Keeping In Touch: Chat Online or Call In
As you know, communicating with you to hear about what issues are most important to you and your neighbors has been one of my top priorities since I took office. And, we've found a variety of ways to keep in touch.
The next opportunity comes on Thursday, May 15 when we conduct an Online Chat from noon to 1 p.m. Submitting questions - either in advance or during the chat -- is as easy as logging on to the County's website - www.montgomerycountymd.gov and clicking on County Executive, then Live Discussion.
County Council President Mike Knapp and I will also be taking your questions during the next Call-In Show which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 18, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Just call 240-777-6540 with your questions, comments, concerns and/or compliments during the show. The Call-In will be televised live on County Cable Montgomery /CCM - Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN and Channel 30 on Verizon.
The Foreclosure Crisis: Help is Available
There is a nationwide foreclosure crisis and neither Maryland nor Montgomery County is immune. New hardships are being heaped upon local homeowners in ways they undoubtedly never imagined.
I commend Governor O'Malley for recently signing emergency legislation to help homeowners throughout Maryland avoid foreclosure. While these bills will help homeowners, we still need to focus our efforts on this important issue.
The County has signed memorandums of understanding with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to focus on more foreclosure counseling for consumers, to provide funding for a bridge loan program for those facing foreclosure, and to develop a credit enhancement program that will encourage local banks to refinance loans for those facing foreclosure.
Also, Montgomery County and the State of Maryland have both contributed $100,000 to fund two non-profit organizations - the Latino Economic Development Corporation and Home Free USA - to provide counseling to local homeowners.
I appreciate the support of DHCD Secretary Raymond A. Skinner and Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Tom Perez who came to Montgomery County to help us encourage homeowners to seek assistance to avoid losing their homes to foreclosure.
We want to help homeowners remain in Montgomery County, so I urge any who are facing this situation to ask for help through the variety of assistance and counseling programs offered.
Help is available online at www.mdhope.org and through two hotlines - one at the state level 877-462-7555 and another national hotline, 888-995-4673. Locally, I recommend that you contact the County's Office of Consumer Protection at 240-777-3636 or go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov.
Reorganization Plan Approved
I appreciate the County Council's unanimous support for my vision of a County government that is more public service-oriented, user-friendly and accessible. The reorganization plan they approved will help to refocus our government's efforts and make our customer service more effective and the County, as a whole, more responsive and accountable.
The plan was developed by a Reorganization, Restructuring and Realignment Work Group that I appointed last July. The objectives of the work group were to create a more efficient and effective organization with a greater focus on mission alignment, public service and accessibility, and for the reorganization to remain cost neutral.
Highlights of the reorganization are:
- Creation of the new Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus like a laser beam on transportation improvements which include capitaltransportation projects, traffic engineering and parking management, transit services, and highway maintenance and operations;
- Creation of the Department of General Services (DGS) that includes the Office of Procurement, the Small Business Reserve Program from the Department of Economic Development, Fleet Management Services from the current Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT), Facilities and Services and Capital Planning, Design and Construction from DPWT;
- Transfer of the Division of Solid Waste from DPWT to the Department of Environmental Protection;
- Abolishment of the Department of Homeland Security and establishment of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security; and
- Transfer of the responsibility for facility security and Executive protection from the Department of Homeland Security to the Montgomery County Police Department.
The changes become effective July 1.
Get Educated on Lyme Disease
As we head into the warm weather of spring and summer, I want to urge residents to learn about Lyme disease and how to protect themselves when they are outdoors in area parks or in their yards. We've developed several components for an awareness campaign about the disease and prevention starts with education.
Lyme Disease -- first recognized in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 -- is caused by the bite of a tick infected with the Borrellia Burgdorferi bacteria. In 2007, Montgomery County had 348 reported cases, and our Health officials tell us that the number of cases has been increasing each year.
Symptoms of the disease may include headache, fever, muscle and joint aches, fatigue, and a rash often characterized by a distinctive "bull's-eye" rash. If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to more serious problems, including joint and muscle swelling and heart disease.
As part of the public education campaign, signs will be posted at parks and trails throughout the county warning users about Lyme disease. Information is also now posted on the County's website. A brochure developed by health officials, titled "Preventing Lyme Disease in Montgomery County," is available at libraries, recreation centers, and regional services centers, as well as at summer camps and through local sports leagues.
The best defense against Lyme disease is to protect against tick bites. Ticks don't jump or fly onto humans, but wait on low vegetation and attach themselves to hosts (mice, deer, humans) as they walk by. The following steps will help protect against Lyme disease:
- Avoid tick-infested areas such as tall grass and dense vegetation.
- Walk in the center of mowed trails to avoid brushing against vegetation.
- Keep grass cut and underbrush thinned in yards.
- Follow directions carefully if chemicals are used for tick control or hire a professional.
- Eliminate the living places of small rodents.
- Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks are easier to see and remove.
- Tuck pant legs into socks and boots. Wear long-sleeved shirts buttoned at the wrist. Tuck shirts into pants to keep ticks on the outside of clothing.
- Conduct tick checks on yourself, your children and your pets every four to six hours for several days after you have been in a tick infested area.
- Apply tick repellent to areas of the body and clothing that may come in contact with grass and brush. Repellents include those containing up to 50% DEET for adults or less than 30% for children. A repellent/pesticide containing 0.5 percent permethrin may be applied to clothing, but should not be used on skin.
- Follow directions carefully and do not overuse repellents. Some tick repellents can cause toxic or allergic reactions.
- Ask your veterinarian to recommend tick control methods for your pets. Animals can get Lyme disease but they do not transmit these diseases to humans. Remember, however, pets can bring ticks into the house.
For more information about Lyme disease, go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/lymedisease.
I have some good -- or at least, better -- news to share regarding the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the BRAC action that will establish the world-class Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. In this final report, the Navy recognizes that the BRAC project would have "an unusual impact on the transportation network surrounding the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC)."
As a result, the Navy has submitted a request for certification from the Defense Access Roads program that would allow funding for pedestrian access to the Medical Center Metro Station on the east side of Route 355 and for improvements to the intersection that offers direct access into the Medical Center. This represents a change of position on the Navy's part which I appreciate.
I have written to the NNMC commander that I look forward to working with their newly hired transportation coordinator to help implement a Transportation Management Plan that encourages the use of transit alternatives by personnel employed at and visitors coming to the center and to reduce single-occupancy vehicles in the area.
I have also expressed appreciation for the fact that the Navy has addressed some of our environmental concerns by intending to have new construction certified at the Silver level according to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Program.
However, I have urged the commander to strongly consider requests from the members of the County's BRAC Implementation Committee that a long-term community liaison be established so that we may keep lines of communication open, beginning with the BRAC construction phase.
I am very proud that Montgomery County will be home to the world's finest military medical center. However, it is essential that NNMC works collegially with the County and community, as well as federal, state and regional government agencies to ensure that patients, doctors, and emergency vehicles have ready access to the campus.
For more information about the BRAC project in Montgomery County, including upcoming events, go to www.montgomerycountymd.gov/brac.
I encourage Montgomery County veterans and their families who reside in the 8th Congressional District to mark Monday, May 19 on their calendars and plan to attend the Veterans Forum hosted by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg. The center is located at 506 S. Frederick Ave. (Route 355).
There will be a panel discussion on the issues facing veterans today and what Congress is doing to address them. Information will also be presented on benefits and services available to veterans and their families. Representatives from veterans' service organizations will be on hand to provide assistance to individuals.
For more information, call 301-424-3501.
New Green Business Certification Program
I was pleased to announce recently the County's new Green Business Certification program that will recognize local businesses that are improving the County's economy, environment, and quality of life.
We made the announcement at Ecoprint, a small Silver Spring business that is leading the way in environmental responsibility. This is one of many businesses that have taken steps to incorporate environmentally sound practices into their operations and, by doing so, improved their performance.
We know from feedback that businesses are ready and willing to "go green" on a voluntary basis. With the Green Certification program, we will encourage environmentally responsible business operations, and customers will have a way of recognizing which businesses are going green.
Later this year, DEP, in partnership with the Alliance for Workplace Excellence (AWE), will begin phasing in a voluntary program that recognizes businesses that conserve resources, prevent pollution, and protect environmental and public health.
I also want to acknowledge the Montgomery County Sierra Club, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and Councilmember Nancy Floreen for their support of the Green Business Certification program.
What Our Residents Say About the Environment
Our Department of Environmental Protection also surveyed 800 residents to learn more about: how to engage the community and mobilize them to take action on environmental issues; what DEP can do to improve its outreach and education; and what tools may make it easier for residents to make voluntary changes to conserve resources or prevent pollution.
The residential survey confirmed what we already know -- our residents are highly aware of environmental issues and are already taking action to improve the environment for their children and future generations. Based on the survey results, we will look closely at the best ways to further engage residents as our partners in achieving our common environmental goals and help reduce our ecological footprint.
Among the survey findings were the fact that:
- Nearly 80 percent of residents said, compared to other issues, the environment is extremely or very important. At least 10 different issues were identified by the public for their potency as the "biggest environmental problem."
- Forty-two percent said the condition of the environment in our area is getting worse.
- To personally improve the environment, 70 percent said they recycle or cut down on producing waste; 39 percent drive less or use mass transit; 25 percent switched to compact fluorescent bulbs and 23 percent turn off lights or turn down thermostats to conserve energy.
- Nearly 85 percent of residents were very or somewhat interested in getting more information from the County about how to "green" their home and life and financial incentives to improve the environment.
- A majority, 57 percent, are willing to pay a bit more on their water or energy bill if the funds are dedicated to environmental programs in the County.
The Scrap Metal Challenge Recycles Tons...and Tons...and Tons
And the winner is....
But first, maybe we should start at the beginning and share the story of how two Montgomery County communities decided to come together for a friendly competition that would benefit the environment.
In coordination with the Montgomery County Department of Public Works and Transportation's Division of Solid Waste Services (DSWS), the communities of Cabin John and Carderock Springs engaged in a seven-week long Scrap Metal Recycling Challenge.
The competition ran from March 1 through April 18 and was designed to increase awareness of the importance of recycling, while encouraging residents to recycle their unwanted or unusable scrap metal items.
I can now report that Cabin John won the challenge with a total of 20,284.3 pounds of scrap metal items collected from both their community drop off site and from special call-in curbside collections. Combined with Carderock Springs' 13,478 pounds, that means that in just over one month, nearly 17 tons of scrap metal items were collected for recycling.
Congratulations to both Cabin John and Carderock Springs for wanting to do something to make a statement that individuals can make a big difference when it comes to recycling and for making the point in such a creative, educational way.
According to DSWS, scrap metal items -- that are highly recyclable -- make up approximately eight percent of the total waste generated in the county.
All residents of single-family households in Montgomery County can receive recycling collection of large scrap metal items, such as appliances, lawn mowers, microwaves, metal lawn furniture, and other similar items, on an on-call basis.
Smaller scrap metal items like pots and pans, nuts and bolts, hangers, paper clips, metal bottle caps, and other similar items can be brought for recycling to Montgomery County's Recycling Center/Transfer Station, located near the intersection of Route 355 and Shady Grove Rd., during regular hours of operation.
For those hours and to get more information about scrap metal and other recycling programs in Montgomery County, call 240-777-6410 or visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/recycling.
New Animal Control Director
Stephen Dickstein has been named the new director of the Montgomery County Police Animal Services Division.
For the past 10 years, Stephen has been employed with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) as the Chief of Public Safety Programs. During his time there, he established the Regional Animal Services Committee to address mutual concerns about the protection and care of animals and related public safety and health concerns that impact the Washington Metropolitan area.
Stephen also worked as the Disaster Services Manager for the Humane Society of the United States. For 10 years, he was with Montgomery County as a caseworker and assistant supervisor in the Department of Social Services and a 911 dispatcher with the Department of Police.
His background with Montgomery County and his experience with animal rights and protection will serve us well as we look to enhance our Animal Services Division and plan its new facility.
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Celebrations
On May 29, in the Cafritz Arts Center on the Takoma Park campus of Montgomery College, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., there will be a reception in honor of the award-winning artwork from the annual arts contest that encourages middle school students to express themselves and their cultural heritage through visual arts. The Arts Center is located at 7600 Takoma Avenue in Silver Spring.
The winning pieces of art -- reflecting the theme "Understanding Diversity through the Arts" -- will be on exhibit at locations around the county from May to November. Included among the stops are the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County; BlackRock Center for the Arts; the Mansion at Strathmore; the Board of Education; and the Executive Office Building.
The contest was co-sponsored by Montgomery County and the Montgomery College School of Arts. I invite you to stop by any one of the locations around the county and see the colorful expressions of cultural heritage by our young people.