February 16, 2024

Message from County Executive Marc Elrich


Dear Friends,

Maryland is leading the nation and expanding a program launched last fall to pay recent high school graduates for a year of service to the community.

This is an important initiative for our State and County. I appreciated Governor Wes Moore’s focus from his first days in office on improving how the State provides post high school education offerings and workforce development. Both are critical to Maryland’s economic development efforts. It is also a way to deal with community challenges in need of more engaged problem solvers.

Beyond providing high school graduates a way to make some money, this program is also providing hope, guidance and exposure to careers that span different disciplines and industries. Maryland Secretary of Service and Civic Innovation Paul Monteiro said during my weekly media briefing that giving these participants an early exposure to civic literacy is as important as setting them up with caring and responsible adults who can act as mentors moving forward. You can listen to him here.

I have seen as a teacher that there are few things worse than a child with no hope of success. Losing confidence in a path forward is really destabilizing. Anything we can do to give them opportunities to find job training is critically important.

The State is preparing for the next group of teenagers to join this innovative and expanding program. We want to make sure Montgomery County graduates are aware of these opportunities.

Each participant will be placed based on their interests. They will earn at least $15 an hour and work at least 30 hours a week. Upon successful completion of the program, these young people also earn $6,000 toward tuition costs or as a cash stipend. Support coaches will help everyone in the program refine their post-service plans—whether they include college, a career or continued service. Visit serve.maryland.gov to learn more and apply. Business and nonprofit leaders looking to get involved also are encouraged to apply to be a host by April 1.

More Local Autonomy to Raise Revenues for Needed Investments

Since before the start of this year’s Maryland General Assembly session, I have been advocating for reforms in our State law to allow more local autonomy in how we raise revenues for transportation improvements or for school funding.

I am pleased to report that we are seeing progress.

This week, the Maryland Association of Counties’ legislative committee endorsed House Bill 919—a bill to allow counties to set special property tax rates.

In Maryland, every county’s commercial and residential property tax rate must be the same. However, municipalities have for decades had the ability to set different rates to meet the development demands of their residents and businesses.

In 2024, frankly, it does not make any sense that the municipalities have this ability to fund infrastructure, but counties do not. It is time to grant Maryland counties the same the autonomy that Maryland municipalities already have; that Virginia counties have and use extensively; and that the District of Columbia already has and uses extensively.

I want to thank Frederick County’s State Delegate Kris Fair for introducing House Bill 919, and I appreciate my fellow county executives and State leaders for supporting this legislation.

Additionally, I am also appreciative that Montgomery County Del. Ryan Speigel, along with State Sen. Nancy King, have submitted bills that further the goal of creating greater autonomy for local governments to develop transportation systems that meet regional needs. Specifically, House Bill 924 and Senate Bill 1126 would establish regional transportation authorities for the purpose of better coordinating transportation investments and management with our counterparts in the region.

The bills recognize that the ability for local governments to generate revenue is key to making this work—just like Northern Virginia figured out 20 years ago. These bills include a provision requiring the Maryland Department of Transportation, in consultation with the State comptroller, to study and report on the feasibility of creating local-option transportation revenues to fund the regional transportation authorities.

We have an opportunity this year to make the kind of changes at the State level that can be a gamechanger for counties across Maryland. The State has never been able to fully fund transportation needs statewide, 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.

In the 1990’s, both Fairfax and Montgomery counties faced similar challenges with state governments unable to fund critical infrastructure projects. Instead of doing nothing and hoping money would fall from the sky, the political and business leadership of Fairfax County went to a Republican-controlled state government to seek taxing authority so it could fund transportation projects that would drive development in Fairfax. It won approval for the initiative, and today we see the infrastructure those moves created. Northern Virginia’s approach paved the way for the kind of transportation projects we desperately need here. More importantly, their investment in transportation led to the wave of economic development that followed the investments in transit needs.

Virginia had the courage to step up and make the political decision to take control of its fate, while we dither on whether developers would embrace the higher taxes or if would thwart economic development.

The developers in Northern Virginia supported innovative tax policies because they had the guarantee that this tax revenue could only be used for transportation projects—projects that benefited the businesses and residents being taxed. They saw it as an investment that would increase the value of their properties. Clearly, 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 currently generates, 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. They promised and delivered projects that could be built and built on time—something that we struggle to do in Maryland.  

I hope these pieces of legislation are signed into law and finally allow us to compete with Northern Virginia, or else we are going to see their economic development and job creation efforts continue to surpass ours.

Tackling Reckless Driving and Dangerous Car Meet Ups

We had State Del. Greg Wims and Police Sgt. Pat Kepp on our weekly media briefing last week talking about Senate Bills 939 and 940, as well as House Bills 1111 and 1160. These pieces of legislation would establish new benchmarks for reckless driving, including for anyone caught going more than 90 miles per hour. The bills would also clarify what constitutes aggressive driving.

Additionally, we are supporting House Bill 601 and Senate Bill 442 which specifically address Street Racing and Exhibition Driving. This bill will alter certain penalties and points assessments related to participation in a race or speed contest and prohibits a person from engaging in exhibition driving on any highway or private property that is used for driving by the public.

I want to thank Delegates Linda Foley, David Fraser-Hidalgo, Anne Kaiser, Sara Love, Julie Palakovich Carr, Emily Shetty, Jared Soloman, Vaughn Stewart, Joe Vogel, Jheanelle Wilkins and Natalie Ziegler for sponsoring the House bill, which had a hearing today in Annapolis.

All these bills are very important for the General Assembly to pass. Just last weekend, we saw a dangerous car meet ups in Takoma Park and at other locations throughout the State.

The Montgomery County Police Department, along with the State Police and local municipality police departments, do a good job of finding out about these gatherings and often stop them before they begin. But they cannot stop all of them. The few that get by are seen on the news and infuriate residents.

This lawlessness must stop. If you see a car meetup, call our police non-emergency number at 301-279-8000. Do not call 9-1-1 about these incidents unless medical or police attention is immediately needed.

These gatherings terrorize nearby residents and hurt businesses. We are working hard to stop them and hopefully, we will succeed before someone gets seriously injured or killed at one of these events.

Chief of Public Health Services Approved

The County Council voted unanimously this week to approve Nina Ashford as Montgomery County’s new chief of Public Health Services.

Throughout her career, Dr. Ashford has shown a passion for eliminating health disparities and improving health outcomes. She has experience investigating grants and navigating complicated State and Federal regulations to help people that have historically been overlooked by the health care system. She has also done extensive work within the Medicare and Medicaid system. Most recently, she was a full-time faculty member at Tufts University School of Medicine, teaching foundational public health courses. She is bringing a wealth of experience to our County.

The Department of Health and Human Services is the largest department in County Government and is responsible for addressing the needs of our community’s most vulnerable children, adults and seniors. I am excited for Dr. Ashford to get started working for County residents.

Black Businesses in the Spotlight During Black History Month

On Tuesday, Feb. 20, the Black Collective will hold its free Black Business Expo at the Universities at Shady Grove Conference and Event Center in Rockville. The event will begin at 4 p.m. and will run until 7:30 pm.

It will bring together at least 50 Black-owned businesses, nonprofits, organizations and government agencies for networking and educational panels. The expo supports the Black Collective’s mission of bringing together business leaders to help improve how they grow in Montgomery County.

For too long, people of color have not had access to the same resources as others, limiting their ability of achieving economic security. An expo like this can help participants learn tactics and techniques in scaling up a business. Registration for the event is open now and can be done by visiting mocoblackcollective.org.

Last week, I made three stops in Silver Spring to recognize Black women-owned businesses.

I met Stacey Brown, who owns the Signarama franchise on Brookville Road. Her franchise designs and installs indoor and outdoor signs for national and local companies. Stacey has served on the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board and lately she has been working with the Brookville Road Business League.

My next stop was the Negril Jamaican Eatery on Thayer Avenue. Marguerite Chinn opened her restaurant in 1979 and has kept the doors open ever since. She adapted through the pandemic to keep serving her customers and keep her staff safe. She makes it a priority to ensure that her staff is local and most of her new hires from the neighborhood.

I wrapped up the business tour at Creative Colony on Georgia Avenue to meet with Shala Wilson Graham. She is one of several entrepreneurs that use Creative Colony, which is shared office space. Shala started Shala Graham Photography in one of the County's business incubators, which help teach participants how to navigate some of the hurdles that can trip up new business owners. The incubators bring together entrepreneurs and can help them inspire each other and work together to build a business network.

Every day, our Business Center team is connecting with business owners across our community. They help anyone with questions, issues or concerns about running a business in Montgomery County.

Health Update

Hospitalization rates tied to COVID-19 continue to fall across Maryland. Transmission rates are also falling. However, one indicator going in the opposite direction is respiratory illness visits to urgent cares and doctors’ offices. Clinics are especially seeing a spike in school-aged children during those appointments, which follows recent national trends.

In Montgomery County, hospital visits tied to COVID-19 are down compared to last week, but other signs, like wastewater surveillance, show that the virus is still active.

If you are feeling sick, please isolate yourself until you are feeling better and are no longer symptomatic. Getting a vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and limit the spread of all respiratory illnesses, even though only 22 percent of adults and 12 percent of kids have taken the latest version.

Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatic Center Opens Next Week 

The grand opening of the Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatic Center will take place on Saturday, Feb. 24.

This is one of the Department of General Services’ largest construction projects within the last five years and marks a significant milestone for the County. The residents of Silver Spring and nearby communities have been anticipating the opening of this facility.  

This $55 million facility with 120,000 square feet of public recreation space is the first County recreation center in Downtown Silver Spring.  In addition to three new swimming pools, there will be fitness rooms for dance, arts, senior programming and more.

We look forward to the grand opening celebration for this beautiful, eco-friendly facility. Residents are welcome to join us for the 10 a.m. celebration and then go inside starting at noon. Please be aware that swimming will not be allowed on that Saturday, as the pools will be closed. 

Project Prom Dress 

Another important effort that our Department of Recreation is undertaking is the third annual “Project Prom Dress.” The department is collecting gently used and new dresses, suits and accessories that students will be able to choose from.

Celebrating prom is a ‘rite of passage’ for many students. Unfortunately, the high cost of prom apparel and accessories prohibit many students from participating, which is why we are requesting these donations (and reusing clothing is environmentally friendly, too).

The County will accept dresses and suits through Thursday, Feb. 29, at the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville. You can drop those items off from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Fridays; and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays.

There will also be collection events on Saturday, March 2, in Chevy Chase and Saturday, March 9, in Germantown.  

Bring cleaned garments in wearable condition. Clothes more than 14 years old will not be taken. All donated items will be dry cleaned and displayed in a special formal boutique that will be held at the center in April. Last year, more than 160 students picked out an outfit. All they had to do was show their school I.D. card.  

I encourage any resident or business with prom-related items to donate and help provide this memorable experience to our young adults. For more information, visit montgomerycountymd.gov/rec and search “Project Prom Dress.”  

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive