June 14, 2024

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

This week in my video, I interview LaTisha Gasaway-Paul who is a fifth generation resident of the historic Scotland community, which was founded by people who were formerly enslaved. While the community has faced tremendous adversity since it began in 1880, it is thriving today and boasts some remarkable members, including Ms. Gasaway-Paul. More information is below, and last week’s newsletter.

Funding for Our Schools

Our Montgomery County public schools are some of the best in the nation and an important reason why people want to live here. Funding for the schools is about half of the County’s operating budget (and a big portion of the County’s capital budget). The recently approved budget for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has been raising questions and concerns.

I am concerned by the school board's decision to fix its budgeting shortfall by increasing class sizes. My staff and I are in conversations with MCPS staff and County Councilmembers about possible solutions.  At least part of the issue is tied to the escalating cost of health care for MCPS employees and retirees. When I finalized my recommended budget in March, this was not forecasted to be an issue. However, by the time the County Council passed the budget in May, there was a $22 million hole in Fiscal Year 2024 and a $22 million hole for FY25, and there may be more as well.

So, what caused this? From conversations with school district leaders, I understand that inaccurate financial forecasting and inflationary costs for health care coverage are a big part of it. Actuaries looking at MCPS finances did not anticipate the amount being spent currently and what will need to be spent. We are working with MCPS staff to improve their cost projections for the coming years. In the meantime, these are real costs that must be paid – these are health care costs for current employees and retirees.  That is why I will be advocating that we shift some of our “pre-funding” dollars that are currently allocated for a fund for future retiree health care costs to pay for current healthcare costs. I explain this more in my newsletterfrom a few weeks ago.

This is a solution that would help close the cost gap without jeopardizing health care funding for current employees or current or future retirees.

We have known that when Federal funds ran out, we would face the same demands without the additional resources we need. That is why I had proposed a property tax increase last year that was targeted solely for education funding. While I appreciated the County Council supporting some tax increase, it supported an amount too low and instead directed the school system to use the last of one-time Federal funds to meet ongoing needs.  The Council and I knew then that we would be facing this problem this year, and we will continue to face it going forward.

I am cognizant of minimizing tax burdens on our residents. Still, there is room to expand how much we collect from households with the means to pay more and from companies contributing a lower share of taxes compared to what they pay in neighboring jurisdictions. Efforts to pass fair share tax legislation failed at the State legislature earlier this year,  and was not supported by the Council. However, we will renew those efforts for the next session.

Other measures I support would help increase revenue in every Maryland county. We are long overdue for having the authority to generate meaningful revenue for our desperately needed transportation projects as has been done successfully in Northern Virginia. They have authority to create a different tax rate for commercial property versus residential property so the commercial tax rates can be increased to support transit investments. The commercial property owners want the  increased investment because they know the funds will be used to support transportation infrastructure (such as the Silver Line in Northern Virginia is supported by taxes there), and that infrastructure makes their projects more desirable. A similar system here would free up taxpayer dollars for other projects, including for schools. You can read more about this idea in my newsletter from March 1.

Look around us and you will see neighboring jurisdictions in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia are in the process of raising taxes to offset higher operating costs. We have avoided that this budget cycle, but we need to be sure that we continue to invest in our County.

Our school system has a stellar reputation, and it has been struggling to maintain its high quality of education since the last recession, when we had to reset the spending. We have not yet reinvested in the same way we did before. If we want to maintain the quality of our schools, we must invest in our schools, students and teachers.

Larger classes, as explained in an MCPS video from 2017, are a way to spend less money, but they place a burden on educators. The pandemic has created some new problems and highlighted older ones. We need to support our teaching staff. 

The school district is a poster child for what happens because of inflation. Costs are rising beyond expectations, and we must react to that in real time. If this is the new normal regarding health care costs, we will have to adjust our thinking regarding how we fund the schools. The consequences of not addressing those costs will inevitably impact education in the County.  Additionally, investing in our school district helps our home values and the quality of life for everyone.  We cannot adopt an approach of compensating for increasing health care costs by cutting investments in our classrooms.

You can listen to my discussion of this issue during this week’s media briefing at https://youtu.be/n2OewFAcqz8?si=xa3qR8GuIIjg_mUS&t=1179.

Talking About Transit Regionally: ‘DMV Moves’

I am pleased to join the “DMV Moves” task force, which had its first meeting on Monday. This initiative, launched by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, or Metro) in collaboration with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), seeks to address one of the area’s most critical challenges. Public transit funding in the DMV region has not been supported to the level it needs to be reliable and efficient. Now we have a chance to change that and make other improvements.

Developing a cohesive plan is essential for creating a sustainable, efficient, and user-friendly public transit system that meets the needs of Montgomery County and our growing metropolitan area. By focusing on shared objectives, the task force can ensure that improvements in public transit serve the collective interests of all communities within the DMV area. 

We must analyze public transportation and treat it as an asset. Right now, we hear complaints about inconsistent and inadequate services. A robust funding model is necessary to support public transit options' long-term viability and expansion.

According to Metro leaders, 88 percent of commuters surveyed in the region have access to public transit, but only five percent currently use it. This stark discrepancy indicates significant barriers to public transit usage that must be addressed. The DMV Moves initiative aims to significantly boost public transit utilization by improving service quality and reliability and offering compelling incentives. 

Enhancing the frequency, seamlessness and reliability of public transit will make it a more attractive option for daily commuters, increasing ridership and reducing dependence on private vehicles. We have to make transit more attractive to more people so that people will choose to leave their cars behind.

The DMV Moves initiative is a timely and necessary effort to overhaul and improve public transit options regionwide. I am encouraged by the rounded discussions on our ideas on Monday, and I look forward to being part of this process moving forward.

Recognizing Our LGBTQ+ Community

I joined the County Council and area leaders this week in raising the Progress Pride flag in Rockville to mark Montgomery County's sixth annual Pride celebration. You can watch that ceremony here. It is essential to recognize the significance of flying the flag in our County and understand the past, present and future of our LGBTQ+ community.

We have worked hard for decades to make Montgomery County an inclusive place for everyone. Forty-one years ago, I was on the City Council of Takoma Park that passed a domestic partnership law allowing same gender partners at the hospital with them because, at the time, family members could still block that from happening. Since that time, many other legislators and community members have successfully advocated for more improvements, including the historic legislation authorizing the freedom to marry for same gender couples.

One of the leaders in that effort in the state legislature was Rich Madaleno, who now holds the top administrative position in Montgomery County Government. As a State senator, Rich was a champion for legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community, and it is great to have him now serving the County.

While we have come a long way and have much to celebrate, there are still threats today that could undermine what we have accomplished.

A 2023 report on bias incidents investigated by the Montgomery County Police Department showed a 200 percent rise in reported bias incidents from 2022. Police determined approximately 10 percent of those incidents were based on sexual orientation and another 2 percent were based on gender identity.

I have been around long enough to see lots of examples of harassment, sometimes to members of my family. Over time, that receded, but now it seems like it is coming back with increased bullying, racist graffiti and other forms of hate. We need to retire some of the antiquated thinking that persists and is passed on from generation to generation.

Our future depends on acceptance. I want to thank the County’s LGBTQ+ Liaison, Amena Johnson, for her great work and also want to thank Montgomery County Pride and Live In Your Truth for helping and advocating for the community.

I am glad we live in a County where so many businesses proudly support Pride. Look for the stickers in store windows that show the LGBTQ+ community is accepted and supported. Here is a link to learn more about the decals design and how to get one. I like where we stand and where we are going, and I am glad to lead a County filled with so many people who find these issues just as important as I do.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

I joined the County Council on Tuesday to recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and later joined an event at the Holiday Park Senior Center. We are trying to raise awareness about elder abuse, an important topic that impacts countless families.

Education is critical to preventing elder abuse, which can take many forms, including physical, emotional, sexual and financial. Financial scams are ever-present, targeting some of our society's most vulnerable members. Our Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) keeps an eye out for new scams and shares that information through newsletters and other means of communication. If you feel like you have been targeted by a scammer, report it by emailing consumerprotection@montgomerycountymd.gov or to the OCP's Anonymous Tip Line at 240-777-3681.

According to the National Council on Aging, the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be more than $36.5 billion. This is a staggering figure that underscores the urgency of our efforts. Financial abuse can leave individuals broke at a time when they are no longer working, compounding the challenges they face.

To combat this, we must help everyone identify the signs of trouble. One study suggests that only one in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.

Signs of elder abuse include:

  • A senior who seems depressed, confused or withdrawn
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unexplained bruises, burns or scars
  • Appears dirty, underfed, dehydrated, over- or under-medicated or not receiving needed care for medical problems
  • Bed sores or other preventable conditions
  • Recent changes in banking or spending patterns

If you are concerned, please reach out to someone who may be able to help. The Aging and Disability Resource Unit can be reached at 240-777-3000 or 1-800-91-PREVENT. This 24-hour reporting line ensures that help is always available.

We have built an age-friendly Montgomery County and managed the COVID-19 pandemic through collaboration. Our disability and aging services work daily to address immediate needs and focus on helping seniors with preventive care. We appreciate the tireless efforts of all who look out for seniors, including the elder/vulnerable adult task force, police officers and firefighters.

Let us remain vigilant in protecting our seniors and ensure that our community is a safe and supportive environment for all.

Juneteenth Celebrations: Scotland Juneteenth Heritage Festival and Celebration at BlackRock


The second annual Scotland Juneteenth Heritage Festival begins  Saturday, June 15, with an opening night celebration at the Bethesda Theater, starting at 5 p.m.

Festivities include:

  • An interfaith breakfast Sunday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., which aims to foster dialogue around shared values and hospitality.
  • Free sports clinics for children on Monday, June 17, and Tuesday, June 18.
  • A variety of activities on Wednesday, Juneteenth, beginning with a 5K race and 1-mile walk at 8 a.m., a parade at Cabin John Park at 1:30 p.m. and concluding with a “Fireworks Extravaganza” at 9:45 p.m.at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda.

More information and details about the activities are here.

Wednesday as Juneteenth is a County holiday, so check out the juneteenthscotland.org website for a complete schedule and to learn more about the holiday's history.

We will also celebrate Juneteenth tomorrow, Saturday, June 15, at the Montgomery County Juneteenth Freedom at the Rock at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. It is the 27th time the community has come together for this free and vibrant celebration. Starting at noon, you can enjoy live concerts and performances and browse the work of festival artists.

Remembering Unhoused People Who Have Died

This week, we recognized the 62 people in our unhoused community who died since the start of 2023. The annual ceremony is a way to remember that there remain too many people fighting homelessness. Sadly, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments point in time count, there are 1,104 people experiencing homelessness across the County, more this year than in 2023. Our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones.

In Recognition

This week, we recognized Women Veterans Day. It is celebrated on June 12 annually to commemorate the anniversary of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948. Women in the military face unique challenges. There is no better way to explain it than learning directly from them. Montgomery County’s Commission on Veterans Affairs has set up this online gallery that allows you to read about some of the vets honored this week. Right now, we have 26 veteran tributes on that site and welcome more. For more information about having a friend or loved one honored in the future, call 240-777-1252 or email MCCVA@montgomerycountymd.gov.

I also got to help honor Caribbean American Heritage Month. We welcome the many Caribbean Americans who share their culture with all of us every year. Montgomery County is home to nearly one-third of the Caribbean Americans who live in Maryland. They have provided leadership in our community across government, sports, entertainment, the arts and many other fields. This year’s African + Caribbean Music Festival will be held in Downtown Silver Spring on Sunday, Aug. 25.

The Silver Spring Blues Festival Concludes

I hope you can make it to Veterans Plaza in Downtown Silver on Saturday, June 15, for the Silver Spring Blues Festival. The 15th annual jam will feature at least 10 artists throughout the day beginning at 10 a.m. The free event wraps up at 10 p.m.

As always, my appreciation for all of you, 

Marc Elrich
County Executive