Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Advisory Board testifies in support of school funding transparency, Bethesda Urban Partnership, public libraries

The following testimony was provided to the Montgomery Country Council by the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board on April 15, 2015.

Members of the County Council, on behalf of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, we thank you for the opportunity to share with you our feedback of the County Executive’s Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget. Our input comes from interested citizens, neighborhood organizations, local businesses, community groups, non-profits and many others who took the time to share their thoughts about what our priorities for the county should include.

With multiple days of testimony from dozens of groups, we are keeping our recommendations short to highlight how important we feel that they are within the budget.

In our letter from early March to serve as input for the County Executive’s Budget, we asked that funding be prioritized to effectively manage the impact of new residents. The front line of that effort in downtown Bethesda is the Bethesda Urban Partnership, or BUP we call it. With continued urbanization, there’s no substitute for the BUP. BUP makes downtown Bethesda a vibrant community, aesthetically pleasing and a destination for so many. We ask that BUP’s funding be fully restored by an increased transfer from Parking Lot District funds.

With regard to education, the community understands the technical process of the County Council allocating funds, primarily by statute through the Maintenance of Effort law but has little if any direct oversight over how this money is spent. We wholly support fully funding public education. However we would like to bring to your attention a growing desire for there to be more transparency and input over how education dollars are being spent. We feel that any action towards transparency and input from you will make our schools more effective at educating our children.

The recent news that Marriott may look for a new location for its headquarters continues to highlight our needed effort to find and tout competitive advantages to Washington, DC, northern Virginia and our neighbors to the east, Prince George’s County. The County Executive’s six-point plan has brought more vision to this effort and we feel the 7.5% increase in spending for DED should be maintained. 

The CAB was delighted to see the 5% increase in library funding as libraries serve a core government function and have fantastic advocates.

An area of concern is a 4.7% decrease in spending for the Board of Elections. Those involved in the 2014 General Election know that there was a considerable delay from the time polls closed at 8pm until results were available the day after, unlike in other counties. Even though this year’s decrease is due to no major elections, the long delay in election results being released causes people to question vote totals, leaves candidates with rooms full of supporters anxiously awaiting the outcome and is an area where we lag our neighbors in a very public way.

As you deliberate over the coming weeks, we want to further ask you to support:

  • The holistic approach of aging in place, such as home healthcare, social activities, support groups for ailments and illness, housing and protecting senior citizens against physical, emotional and financial abuse;
  • Affordable housing programs for the working poor and those in need of temporary support;
  • Services and organizations that aid the quality of life for intellectually and developmentally disabled citizens, such as the Arc of Montgomery;
  • Continuing the quality of our current public transportation system. As you've surely heard, one objection to developing a new Rapid Transit System has been the ability to properly operate already existing modes of transportation. 

Finally, we would like the operating budget to support increased outreach and usage of 311. We feel that this is a fantastic service that significantly reduces the need to navigate through bureaucracy and citizens need to know about it. The Public Information Office has set a target that 15% of requests be web based but we feel that there needs to be more so people know where to report potholes, get information about trash pickup, access housing programs, seek help in case of mental health crisis, or - as is currently on the Tips section of the website to request a county service - report a dead deer along the roadway.

Submitted by Tara Flynn, Chair and Scott Goldberg, Vice Chair