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County hears more on fatal fire

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Silver Spring fire 8-11-16An internal audit was held on the County's response to the Flower Branch Apartments fire that killed seven and displaced over 100 people last August. FILE PHOTO  

During their internal audit about the County’s response to the fire at Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring that killed seven and displaced more than 100 people last August, County officials did not interview victims from the fire.

At last week’s council meeting, officials from several County agencies briefed the Council on an internal audit of the County’s response in providing services in the immediate aftermath of the fire. The audit listed several recommendations for the County, including a need for better communication between County staff.

Council member Tom Hucker (D-5) said the audit was disappointing and criticized County officials for not interviewing the victims of the fire who received the County’s services.

“It seems strange to me, as an approach, that you would just talk to County agencies and the non-profits we fund, but not the actual victims,” Hucker said.

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Remembering a bridge to the past

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Talbot Avenue BridgeThe Talbot Avenue bridge has a history - and despite its condition some want it saved. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK  

A one-lane bridge in the western part of Silver Spring that enables Talbot Avenue to cross over CSX Railroad tracks hardly seems worth saving, according to some. The rickety structure has deteriorated and is scheduled to be demolished when the Purple Line is built.

But while the neglected bridge has yet to make it onto the National Register of Historic Places, its historic significance in Montgomery County is enough for the County Council to try to save it.

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County Raises Minimum Wage

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Council passes minimum wage raise, now awaits Leggett's signature

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ROCKVILLE – After many debates, protests and public hearings, the County Council voted Tuesday to increase the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.

Now Bill 12-16 awaits County Executive Ike Leggett’s signature before it can become law. Patrick Lacefield, a spokesperson for the County, said Leggett has not decided whether he plans to sign the minimum wage increase in to law.

“We're still reviewing it; we haven't made a decision,” Lacefield said.

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Council will take up minimum wage, budget following break

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Just six days after their counterparts in Annapolis begin the legislative session for the state General Assembly, the Council returns to tackle priority issues for the County, including transportation, education and the economy.

On the agenda for the Council will be the County Budget, minimum wage and sector plans for Bethesda.

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HHS committee split on minimum wage bill

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ROCKVILLE – The County Council continued their debate over raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour during a Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee meeting Wednesday.

The committee discussed Bill 12-16, which would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.

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Council passes bill to protect tenants

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ROCKVILLE -- Seeking to increase inspections and generally give more rights to tenants, the County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to require the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) to annually inspect properties that have frequent housing code violations.

The bill requires landlords give three months notice before increasing rent 100 percent or more a month and give more power to tenants to make repairs.

The bill also creates a publicly available database from the County’s rental data housing survey, including a list of the average rent increase for each unit at a property.

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"A Serious Problem"

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Hundreds of violations found in apartment complex that burned in August

Silver Spring fire 8-11-16This fire in August led to the loss of seven lives in Silver Spring.  FILE PHOTO  

SILVER SPRING - Nearly three months to the day after a fire at the Flower Branch Apartments cost the lives of seven residents, county housing inspectors found 860 housing code violations in 362 units.

“There’s no excuse for these code violations and for the number of citations that have been issued, obviously, and they need to be corrected immediately. I’m really disappointed,” said County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large).

The Nov. 9 inspection by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) revealed some of the same housing code violations the apartment complex had when it was last inspected in 2013, including 31 cases of infestations by mice, rats, roaches or bedbugs.

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Language barriers found in wake of fatal fire

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Silver Spring fire 8-11-16County Council members were briefed on language barriers that hampered firefighters and other personnel during the fire at the Flower Branch Apartments. FILE PHOTO

A County review of the aftermath from a gas-fed fire that killed seven at the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring revealed a language barrier between County officials and tenants.

Many of the tenants are immigrants from Latin America who spoke Spanish as their primary language. They had trouble communicating with firefighters and other County personnel in the immediate aftermath and days following the fire.

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, Fire Chief Scott Goldstein, Director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Earl Stoddard and the Chief Administrative Officer for Montgomery County, Tim Firestine briefed County Council members Sept. 27.

“That’s a gap, that ought to be addressed,” said Council member Tom Hucker (D-5) about the language barrier between County staff and the victims of the fire.

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Council briefed on deadly Silver Spring fire

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ROCKVILLE -- The apartment complex that was the site of a devastating fire that killed seven people on Aug. 10 received 437 housing code violations when it was last inspected, according to Clarence Snuggs, director of Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA).

Snuggs said the Flower Branch Apartments complex located on Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring was last inspected by County officials in May of 2013. Snuggs, along with other County officials, briefed the County Council and reviewed the County’s performance to help the victims of last month’s fire and explosion in Silver Spring.

Snuggs told the Council that the Flower Branch Apartments complex had a history of violations; there were 698 when the complex was inspected in 2010. Snuggs said that many of the violations were not safety-related.

“Not all of those are life-threatening violations,” Snuggs said.

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