January 19, 2024

Message from the County Executive


Dear Friends,

I have released my recommended Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget for Fiscal Years 2025-2030. This proposal calls for a six-year investment of $5.8 billion, which is a modest 2.3 percent increase over the previously approved CIP. Below is a graphic breakdown of how the money would be spent across departments and categories if approved by the County Council as submitted.  

These investments will be spent on many different projects spanning school buildings, libraries and transportation needs. We are also ramping up efforts to improve our stormwater system to prevent catastrophic flooding in our community.   

This proposal also includes a heavy investment in designing and rolling out a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will help relieve traffic congestion, giving many commuters new, fast and reliable options for commuting. You can see from the map above (and here on the MCDOT website) this is a mass rapid transit solution that relieves our busiest, most congested roadways so everyone can get where they need to go. Since I introduced BRT in 2008 while still on the Council, I have been working on implementing the system. We are picking up the pace on building this out which had been far too slow.  

There are communities all over this nation implementing similar systems, including in Richmond. If we are going to get serious about expanding public transit in this County, BRT is the most cost effective and efficient method to provide that transportation. We can deliver. If we had dealt with funding this seriously over the last decade, we would have a lot more people connected to public transit by now. In fact, we would have a completed network by now. 

This budget also includes close to $200 million for affordable housing efforts with another $50 million coming from our surplus reserves. The County has far exceeded our budget target and the standards set by the ratings agencies for our reserves. Using this surplus in a housing fund will allow us to be ready for new projects since much of the already budgeted housing money is committed to projects that produce, preserve or protect affordable housing. 

This is my third full CIP and is $133 million more than the prior approved budget for capital improvements I presented two years ago. One of the biggest disappointments in this process is realizing that we cannot afford all the projects being requested. It is frustrating to see our schools, roads and communities delayed because we are constrained by an antiquated tax structure. It has been this way for as long as I can remember.

We have an opportunity this year to make the kind of changes at a State level that can be a gamechanger for counties across Maryland. Allowing jurisdictions like Montgomery County to create local taxing authorities can help us address our own needs. The State has never been able to fund the statewide needs, so money comes out in small pieces over years. Without a steady stream of resources, the County cannot apply for Federal funds that require a State and local match.

We are in the situation that Northern Virginia was in more than a decade ago.  Instead of doing nothing and hoping money would fall from the sky, the political and business leadership of Fairfax County went to the Republican-controlled General Assembly and the governor and to seek taxing authority so it could fund transportation projects that would drive development in Fairfax. It got the approval, the governor talked about it as a major tool for economic development and today we see the infrastructure those moves created. Northern Virginia’s special taxing districts paved the way for the kind of transportation projects we desperately need here. 

Fairfax had the courage to step up and make the political decision to take control of its fate. We fixate on whether developers would embrace the higher taxes or if would thwart economic development. The developers across the river supported the new special taxing districts and the countywide taxing district because the tax money was only used for transportation projects that benefit the business areas being taxed. They saw it as an investment that would increase the value of their properties. Well, it did. And this is important too: they did not pass the bulk of this burden on to their residents. Their commercial taxes dwarf what Montgomery County receives and the investments they made with that money spurred the development that everybody envies.

They made deliberate decisions about tax policy that made it possible to attract businesses because they could promise the infrastructure that developers saw in their master plans. The promised and delivered projects that could be built and built on time—something that we cannot do in Maryland.  

I have proposed ditching our Impact Tax system and replacing it with the tax structures used in Northern Virginia. If we are going to drive economic development, we need infrastructure. We can use the roadmap that Northern Virginia followed and replicate its success. Our rate on corporate taxes over the past decade has remained low compared to Northern Virginia’s. Yet, that has not kept it from growing and attracting business. 

The longer we wait to complete these CIP projects, the more they cost. That was true before the pandemic and the price tags seem to be even higher on these projects now. We are a dozen years into planning out BRT and it could have been built in less than half that time had we been serious and had the right funding sources in place. 

I generally do not pay attention to the “comment section” of the articles, but I did catch this response from “Krench” on the Washington Post’s coverage of our recommended CIP budget. I wanted to point this out because it shows that there are folks out who understand our argument.   

You can look over my budget proposal by following this link on the Office of Management and Budget website. I also encourage you to participate in opportunities over the next several weeks to offer feedback to the County Council as it considers this proposal. The first opportunities will be Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 6 and 7, when the Council holds its first public hearings on the CIP budget.  

Winter Weather

Significant snowfall returned to Montgomery County after two nearly snowless years. Many of us saw several inches of snow pile up, impacting roads, closing schools and putting our winter preparation to the test. Montgomery County accumulated more snow than anywhere else in the Capital Region.  

I want to thank the many people across our government who put in days preparing and responding to the storm. We have about 200 crew members and 175 pieces of equipment. Additionally, we had 200 contract operators and pieces of equipment to supplement the clearing effort.   

Our road crews are the most visible part of our operation, and there are many people coordinating those sand trucks and plows. We also had people from our Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, Montgomery County Police and our Department of Health and Human Services working countless hours and assisting those in need. 

Montgomery County also activated a Cold Emergency Alert this week to make room in our recreation centers and libraries for those in need of a warm place to stay. We expanded normal shelter operations and had police officers on the lookout for anyone stuck outside. You can always let us know if you are worried about the safety of any person or a pet you see left out in the extreme cold by calling 301-279-8000.

Continue to watch our Winter Storm Informational Portal for the latest on how the winter weather is impacting government operations. I also encourage you to sign up for Alert Montgomery text alerts, which have for the latest updates. We have wonderful programs, classes and events at our County facilities every day that may be impacted by the extreme cold.  

Keeping Count of Those Experiencing Homelessness

Volunteers are needed for the 2024 “Point-in-Time” count that helps the County and our region assess how many unhoused individuals there are. It will take place from 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 24, to 3 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 25. Training will take place immediately before the survey begins. Volunteers will then go out in teams to designated locations. Starting points for the effort will be in Silver Spring and Rockville.

Last year’s survey counted 894 adults and children experiencing homelessness. It was a significant increase over 2022, but when you look at the last 10 years, efforts to reduce homelessness have led to a 13 percent reduction.

We continue to be committed to making homelessness rare, brief and a one-time occurrence using case workers and community partners to provide immediate and long-term help. One of the most persistent barriers to ending homelessness is the insufficient number of affordable and available permanent housing opportunities for the lowest income households, but it is something we are working to address.

Preregistration for participation ends Friday, Jan. 19. You can send an email with any questions you have about the Point in Time count to HHSPIT@montgomerycountymd.gov. If you would like to look over last year’s report, you can find it here.

Federal Grants Will Help Expand EV Charging Stations in Maryland

We have some great news for electric vehicle owners. Montgomery County is already home to more than 25,000 registered EV owners, more than any other County in Maryland. Now, they will get more infrastructure support from the State and Federal governments. 

Last week, Governor Wes Moore announced the State received a $15 million Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Program grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It will pay for 58 electric vehicle charging stations across Maryland. I want to thank the governor and our Federal delegation for their support and the money that will be used to help all of Maryland. 

Recently, the County added 16 new electric vehicle charging ports to garages and parking lots in Silver Spring, Bethesda and Wheaton. It brought the total number of EV charging ports in County facilities to 64. This new funding source will help expand those efforts, so EV ownership becomes more of a possibility for thousands of families. Here is a site where you can locate all the charging ports in the County’s EV infrastructure program.

We have come a long way since installing our first public charging port for EVs in 2015. Our efforts, and those of our partners, in providing renewable energy stations for public use helped fuel the high level of interest EV vehicles. We encourage people to sign a pledge to consider an EV when making their next car purchase. By signing up, you can access information about local, State and Federal rebates that can apply to a new EV purchase. 

More than 1,100 people have joined the County’s EV Purchasing Co-op group and we anticipate that the list will continue to grow. You can learn more by visiting the Zero-Emission Vehicles website.

Some State Transportation Cuts Restored  

I am pleased by this week’s announcement that Governor Moore is making an addition to his proposed budget that will help ease the pain of more $3 billion in State transportation cuts over the next six years.   

The $150 million restores some of the funding for projects through Highway User Revenue funds. For Montgomery County, $17 million will be back in the mix to help pay for Ride On services and to keep a DMV office open that is likely to close once FY25 ends. 

I want to the thank the governor for making County needs a priority. We understand how fewer drivers on the roads over the last few years spending less on gas has impacted the transportation budget. The governor and his team clearly weighed the impact of severe cuts over the last month and decided to find more in the budget to help. I hope it is a sign that we can make progress over the next few months to address our State’s financial shortcomings in a collaborative way to continue to serve as many Marylanders as possible. 

Health Report 

This week I will share my personal health report because I have COVID-19. Again. 

I attended several of the MLK Jr. events on Monday. By the end of night, I started sneezing. At 4 a.m., I woke up and decided to test myself. I discovered that I was positive for COVID-19. So far, this is not as bad as the first time I had it. I am glad I was vaccinated and boosted. I got Paxlovid and my symptoms are pretty mild, but not pleasant. I am isolating myself and limiting my workload to virtual meetings. 

As we have discussed over the last few weeks, we are in the middle of the traditional cold and flu season. We also have COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses impacting our community. 

The JN.1 is the new dominant variant. It accounted for less than 5 percent of cases two months ago. Now it is responsible for more than 60 percent. Symptoms of the JN.1 strain are very similar to those of previous omicron variants, and it does not seem to cause more severe disease.   

Even though our current vaccine was released in September 2023, it is still the best way to avoid serious complications from JN.1. I encourage everyone to stay up to date on all vaccines that they are eligible for. It is not too late to get a COVID-19 vaccine, flu shot or RSV to better protect yourself and your family. If you do feel sick enough to visit a doctor, there are antivirals that are still effective against this new strain.

Maryland Climate Pollution Reduction Plan

At the close of 2023, the State of Maryland released the long anticipated Climate Pollution Reduction Plan (CPRP) that contains many bold and worthwhile ideas. 

The ambitious strategy to combat climate change requires the State to invest billions in climate actions and pass legislation to accelerate clean energy transitions. 

In the plan, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) outlines meaningful legislative and executive actions to achieve a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2031, 100 percent clean energy by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2045 through a broad range of sectors including electricity, transportation, buildings, industry, waste, agriculture and forestry. 

Key elements include transitioning away from fossil fuels, investing in clean energy, electrifying transportation and enhancing energy efficiency in buildings. The plan also addresses economic and public health impacts, aiming to lower energy costs, create jobs and improve air quality. Recommendations include: 
  • A complete transition away from coal-fired power plants. Scaling renewable energy infrastructure, especially solar, wind and battery power. 
  • Providing more incentives for consumers to choose new and used electric vehicles (EV) when they are ready to replace their cars and expanding EV charging infrastructure. 
  • How to make energy retrofits on 9,000 existing buildings and ways to help consumers electrify their homes by switching to heat pumps, electric water heaters and electric appliances. 
  • Establishing a zero-emission heating equipment standard. 
  • Electrifying school buses, transit buses and government fleet vehicles.
Many of the fundamental aspects of the State’s CPRP complement Montgomery County’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). These include the increased electrification of buildings and transportation – including electrifying school buses, transit buses and government fleet vehicles; expanding EV infrastructure and innovative clean energy standards; and incentivizing consumers in the electrification of their homes via electrical appliances. Additionally, there are actions like striking trash incineration from the State’s renewable portfolio standard, matching that of Montgomery County, which is on track for the closing of its incinerator in the near future.

Maryland has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions faster than almost any other state, achieving a 30 percent reduction in statewide emissions from 2006 levels by 2020. Montgomery County has led the way in greenhouse gas reductions and will continue to drive those numbers down with innovative solutions. The County’s Energy Climate Compliance Division is working with 1,900 business owners and property managers to implement our new Building Energy Performance Standards regulations.

This past year, we held the County’s 10th annual Energy Summit to help share green ideas with the community and will have another one scheduled in April. I am proud that we have a new law that will lead to the phase out of gas-powered leaf blowers in Montgomery County. And we are also working toward taking more gas-powered vehicles off the road by electrifying our bus fleet, expanding mass transit options and working with local companies to encourage more people to buy electric vehicles. You can learn more about our recent accomplishment by watching this video put together by the Department of Environmental Protection.

In 2022, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Climate Solutions Now Act, establishing the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the nation. Montgomery County’s Climate Change Officer Sarah Kogel-Smucker commends the CPRP and calls it a bold and concrete plan from the State. She and I agree that Montgomery County is well-poised to enthusiastically expand its partnerships with the State on climate solutions to help implement the plan. We are already experiencing more extreme weather events, hotter summers and more intense rainfall. With action from the State, the County and all Marylanders, we can help reverse this trend. 

To read the full report, visit Maryland.gov via the Maryland Department of the Environment page.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive