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Maryland considers dedicated Metro funding

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Maryland Flag Metro LogoANNAPOLIS — A delegation for business people and elected officials made their way to the state capital Tuesday to make their case that Metro, the region’s struggling mass transit system, needs a reliable supply of state dollars.

On Tuesday, the Maryland House of Delegates Appropriations Committee held a public hearing for a bill that would give the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority $125 million in dedicated funding. WMATA has requested this type of funding for some time from the three jurisdictions of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, as it is one of the few mass transit systems in America without a source of dedicated funding or a consistent permanent supply of public money.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), who served on the Council of Governments, a regional body of elected officials from D.C., Maryland and Virginia that work on regional issues, said no issue has united people more than the need for a dedicated funding source for Metro.

“I’ve had the privilege of serving on the board of the Council of Governments for many years and last year as chair,” Berliner said. “In all of those years, no issue has united our entire region, Republicans and Democrats, urban and suburban, more than the need to finally provide dedicated funding for Metro.”

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Council At-Large debate shows differences in Democrat candidates

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From left: Gabe Albornoz, Shruti Bhatnagar, Brandy Brooks, Hoan Dang, Lorna Phillips Forde, Danielle Meitiv and Hans Riemer. PHOTO BY GLYNIS KAZANJIANFrom left: Gabe Albornoz, Shruti Bhatnagar, Brandy Brooks, Hoan Dang, Lorna Phillips Forde, Danielle Meitiv and Hans Riemer. PHOTO BY GLYNIS KAZANJIAN  Key differences in governing styles began to emerge Wednesday at a Democratic debate held for seven of the 30 candidates running for four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council.

The debate was the last in a series of four hosted by the County’s real estate and property management groups. The hosts included the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington and the Maryland Building Industry Association.

Three at-large seats and one district seat on the Council have opened up this year due to newly-imposed term limits. Council President Hans Riemer, an incumbent at-large member, is running for a third and final term on the Council.

Many of the questions asked during the debate related to taxes, fees, economic growth and business competition.

While all the candidates said they supported a 2016 recordation tax increase that helped pay for needed school construction projects, only one candidate in the group said she was open to reducing it.

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County reconsiders small cell antennas

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celltowerFile photoThe Montgomery County Council is again considering another zoning text amendment that will make way for a series of telecommunication antennas that have been the subject of controversy around the County.

On Tuesday, Council President Hans Riemer (D-At-Large), introduced ZTA 18-02 on behalf of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). If passed, it would amend county zoning laws to make it easier to erect small cell antennas in commercial zones. The bill’s introduction marks a change in policy for the Council after similar legislation that would have also facilitated the placement of hundreds of small cell antennas on both commercial and residential property was put on hold after meeting significant resistance from the public.

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County budget process runs into new problems

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MoCo LogoGERMANTOWN — The budget process for County Executive Isiah Leggett’s last year in office takes place during a time of uncertainty.

Leggett has bragged to residents about the County’s low unemployment rate, its “triple A” bond rating and its growing reserves, as he has toured the County to talked to residents as part of his series of annual budget forums. Yet, as the term-limited Democrat prepares to submit his final budget to the County Council by March 4, the County that Leggett has served for many years is in the grips of an unexpected budget shortfall.

“My first objective is to try to do no harm,” Leggett said, “to provide the services and the programs for the things that we are already funding where it makes sense for us to continue that. Once we achieved that objective, then I would look to try to expand beyond that depending on the level of resources available.”

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Homeless disagree with County

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A homeless man sleeping on the pavement in Silver Spring in July of last year. FILE PHOTO A homeless man sleeps on the pavement in Silver Spring in July of last year.      FILE PHOTO Despite optimistic talk of how more and more homeless people were moving into permanent housing, the tenor of Monday night’s community dialogue on homelessness changed when about 15 homeless people entered the meeting in the Silver Spring Civic Building and disputed how well the County is handling its homeless population.

“Morally it’s wrong to say you have compassion, and you don’t,” said Sharetha Wilson, who recently moved into her own place after four years living on the street.

“You say you have compassion, but you pass us on your way,” she told the packed meeting room. “If you see us on the streets, if you see us in church, why not say, ‘How can I help you?’” she asked. “You all snub your noses.”

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Public funding candidates are top fundraisers in County Council at-large race

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MoCo LogoIn the race for the at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council, the County’s new public campaign financing system appears to be fulfilling its promise of eliminating the financial advantage of incumbency as most of the top fundraisers in the race are using the new system, according to the year’s first round of campaign finance disclosures.

Thirty-four candidates: 30 Democrats, three Republicans, and one member of the Green Party – are vying for three open at-large seats on the nine-member Council this year. Twenty-two of those new candidates have signed up for public financing, as well as incumbent Hans Riemer, who is running for re-election after his second term as an at-large Council member.

The primary election for all candidates in the race is Tuesday, June 26.

Last week candidates in the race filed state-required campaign finance reports for the first time in the primary election.

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Elrich and Berliner square off over public financing

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Ehrlich BerlinerCounty Council members Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Roger Berliner (D-1). COURTESY PHOTO  The new public finance laws in Montgomery County are leading to a war of words between two current council members running for County Executive.

Marc Elrich, (D-At-Large) is using public financing and claims Roger Berliner (D-1), who isn’t using public financing, is part of the problem with politics.

In the first required finance report of the 2018 campaign season, Berliner reports that real estate development businesses, and individuals associated with those firms, contributed approximately $266,000 - nearly half - of the funds his campaign raised from Jan. 10, 2017 to Jan. 10, 2018, according to the State Board of Elections.

These groups include local residential and commercial real estate developers, building contractors and financial investment firms associated with real estate.

“The business community is obviously a significant stakeholder in our county, and I’m proud to have the business community’s support,” Berliner said. “I’m proud that the business community believes that I am the best candidate to lead our county to a more prosperous future.”

“This is why we need public financing,” Elrich said. “The whole point behind public financing is to take special interests out of elections like this. In Montgomery County there’s never been a bigger special interest than real estate development. There is no rival to the real estate development industry. What they look for is people who will minimize the impact on them of the cost of doing business in Montgomery County. Clearly Roger is heavily dependent on them for money.”

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Education committee recommends $30 million cuts

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The Montgomery County Council Education Committee considered County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett’s (D) proposed cuts in funding for Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College last week when the Council’s committees met to nail down the details of how best to absorb the projected $120 million budget shortfall brought about by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. 

“We understand that this is a moment of unique times although unfortunately for us in the County it seems to be this uniqueness happen more often, which kind of redefines uniqueness,” said Council member Craig Rice (D-3), who chairs the Education Committee.

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Leggett plans budget cuts

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MoCo LogoMontgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett released his plan for $60 million in proposed cuts last week, after news the County is way short of its proposed revenues for the current year.

Leggett’s proposed cuts, most notably target schools – the largest part of the County’s budget – include a proposed $25 million cut to Montgomery County Public Schools and a $5.2 million cut to Montgomery College.

“There are very few options that are there, you don't go there unless you absolutely have to,” said Leggett of his proposed $30.2 million cut to schools.

In addition, Leggett also proposed a $3.8 million cut to police, a $2.6 million cut to the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a $2.6 million cut to fire and rescue services and a $4.4 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services to make up for the revenue shortfall.

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Ficker banned from speaking, claims bias

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MoCo LogoROCKVILLE — Attorney, activist, and perennial candidate Robin Ficker said he was barred from speaking at last week’s County Council public hearing because he is running for County Executive as a Republican even though he admits that he was going to attack the Council instead of testifying about the bill under debate.

“It’s personal. It’s not Robin Ficker-personal; it’s the fact that I’m the only Republican running County-wide,” Ficker said. “They didn’t want to hear what I had to say and they didn’t want me to get any publicity from testifying before the Council.”

Ficker said he signed up to testify before last week’s impromptu County Council meeting, but was not included on the list of witnesses for the hearing, which was meant to quickly to introduce and pass a bill that allowed residents to pay their taxes early in hopes to avoid a projected tax increase from changes in federal taxes.

Council President Hans Riemer (D-at large) said members from his staff picked the people who testified at the meeting based upon the analysis of the bill they gave in their requests to speak at the public hearing.

“We wanted people who had some content, and Mr. Ficker expressed none,” Riemer said. “Those who were here had written us extensive emails, you know, even providing a thorough analysis of the issue, so we felt that they would be constructive and helpful.”

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