March 1, 2024

Message from County Executive Marc Elrich


Dear friends,

Today we begin a commemoration of Women’s History Month. Women in Maryland earn about 87 percent of what men earn. To create more gender pay equity in the future, it is important that we provide career mentorship opportunities to young women in middle and high school now. Our Commission for Women is hosting a virtual career guidance session later this month for middle and high school girls. Read the story later in this newsletter for more information.

Maryland Counties Need Local Authority

I was back in Annapolis this week testifying before the Ways and Means committee on behalf of what I consider the most important bill in the legislature. Here is a link to that testimony.

House Bill 919 would give local counties the same authority that municipalities in Maryland already have and that is used by local jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. This legislation would allow the creation of special taxing districts designated to fund specific investments like transit infrastructure.

What I tried to emphasize to lawmakers is that this is an economic development opportunity that has worked across the river in Northern Virginia. Developers and businesses choose higher taxed areas in Virginia, like Fairfax and Tysons Corner, rather than lower taxed Maryland, and they do so because they understand that the investments their taxes produce–like the Silver Line–make their area more attractive to businesses.

These special taxing districts also help deliver projects in a timely manner. That is something we cannot do in Montgomery County because we do not have this tool. We only have impact taxes, which must be paid in a lump sum up front–this is expensive for developers and does not provide a steady stream of revenue for bonding.

House Bill 919 is only enabling legislation, which means that any changes to implement special taxing districts would require enactment by the County Council and include the public. This legislation is a 2024 legislative priority of the Maryland Association of Counties, an organization that represents all 23 counties in Maryland and Baltimore City.

The future of our state’s growth–and Montgomery County’s–is linked to investments in transportation. It is painfully clear after learning of the $3 billion shortfall in State transportation funds late last year that Maryland needs a better way forward. The collapse of the State’s infrastructure fund cannot be allowed to paralyze our plans for transportation infrastructure.

People tell me they worry that enacting special taxing districts will cause development to go to Northern Virginia. The reality is that companies already choose Northern Virginia because their tax system creates valuable infrastructure that benefits their investments. If you go to Tysons to develop, the taxes on commercial property are almost 50 percent higher than ours–so if the taxes were the issue, those businesses should be clamoring to come here.

I am asking for a favorable report out of committee for House Bill 919 and support from a majority of state lawmakers to enable the enabling legislation to pass this session.

Local Group Pushes for Gun Reforms and Safe Gun Storage

A few weeks ago, I told you about how we continue to make public safety a high priority. I have talked about some of our efforts, including drone assistance, license plate readers, security cameras in public garages and signing bonuses to recruit more officers.

I went on a ride-along with police officers a couple of months ago, and I had a chance to talk with them about the proliferation of guns. This is not only a Montgomery County problem–this is a national problem but we have to address it at the local level as much as we can.

This week I invited Joanna Pearl, a local leader with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, to join me on my media briefing. She and other volunteers with the Maryland chapter have been busy over the last few weeks in Annapolis advocating for legislative changes. I would like to see those responsible for producing ghost guns held to the same standard we demand of licensed gun dealers.

The group’s Be SMART campaign encourages responsible gun ownership.
  • Secure guns safely in homes and vehicles.
  • Model responsible behavior around firearms.
  • Ask about the presence of unsecured guns in homes your child visits.
  • Recognize the role of guns in suicide.
  • Tell peers to be SMART.
Guns contributed to more deaths among children and teens in the U.S. and in Maryland than any other factor. Every year adolescents and teenagers are responsible for approximately 350 shootings across the nation. Whether accidental, intentional or self-inflicted, these are heartbreaking numbers.

Encouraging gun owners to keep their guns unloaded, locked away and separate from ammunition are steps that can lower the risk of a gun getting into the wrong hands.

If we talk more openly about the importance of securing and storing guns properly, we can make Montgomery County safer and save lives.

Augmented Reality Introduced for Black History Month Lesson

We concluded Black History Month this week with a unique event that has leveraged new technology to learn to about the County's history. This week the County, Montgomery Parks and the University of Maryland previewed augmented reality (AR) history lessons about the Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park in Olney. This is the first AR experience of its kind launched for a historical site in Maryland.

This week’s unveiling included a panel discussion about how to use the new technology. Eight Oakley Cabin AR experiences allow visitors to use their mobile phone to see a park interpretive staff avatar, and 3D models of the interior and exterior of the missing third cabin. The AR tours will be available in seven languages and there also will be interactive games and a flyover recreating the historical surroundings tied to this handheld history lesson.

I am very excited about this project. I hope it helps people of all ages understand why the Oakley Cabin is important.

Understanding our history–even the parts that are uncomfortable and unpleasant–are essential to building a better future. New technologies such as AR can better engage more residents, especially younger residents, to help them understand the past and see how to address and solve some of the problems of today.

World Wildlife Day

Montgomery County is home to more than one million people, which  almost can make you forget that it is an important place for many wild animals, too.

Sunday, March 3 is World Wildlife Day. It is not uncommon for trail and park users to run into a fox or to see a deer in your own yard. Montgomery Parks’ Living with Wildlife werbpage is a good resource for information on living with wildlife in our area.

However, habitat loss, pollution and climate change threaten the delicate balance that sustains our local ecosystems and the resources that support everyday life. In response to these challenges, Montgomery County continues to support several conservation efforts to protect our natural environments.

Many of the initiatives to expand the County’s green spaces are led by Montgomery Parks, which currently restores and maintains 419 parks, comprised of more than 37,000 acres of parkland.

Montgomery County is home to a rich ecosystem. From the wooded trails of Rock Creek Regional Park to the rolling hills of the protected Agricultural Reserve, the County provides habitats for a variety of important wildlife species.

Celebrate World Wildlife Day by not just acknowledging the importance of our natural environment but acting to preserve it.

Here are some individual actions all of can take:
  • Plant native plants to help ensure that bees, birds, small mammals, butterflies and other insects have the right kind of food and cover. Native plants adapt to a local environment and once established, require less water and maintenance. Montgomery Parks will host several native plant sales starting in April.
  • Diversify your plantings and include an assortment of deciduous trees of various heights, surrounded by shrubs, groundcover and perennials.
Trees are total powerhouses by:
  • Removing carbon from the air.
  • Cooling the planet with shade.
  • Providing habitat and beautifying our neighborhoods.
Montgomery Parks’ volunteer Weed Warriors program works to remove non-native and invasive plants that pose a serious threat to the health of trees in our area. In 2023 alone, Weed Warrior volunteers saved more than 17,000 trees.

You can make a difference by volunteering at a Weed Warrior Workday. These workdays are open to the public and no advanced training is required. Learn more about upcoming Weed Warrior events here.

Taking control of our home environment is good for wildlife and it is a concrete action to help combat climate change.

Caring for the water environment that is home to many animals is crucial, too.

The five rivers that comprise the Chesapeake Bay watershed—the Susquehanna, Potomac, Rappahannock, York and James—provide almost 90 percent of the freshwater that enters the Bay. Along with hundreds of thousands of smaller rivers and streams, they provide habitats necessary for many fish species, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians.

Water control projects like RainScapes are watershed friendly ways to slow, absorb, clean and reduce rainfall runoff from roofs, walkways, driveways and compacted lawns. Along with helping to reduce drainage and prevent stormwater pollution and erosion, RainScapes reduce energy and water consumption, create wildlife habitat, improve air quality and enhance landscapes.

You can learn more about the County’s rebate program for some RainScapes by visiting our website.

Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatic Center Opens

We had a wonderful grand opening of the Silver Spring Recreation and Aquatic Center last weekend. Over the years, so many people, including former County Executive Ike Leggett and Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, have been involved in bringing this project to fruition, and I want to thank our Department of General Services and Department of Recreation for their work. You can see and hear more about the event by watching this video. Click here to read more about the features of the new Center.

Health Report

March marks the fourth year since our nation began dealing with the widespread impacts of the COVID-19 virus. The emergency phase of the pandemic ended last year but the effects can still be felt in the community, whether it be the continuing struggle with hunger or mental health needs that started or were heightened with the pandemic. When I met with former County Executive Ike Leggett last week, I appreciated his recognition of the County's work through the pandemic. It was a struggle, but I know our worked saved lives.

Getting the word out about the benefits of the vaccine brought together many different community groups across Montgomery County to learn, share and spread life-saving information. It was from those partnerships and the commitment to the greater good that we developed some of the networks that are still helping people today.

I am proud of the work we did in Montgomery County during the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I want to stress how important it is to continue to protect yourself and your family. Vaccines for COVID-19 and flu are still recommended. A COVID-19 vaccine can prevent serious complications from the virus and keep you out of the hospital.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive