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Bus routes like the Ride-On 21, pictured, could be axed under Ike Leggett's proposed budget cuts, many of which target services used by East County residents.
MoCo's got to plug a $400 million leak in its budget for 2008, and it looks like East County will be the stopper. County Executive Ike Leggett conveniently waited until a few days before Christmas to release his "Savings Description," listing a number of County services that he'd like to draw money from, decreasing the quality of life on the east side.
Last week, the Post questioned how Leggett could still promise to subsidize the Fillmore music club on Colesville Road while maintaining a deficit. I'd also like to ask how, as a Burtonsville resident, our County Executive could be so willing to hurt his own community with these proposed budget cuts.
For starters, East County's fire departments - the first responders to any emergency - will have diminished facilities and fewer tools to work with. Despite having "for the most part very old structures that have not been well-maintained or upgraded," according to the report, MoCo would like to reduce fire station maintenance for a savings of $100,000. The Hillandale Volunteer Fire Department may also lose its ladder truck, saving the County just shy of a million dollars. It would then have to rely on the Colesville and Burtonsville fire stations - which are four and five miles away, respectively - increasing response time. Hillandale serves the White Oak community's several apartment complexes, including the twenty-story Enclave towers. Can we afford to give these buildings less fire protection?
Many of you have already heard about Leggett's recommendation to cut Ride-On's "Kids Ride Free" program, which allows school-age kids to use all Ride-On routes and a selection of Metrobus routes - including the popular Z buses along The Pike - for free. In a region as congested as ours, it's important to teach people from a young age how useful public transportation can be. Yet when the County should be raising awareness, they're effectively taking it away. Not only that, but they're depriving students who have little money (more a sign of age and unemployment than socioeconomic background, IMO) of a free and reliable way to get around. The spike in teen driving deaths this fall and three years ago show how risky a venture that is for Montgomery County, even if it does bring a whopping $25,000 back to its coffers.
so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .
Kids Ride Free would join a slew of "underperforming" Ride-On routes on the chopping block for a savings of over $580,000, says the report. It adds, "These cuts in service will impact nearly two thousand riders per day and in some cases eliminate any transit service to these communities." We don't know what the routes are or who they serve, but any reduction in transit services means more stranded passengers, or worse - more cars on the road.
If those former bus riders decide to hoof it to their destination, they'll be similarly screwed: in order to save $250,000, the County would like to omit all proposed pedestrian improvements for 2008. That would include "bikeway maintenance; raised pavement markings; and unique crosswalk treatments." After investigating the plight of County pedestrians last August, we're disappointed that any attempts to make their lives easier would be pre-empted in the name of cost containment.
One of the biggest cuts on the list - over a million dollars - could go to the Department of Liquor Control, which would delay the purchase of a new delivery truck and improving its numerous government-owned beer-and-wine shops throughout the County. This is an idea I can go for. After all, no other jurisdiction in the State of Maryland feels it necessary to go into the alcohol business; if Montgomery County would stop being a prude and follow suit, Ike Leggett could get the budget shortfall under control. Will it happen? Probably not.
While these proposed cuts were snuck by at a time when most County residents would be trying to enjoy the holidays, the County has set up a series of Public Forums to discuss the budget. Throughout January, two meetings will be held in Silver Spring, one in Wheaton, and another in Olney. But in the meantime - if you ever happen to see Ike Leggett at the Burtonsville Giant, make sure to let him know what you think about his plans to sell our community out for the deficit.