools, after adjusting for a one-time debt payment, a slight increase while cutting deeply into other departments. One council proposal called for reducing Leggett's public education allotment by $33 million. But a more recent proposal shrank that figure, said council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring). "It went from 33 [million] way down to 19, which to me is not going to . . . balance the budget," she said. SOURCE: Washington Post

Betts' murder arrest nabs fifth person, heads to Montgomery County, Maryland

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Police say a fifth person has been arrested in connection with the murder of Brian Betts, the middle school principal found dead on April 15 in his Maryland home. Three 18-year-olds -- Alante Saunders, Sharif Tau Lancaster and Deontra Gray -- have already been charged with the murder and have been ordered held without bond. Lancaster's mother, Artura Otey Williams, 46, has also been arrested. She's charged with two counts of knowingly receiving a stolen credit card with the intent to use it, attempted theft less than $1,000 in value and attempted fraudulent credit card use.

The latest suspect -- a 19-year-old male -- was arrested by D.C. Police Tuesday night. He is awaiting extradition to Montgomery County where charges will be filed. Police are not ruling out the possibility that more suspects could be charged. Betts, 42, was shot to death in his Silver Spring home in mid-April.

According to charging documents, Gray admitted to police that he was at Betts' home at the time of the murder, and took property from Betts' car after the killing. The documents also say two men were spotted getting into a car with two other men after parking Betts' stolen Nissan Xterra in Southeast D.C. Betts was the principal of D.C.'s Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson. He had worked for years in the Montgomery County Public School system. SOURCE: WTOP

Metro area to see new wave of foreclosures on property

The number of Washington-area foreclosures are falling, but there will be more to go before the market is fully recovered. Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, says there will be more foreclosures, but far fewer than the economy-shaking deluge of 2008 and for a different reason.

"We expect there will be a second wave, but nothing of the magnitude we saw in 2008," says Fuller. "That wave was tied to subprime lending. This one will be more of a result of an extended length of unemployment. The Washington area does not have the significant magnitude of unemployment like some other areas of the country," he says, "but we do have 100,000 more people unemployed than we did a year ago."

As a result, the jurisdictions experiencing the highest number of foreclosures changed somewhat. The first wave of foreclosures two and three years ago hit Virginia's Prince William County hard. While three ZIP codes in Woodbridge, in Prince William County, still lead the area in the number of foreclosures, all three locales showed a 20 percent-plus improvement in foreclosure filings when compared with April 2009. Meanwhile, four of the area's top-10 foreclosure ZIP codes are in Prince George's County, including spots in Fort Washington, Upper Marlboro Hyattsville and Capitol Heights, according to RealtyTrac, a foreclosure analysis and statistics firm. SOURCE: Washington Examiner

Ehrlich turns his back on Purple Line

The Sun's Julie Bykowicz reports from former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s small business round table in Montgomery County that the presumptive Republican challenger to Gov. Martin O"Malley would scrap the incumbent's proposals for light rail lines in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. Ehrlich told the group he go back to his plan for high-speed buses on the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and be "open to ideas" about Baltimore's Red Line. He said he would prefer to spend the money on the MARC commuter rail system and the Washington Metro -- not on these new light rail lines.

On an unrelated transportation matter, Ehrlich said he doesn't like the toll levels that have been approved for the Intercounty Connector, though he was not clear about whether or how he would change them. It was under Ehrlich's administration that the highway was approved as a toll road, though the actual rates were not set by the Maryland Transportation Authority until after a market study conducted under O'Malley. In supporting rapid-bus service along the Purple Line, Ehrlich would be going against the preference of most local leaders in suburban Washington, where support for the Purple Line plan runs high in spite of a roughly $1.6 billion price tag.

The Red Line light rail plan has the strong support of Baltimore business and civic leaders but has aroused opposition in some neighborhoods, including Canton and Edmondson Village, where plans call for it to run on surface streets.The cost of that plan was recently revised up to roughly $1.8 billion. The state has applied to the federal government for funding of the two transit lines as light rail projects. If approved, the federal share of the cost would likely be 50 percent -- leaving Maryland to raise the other half. The O'Malley administration has put off any decision on funding until its hears from the Federal Transit Administration on whether it will approve either project.

On the ICC tolls, Ehrlich could face a dilemma if he wins the election. If ICC tolls are cut, largely for the benefit of Washington-area users, it is not clear how the transportation authority could make up the lost revenue without raising tolls at its existing toll facilities -- including those in the Baltimore area. SOURCE: Baltimore Sun

Montgomery County spends $160,000 for planning chairman

The selection of Francoise Carrier as chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board comes at a time of major change for the growing suburb as it tries to contain sprawl, build near public transit and prepare for the thousands of new residents expected in the next two decades. Carrier, 47, won unanimous backing Tuesday from the County Council, and her appointment to the four-year post, which will pay $160,000 a year, is expected to receive quick approval from County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). She would replace Royce Hanson, 78, a nationally known planner and academician, who did not seek reappointment. His term expires in mid-June.

The county's semiautonomous, $100 million-a-year planning and parks departments report to the council and are led by the five-member Planning Board. Carrier, a lawyer who runs the county hearing examiner's office, would take charge at a tense time for the board, which is facing agency budget cuts while working on improving oversight of development, pushing for innovative, walkable, transit-oriented communities and trying to complete several large plans for segments of the county.

County officials -- grappling with a projected budget shortfall of $779 million in the coming fiscal year -- have suggested chipping away at the park and planning agencies, merging the Park Police with the county police and folding recreation programs run by the Parks Department into the county's Recreation Department. A new round of buyouts for veteran employees is underway. The Office of the People's Counsel, which helps residents without attorneys handle zoning and planning cases, has been eliminated by the County Council. SOURCE: Washington Post

Former Gaithersburg assistant city manager dies

Former Gaithersburg Assistant City Manager Fred Felton has died. He was 46 years old. A family member found Felton's body in his car today, parked in the driveway of his mother's home on Central Avenue in Olde Towne Gaithersburg, according to Montgomery County police. Police were called to the house at 4:44 p.m., spokeswoman Officer Melanie Brenner said. Felton's body was in the passenger seat of his car. Felton appeared to have died of natural causes, according to a report by Detective Patrick McNerney, the investigating detective for the homicide division, Brenner said.

"[Felton] may have been there more than a day," she said.

No foul play is suspected, Brenner said. The body has been sent to the medical examiner's office in Baltimore for a complete autopsy. Felton was a city employee for 20 years and served as an assistant city manager from July 1, 1999, until his retirement on Oct. 7, 2009. He retired after a tumultuous 23 months during which he was called to question for asking police to intervene in a DUI arrest of a state delegate, hacked into his boss' computer, and was charged in September with reckless endangerment for discharging a gun in his apartment.

Felton's departure followed a career that began with a stint as summertime park observer and came to a head when City Manager Angel Jones suspended him on Sept. 23, 2009, for two weeks without pay after police obtained a warrant to arrest him. According to police charging documents, a bullet discharged from Felton's revolver tore through his apartment's living room wall on Sept. 22 and missed a neighbor by six feet. Felton, who said that he had had one drink, blew a 0.11 blood alcohol content on a breath test after the shooting, according to police.

In December, he pleaded guilty in Montgomery County District Court to firing a gun within city limits. Felton was sentenced to one year unsupervised probation in a plea agreement that required that he participate in an alcohol and drug treatment program. Felton agreed to forfeit five weapons, including the handgun that discharged Sept. 22. Felton was in outpatient treatment at White Flint Recovery Treatment Inc. in Rockville, his attorney, Reginald Bours of Rockville, said in December. SOURCE: Gazette

May 18, 2010

Montgomery County wants $3+ a month tax on cell phone bills

Wireless allows you to stay connected with family and friends, to do business on the go, or to get help in emergencies. All residents in Montgomery County, MD, benefit from a host of choices among features, phones and plans, when it comes to picking their wireless service of choice. So, why are Montgomery County leaders again considering piling another costly telephone tax increase on your wireless service?

Montgomery County’s proposed budget for 2011 would increase the already excessive tax on cell phone consumers from $2 to $3 per line per month, on wireless only - a whopping 22.6% municipal tax hike on all Montgomery County families and small businesses. The tax is expected to cost phone users an additional $11.853 Million in FY2011. However, three dollars is a starting point, because some County Council Members want to raise the tax up to six dollars per-line, per-month. This proposal would make Montgomery County wireless users, already one of the highest-taxed in the country, pay even more.

The state sales tax in Maryland is 6%, and wireless consumers in the county currently pay about 17.6% in taxes per month at the current rate. In addition to the applicable sales tax and telephone tax, County wireless users are subject also to other state and local E-911 taxes. The average Montgomery County customer would pay nearly three times what a Northern Virginia customer would pay!

More county taxes and fees on wireless would force even higher monthly costs on consumers, making the service less affordable and accessible for seniors, families, small businesses and students in this difficult economy. While it is true that many counties and cities across Maryland are in the midst of their worst fiscal crisis in modern history, and in many cases considering cuts to public safety and other essential services, or raising property taxes, it is also true that Montgomery County, MD, wireless customers are already paying among the highest taxes in the country. It is not fair to pile on new taxes when wireless consumers are already paying more than their fair share of city, state and local taxes.

Additionally, businesses today are increasingly incorporating wireless services and applications into their business plans. Wireless applications increase business productivity and profitability by improving transportation and logistics, integrating sales forces with home offices, providing remote access to information, and in a host of other ways. This proposed telephone tax will impose additional costs on businesses located in Montgomery County, making other counties, cities, and Washington, D.C. suburbs a more attractive place to do business and hurting the County’s important efforts to attract new businesses. SOURCE: My Wireless

Montgomery County GOP website lists Senator George Edwards in race against Chris van Hollen

Is Maryland State Senator George Edwards running against U.S. Rep. Chris van Hollen? According to the Montgomery County Republican website, he is. A phone call to Senator Edwards' office (301-722-4780) confirmed that 301-895-5720 is his home phone number.

SMILE: Council wants immediate energy tax

Montgomery County Council members said Monday they would raise energy taxes immediately to fill a $21.4 million hole in the current budget. The high emergency taxes would kick in Thursday and last through the end of June, if the full council approves the increase on Wednesday. Those rates would ease July 1, when new taxes for fiscal 2011 would begin.

Longer term, the council members, looking to fill a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year, yielded to the area's seething business community, pledging to split the burden for steeper energy taxes evenly between residential and nonresidential customers.

By the numbers Assuming council members double energy taxes (with a 50-50 split in new taxes): » Nonresidential Fiscal 2010 average yearly energy tax bill: $2,618 Fiscal 2011 average yearly energy tax bill: $4,292 64 percent increase » Residential Fiscal 2010 average yearly energy tax bill: $99 Fiscal 2011 average yearly energy tax bill: $278

A majority of the County Council said they supported a 50-50 split in higher energy taxes between the two sectors, though they have yet to determine the final rates. It eases County Executive Ike Leggett's proposal that nonresidential customers pay 73 percent of all energy taxes, the foundation of his plan to fill a nearly $1 billion budget shortfall. And it signals efforts to appease those who say the millions of dollars in new taxes will drive away business and deter future investment in Maryland's wealthiest county. Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, called the move a "very large concession to the business community" but added, "it still feels like a big tax increase." Even with the new breakdown, nonresidential customers would pay roughly $163 million next year -- a more than 40 percent bump-- if the council votes to double energy-tax revenue as Leggett has proposed. Businesses now pay rates nearly three times higher than residential energy customers. Council members will determine the final energy tax rates Wednesday, but some indicated they would attempt to scale it back. "We need to look seriously at reducing the overall magnitude of this tax," said Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, who has proposed taxing excessive carbon emissions to raise more money. Area business leaders were still fuming, despite the compromise. "We need changes," said Ginanne Italiano, president of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. "This wasn't it. It's going to be really hard for businesses." She said government leaders should look to slash more of their own budgets instead of squeezing already taxed businesses. Council members also recommended returning to current energy rates in July 2012, but some questioned the commitment. "If I were a taxpayer, I would be skeptical if a politician told me 'I'm raising your taxes -- but only for two years,'" Leventhal said. "I hope we mean it." SOURCE: Washington Examiner

GOTCHA: Montgomery County schools trick residents

You are a parent or community member in Montgomery County. A new school is being constructed in your neighborhood. You attend the community meetings to review the plans, you comment, discuss, and think you have been involved in the process of building a new school in your neighborhood. MCPS really knows how to punk a community doesn't it! Gotcha! Here's the latest MCPS "gotcha" in construction plans: the Cabin John Middle School community has suddenly noticed an 11 foot tall retaining wall being constructed at the edges of the CJMS property. This "retaining wall" was not part of the plans for the school vetted by the parents and community.

Imagine that the construction budget for the Cabin John Middle School modernization had ENOUGH SURPLUS CASH to pay for the construction of this enormous 11 foot retaining wall. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what this wall is costing taxpayers? SOURCE: Parent's Coalition and WUSA9

Bethesda play space owner criticized for mentioning "God"

In the days before three Montgomery County kindergarten classes were slated to go on a field trip to the Be With Me Playseum, an indoor play space in Bethesda, the organization's staff prepared for what they hoped would be the first of many visits. The owner of the fledgling business, Gina Seebachan, bought tiles so each child could make a handprint to take home as a keepsake. She organized books by authors the children were reading for story time. If the trip went well, Seebachan thought, business might really take off. Then, without warning, Westbrook Elementary School, which all four of Seebachan's children have attended, canceled the trip.

All because, Seebachan says, she mentions God on the Playseum Web site. Last month's canceled school visits were just the latest in what some friends and neighbors call an unsubstantiated whisper campaign that has gone viral, with Web postings accusing Seebachan, an evangelical Christian, and the Playseum of being less about creating a play space for children and more about saving their souls. In a well-to-do, liberal community, where separation of church and state is virtually a religion, Seebachan's references to God, and the use of the politically loaded word "life" on the Playseum Web site, coupled with the echo chamber of the Internet, made for a combustible mix.

In anonymous postings on local Web sites, parents accused Seebachan of handing out anti-abortion literature at the Playseum, accepting support from right-wing Christian groups and playing Christian rock music at the play space. Most damning, one anonymous poster who said she was Jewish claimed that Seebachan told her that unless she accepted Jesus as her personal savior, the client and her children would go to hell.

"They said I was stupid or naive, but I'm not afraid of religion," Seebachan says. She indeed plays her iPod Nano at the Playseum, meaning that children hear '80s hits such as "Tainted Love" but also some Christian rock. She says she did once sing a catchy ditty that included some hallelujahs while she made apple pie in the play space's bakery. But, she says, she hasn't sung anything with religious content since then. All the other things people are saying about her, she says, are "utter lies."

She has no literature about abortion, she says. Her sponsors are all secular, local businesses such as Safeway and Strosniders hardware store. She does send a portion of her profits -- about $6,000 so far -- to a religious organization in India that finds homes for destitute children and trains them to become church leaders.

Seebachan says she was "shocked but also in tears" after she heard the allegation that a client was told her family might be headed to hell. "I'd fire someone if I found out that that's what they said," she said. "That's not what this place is for. I have no hidden motivation to convert people at the Playseum. I'm not marketing to Christians." Rather, she says, Playseum was inspired by the open, friendly scene at the fountain outside the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Bethesda. "That's how I imagined this place, like a big, refreshing swimming pool for anybody to come to and be together with their children in a different way, without computers, TVs or cellphones."

Despite Seebachan's denials of evangelical intent, the rumors circulated on the Web. She began to get malicious anonymous phone calls from people slamming her for foisting her faith on others. Visitors demanded to know her staff's religious background. "One is from Peru," Seebachan said she would tell callers. "One is from Sri Lanka. One is vegan. One is kosher Jewish. I have a guy from Trinidad and a gal from Congo. I honestly have no idea what religion they are. "

On the Playseum calendar, Seebachan, who studied international relations in college, celebrates Thai and Shinto holidays, the prophet Muhammad's birthday, Chinese New Year and Jewish holidays. But on her Web site, she also advertises a Christian youth group she runs, which raised more hackles and more than a little confusion about the true nature of the Playseum she said. "To a proselytizer," wrote one poster on the D.C. Urban Moms discussion forum, "there is no better catnip than a room full of non-believers."

PICTURE: Gina Seebachan envisioned the Be With Me Playseum as a destination for school field trips, but religious wording on her Web site prompted the cancellation of some visits. SOURCE: Washington Post

Leggett wants to double energy tax

Montgomery County homeowners could soon start paying more on their energy bills. Council members are considering doubling the tax people play on each bill.