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Chairman's Message, Montgomery County Council

The Latest Bad Ideas from the Montgomery County Council

Posted: June 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

For the past several months Marylanders have been understandably focused on the many threats posed by our state legislature.  In the meantime, though, the Montgomery County Council continues their consideration many anti-taxpayer, and some just plain silly proposals.

Not a week goes by without another harebrained idea.

Here are a few recent examples:

  • Two years after Montgomery County voters rejected an ambulance fee in a referendum; the County Executive and Council have decided to give it another try, passed one again.[1] Apparently we voters were just too dumb two years ago and cannot be trusted.
  • Responding to consumer complaints about the frequency and length of electric outages, Councilmember Berliner wants to make it harder to trim vegetation around electrical lines with legislation requiring utilities to obtain written consent from property owners or occupants before trimming back trees and to submit a “vegetation management” plan with new requirements.[2]  When the lights go out, give Roger a call to see when they will go back on.
  • County government is creating a new “Chief Innovation Officer,” tasked with “putting the data our county collects to work for our residents: turning information into services through cutting-edge technology like mobile phone apps.” The officer is slated to earn $150,000 in salary and benefits.  I doubt the Montgomery County’s government can come up with the new Words with Friends.
  • Another position being created is a “Wellness Chief,” with $110,000 in salary and benefits, to oversee a program aimed at improving the physical and mental health of county employees.[3]  Be sure to stock up on Big Gulps before they are banned here too.
  • Councilmembers Ervin, Rice, Elrich and Riemer have a bill which would require that when a private contractor providing security, janitorial, building maintenance, food preparation or non-professional health care services in a private facility loses a contract, the new contractor would be required to hire the old contractor’s employees for at least a 90-day transition period.  So when a new company takes over a contract, they will be forced to hire the employees that may have been reason the old contractor lost the job to begin with?
  • Councilmember Leventhal has asked Montgomery School leaders to shut down schools for the Muslim holidays of Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr.  Instead of the current school days off for the union’s “MSEA Convention – MCAAP Fall Conference,” why not bring back Columbus Day?
  • In the County’s recently passed budget, the Council decided to renege on their prior promise to sunset a “temporary” energy tax.  As a result the effective average cost will be at least $231 for households and $4,233 for businesses. Instead of giving every full-time county managers and employees $2,000 lump-sum bonus, why not give taxpayers a break?

What is missing from the Council is the harder work of exercising effective oversight over the county government.  A good place to start is with the Montgomery County Public School system.

As a Washington Post editorial recently warned about the schools:[4]

“Among major suburban school systems in the Washington area, Montgomery County stands out for paying its teachers the highest salaries, by far, and providing superb benefits. Now, faced with a choice between plumping up teacher pay even more or devoting more resources to the classroom – cutting class sizes, say, or restoring staff – Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has decided on the former.

The proposal by Mr. Starr is out of line with other top-notch school systems. It would give most of the county’s 12,000 teachers not one but two raises – the first in July, the other next May – with the distinct possibility of a third increase (sure to be demanded by the union) later next year. Together, the first two raises would boost the average teacher’s salary to around $80,000, up from $74,700 today……..But a two-step increase averaging nearly 7 percent for about three-quarters of the county’s teachers is neither good policy nor affordable.”

Just across the Potomac River, Fairfax County educates 30,000 more students on the same budget as Montgomery County with better SAT scores and smaller class sizes.  In fact with these most recent salary increases, Montgomery’s budget will continue to spend even more per pupil than Fairfax, with even larger class sizes.

Not just the liberal Washington Post should be asking tough questions of County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr and the Board of Education.  Over half the County’s budget goes to the public school system and it continues to be our county’s signature public service – the County Council needs to be more assertive with its oversight of the school system.

Mark Uncapher
Montgomery County Republican Chairman