Montgomery County (MD) Taxpayers League | The Voice of Montgomery County Taxpayers

From the The Gazette of October 6, 2014:
“Montgomery County became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to pass a local public campaign financing system Sept. 30.  Here’s a breakdown of how the new system will work…. A county executive candidate can receive up to $750,000 in matching funds for the primary and $750,000 for the general election. A candidate for council at-large can receive up to $250,000 for each election and a candidate for district council can receive up to $125,000 for each election…. Where does the money come from?  Taxpayers foot the bill.”

Read the full story at The Gazette.

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Oct/14

11

Video of school board challengers forum

In the evening of September 30, 2014, a forum was held in the Rockville Library to hear a what the five challengers for positions on the Montgomery County Board of Education has to say.  The challengers are Larry Edmonds, Shebra Evans, Laurie Halverson, Jill Ortman-Fouse and Kristin Trible.  This forum was for challengers only as the incumbents already have a public record.  The forum was sponsored by the Montgomery County Taxpayers League (MCTL), the Montgomery County Civic Federation and the Parents Coalition of Montgomery County.  The moderator was Joan Fidler, President of MCTL
The video, 1 hour and 45 minutes long, is on YouTube:

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Montgomery County Taxpayers League
Montgomery County Civic Federation
Parents Coalition of Montgomery County

jointly sponsor

“School Board Challengers – Good Governance Forum”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
7:00 -9:00 pm

Rockville Memorial Library, 1st Floor Conference Room
21 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850

Speakers:  Larry Edmonds, Shebra Evans, Laurie Halverson, Jill Ortman-Fouse, Kristin Trible

All 5 speakers are challengers for four seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education. Shebra Evans and Jill Ortman-Fouse are running against each other for the at-large seat vacated by Shirley Brandman. Kristin Trible faces incumbent Judy Docca in school district 1, Laurie Halverson faces incumbent Patricia O’Neill in school district 3 while Larry Edmonds faces incumbent Michael Durso in school district 5. While the candidates for Districts 1, 3 and 5 are for specific geographical areas they are elected county-wide.

Here are 3 questions sent to the challengers in advance of the forum.  The rest of the questions will be from you – the audience.

1. You are all aware of the Maintenance of Effort (MoE) law that uses a formula to calculate county funding of its public schools and uses punitive measures to enforce education spending levels.  This MoE formula increases funding annually commensurate with student growth regardless of performance shortfalls or inefficiencies.  Do you support this law as it currently exists?  If yes, why?  If you believe it should be amended?  How?

2. The 2009 audit by the State found that the MCPS Board of Education had no control over internal audits conducted by the school system, that there are no whistle blower protections and that there is no fraud and abuse hotline.  Given that the MCPS budget is not an insignificant $2.3 billion what is your position on the establishment of an Inspector General reporting to the Board of Education?

3. It is universally acknowledged that we have an achievement gap in our public schools that does not appear to be decreasing significantly.  How much of the MCPS budget should be allocated to reducing this gap and what are some of the performance measures you would put in place to judge the success of current – and your proposed – approaches?  

 

 

 

 

 

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Aug/14

28

“WSSC water rate torture”

Gordie Brenne, vice president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League, had his letter to the editor published in The Montgomery Gazette of August 27, 2014:

Congratulations! You’re using less water than ever due to improved conservation and appliance efficiency. Your reward is higher charges! Recently WSSC laid out plans for higher fees in a Council hearing. This is on top of rate increases every year for the last eight years of 5-8 percent.

WSSC management says the problem is unstable revenues in the face of all your conservation. The real problem is weak cost controls, as operating and capital improvement costs continue to increase. WSSC is huge, with 1,700 employees and annual budget of $1.3 billion.

Are costs difficult to control because WSSC is too large, or is it because there are no incentives to lower costs when rate increases are routinely approved? Maybe it’s because WSSC is jointly managed by Montgomery and Prince George’s County’s, and this divided oversight is too lenient?

WSSC water rates are 80-146 percent higher than nearby Fairfax and Howard County’s. Why? How does the productivity of WSSC employees compare? Are WSSC methods for water treatment, distribution, and sewage treatment as efficient? We asked WSSC Managing Director Jerry Johnson in a May meeting about the unbilled water rate. He said WSSCs current unbilled water rate is 16 percent, placing WSSC in the lowest quartile of U.S. operators, and is due to “a system that is not tight enough.” That’s $200 million a year not being collected.

We recommend that the County Council commission an independent study of WSSC costs and controls before any more rate or fee increases are approved. This study should also look at the feasibility of splitting up WSSC by separating the two county operations, as well as privatization and outsourcing of some or all of WSSC operations.

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From the The Washington Post of August 18, 2014:

Not the case in Maryland, which suffered the second most job losses in the country in July — shedding 9,000 positions (second only to Ohio) — and watched its unemployment rate jump from 5.8 percent to 6.1 percent. ”

Read the full story at The Post.

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The Montgomery Gazette published a letter June 6, 2014,  from MCTL President Joan Fidler calling for an Inspector General for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS):

“State auditors reported in 2009 that MCPS governance was inadequate because the board had no control over internal audit for studies or analysis, no fraud or abuse hot line, no whistle blower protections.  It’s time for MCPS — like the County Government — to have an independent Inspector General.  A budget of over $2 billion and the future of our kids require no less.”

Read her whole letter in The Gazette

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Jun/14

9

County Delegates Vote Against Business.

 On page 22 of “2014 Roll Call”, a publication of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, is a table showing how all 24 Montgomery County delegates voted on 17 bills affecting business.  These 17 proposals led to 261 floor votes by all 24 Delegates.  Here are the numbers:

All proposals affecting business (excluding 8 “not voting”):

      Yes                  No               Total

      49                  204               253

 This means that for all 17 measures first proposed in the House our 24 Delegates voted for business 49 times and against business 204 times (81% against).  It appears that our anti-business label is well-earned.

 

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Questions sent to both speakers in advance of the meeting of June 12, 2014:

Topic: “Should Montgomery County be in the Liquor Business”?

Speakers: Edward Cooper, Vice President, Total Wine and More

George Griffin, Director, Department of Liquor Control, Montgomery County

1.    There are many reasons for and against privatizing the liquor business in Montgomery County?  Loss of a major revenue stream is most often cited as the main reason.  What is the net revenue gained through county control of liquor and how much revenue would privatization bring in?

2.    There is a perception that the preservation of 350 union jobs is a major obstacle to privatizing distribution and sales?  If privatized, how many of these jobs would be moved to the private sector and would they belong to the same union?

3.    Is the public control of liquor an asset or a detriment to the restaurant business?  Would privatizing liquor sales help or hurt the restaurant business?

4.    How do you explain the fact that Montgomery County is dead last in the state for liquor and beer per capita sales?  Is the current method of distribution and retailing sending residents to neighboring jurisdictions for their purchases?  How would privatizing the liquor business improve these numbers?

5.    The state of Washington recently privatized the liquor business.  What are the lessons learned from this switch to privatization?

6.    Some would argue that underage drinking is not a major problem in Montgomery County due to county/state control of sale of liquor.  Is this true?  How would privatizing the liquor business impact underage drinking?

7.    How do you avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest when the Department of Liquor Control is both the regulator and distributor of liquor?  Would privatizing the liquor business solve this problem?

8.    How often is there an outside independent audit of the Department of Liquor Control?  Has there ever been a management audit of the department?   How much overtime is paid in the Department of Liquor Control

 

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Questions sent to Mr. Johnson in advance of the meeting of May 29, 2014:

Topic:   ” What Has WSSC Provided for Us Lately”?

Speaker:  Jerry Johnson, General Manager, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

1.    WSSC has an annual operating and capital budget of $1.3 billion.  How does this compare with other jurisdictions in the area?   With recent rate increases, WSSC residential water rate of $4.05/1,000 gal is higher than Fairfax ($2.42/1,000) and Howard  ($1.77/1,000) counties.  What do we get for this additional cost?

2.    A few years ago WSSC had one of the highest unbilled water rates in the country- 20%.  WSSC blamed old meters in older buildings and NIH for not paying their bills.  What is the unbilled rate now, and how do we compare with Fairfax and Howard counties?

3.    Many county residents have been receiving increases in their WSSC bills 100% and sometimes 1000% over prior bills.  What accounts for these huge increases?

4.    The WSSC has known about the age of water pipes it mains for years and also that their failure rate would increase with age.   Do you have a plan for replacing them and what is the cost?

5.    What is WSSC’s position on the placement of large water mains especially in residential communities where a rupture can be hazardous.  A few years ago a rupture of such line in western Montgomery County made national news when a woman in a car was trapped and nearly drowned.  Have you considered using multiple smaller diameter pipes, spaced apart, operating parallel to each other, designed so that the failure of one pipe does not impair flow through the others.  Is there a financial reason for this?

6.    It was reported in the news recently that the huge $164 million installation by WSSC of a bi-county water pipeline 160 feet underground is coming in under budget and ahead of schedule.  How were you able to accomplish that and are there lessons to be learned for large projects in Montgomery County?

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Isn’t it ironic that 11,000 of our school children obtain their education operating out of portable classrooms?  We are the largest jurisdiction in the state with the greatest number of students without whom Maryland public schools would not rank number one in the country.  And yet our 32-member delegation to Annapolis has failed in securing us the state construction funding we need.

Last May every voting member of our delegation voted to guarantee Baltimore City schools $20 million a year for 30 years for school construction.  This special allocation was in addition to the normal allocation of state funds to all the state’s 24 school systems.

Baltimore has about 84,000 students while we have 151,000 – and growing.  Baltimore has nearly 200 school buildings while we have 188. Baltimore City covers 81 square miles while Montgomery County covers 507.  Perhaps Baltimore needs to consolidate its schools but the political leaders don’t feel the need to do so. Why should they?  They have been guaranteed $20 million a year for 30 years.

So while our delegation can find all that money to give to Baltimore, they can’t find enough state money to get our 11,000 students out of portable classrooms.  Yes, they did try this election year – but failed. Why?  Do they not have enough clout in Annapolis?  Is Montgomery County seen as the ATM for Baltimore City and the state?  Do our delegates interests coincide with the residents of Montgomery County?  Just asking.

 –  Joan Fidler, President

 

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