Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Western Montgomery County CAB Testimony on FY-15 Operating Budget

The following testimony is from the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board to the County Council concerning the 2015 fiscal year operating budget. This testimony was given on April 9th, 2014:

Council President Rice and Councilmembers, my name is Jad Donohoe.  I am the chair of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board. 
Thank you for this opportunity to present our views on the 2015 fiscal year operating budget. 
The Board recognizes that the County is emerging from a difficult time in which you have had to close a series of budget gaps caused by the troubled economic landscape. As we restore budgets and programs, we urge caution and careful deliberation.
With this in mind, we encourage you to look for opportunities for existing programs to operate more efficiently and to find savings through shared investments and coordination across multiple agencies.  Specifically, we suggest a multi-agency task force be convened to identify such opportunities. 
We also wanted to call your attention to funding for programs which our Board hears about most often from our west county neighborhoods: specifically, improved funding for Public Libraries, Regional Services Centers (RSCs), School Resource Officers (SROs), Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety, Bikeshare, Ride-On and Master Plans.
Public Libraries
We support the County Executive’s recommended increase in funding for Public Libraries.
·        The circulation of traditional books has not diminished and the demand for e-books has skyrocketed. 
·        We regularly hear requests for additional evening and weekend library hours.  Particularly in our more urbanized areas, evening library hours can play a significant role in the “Nighttime Economy.”
·        With this increased use comes a need for adequate funds for cleaning and maintenance.
Regional Services Centers (RSCs)
We urge you to add additional funds above the County Executive’s recommended budget for Regional Services Centers in order to restore full-time administrative support in each RSC.  We applaud the recent relocation of some part-time administrative support, but a full-time admin is needed at each RSC.
·        For many County residents and community organizations, the RSCs are their connection to County government and the proof that government is available and responsive to their concerns.  
·        Without adequate administrative support on site at the RSCs, time that RSC directors spend engaging with the community is spent on administrative tasks like scheduling and building management issues.  
·        Running the RSCs on a skeleton crew fails to leverage the significant capital and operating investment we have made in the RSCs, and it limits the work that RSCs can do - a problem recently highlighted by the 2014 Committee Evaluation and Review Board recommendations.
School Resource Officers (SROs)
We enthusiastically support the County Executive’s recommendation for two additional School Resource Officers.  We are very supportive of this program, and welcome this additional funding.
Pedestrian Safety
The Board applauds the County’s emphasis on pedestrian safety.  We encourage you to continue the high level of support for pedestrian awareness education – including enforcement against drivers who ignore marked crosswalks.
Bikeshare and Bikelanes
We thank you for the recent roll out of Capital Bikeshare in the County.
·        We encourage you to consider additional funds to connect up the system in Bethesda with that in Rockville by adding multiple new bikeshare stations in the growing areas of Twinbrook and White Flint.
·        We also urge additional bikelanes and bike trails, and maintenance of the existing network. Like all networks, our network of bikelanes and bikeshare stations become more useful and usable as they increase in size.
We support the continued investment in Ride-On and ask that the County consider ways to make transit smarter, including:
·        Real-time tracking and mapping of bus routes
·        Free service within 1/2 mile of urban metro stations (to reduce traffic and aid the nighttime economy)
·        New or expanded routes that more directly connect our urban areas to one another including Friendship Heights/Bethesda, Bethesda/White Flint, and White Flint/Twinbrook.
Master Plans
We applaud the ongoing review of the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan. We urge you to fund the review of the Westbard Sector Plan (our County’s oldest Sector Plan), and the White Flint II Plan, which will guide development in the area between the emerging urban centers of White Flint and Twinbrook.
We appreciate your consideration of these points as you review the FY2015 budget. Thank you.
Jad Donohoe, WMCCAB Chair