Friday, January 4, 2008

is leggett sacrificing his own community to budget cuts?

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Local farmer sees "positive benefits" from ICC; Campaign for Hillary gets Councilwoman Trachtenberg in hot water; Aspen Hill makes a MySpace.

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure if they installed SmarTrip readers on a few more buses they could make more money.

I've been riding for free on RideOn buses about half of the time...

Anonymous said...

The $1M savings by taking the ladder truck out of service at Hillandale's Station 12 is quite amazing---especially since the MCFD's Master Plan cites the need and requirement of having a ladder truck at Station 12.

When needed, a ladder truck from Burtonsville (Station 15) or University Blvd at the Beltway (Station 16) will support the area. (Colesville does not have a ladder truck.) The area will also rely on the mutual aid pact with support from Prince George's Beltsville and Chillum stations.

BTW, I've been told that ladder trucks can only go 7 stories and are not just for high rises. They are most needed for garden apartment complexes and older closely-built single-family and townhouse communities. This describes the Hillandale/White Oak/Oakview area. Fire response times will increase for these communities.

While this cut is made, the MCFD is also citing the large number of calls in the area and the need for additional fire services in the East County area. Last Wednesday, a presentation was made to the East County Advisory Board about an active CIP project to build another fire station along 29 at Tech Road. A ladder truck is not programmed for that new station....

Anonymous said...

The January Budget Forums mentioned are for the FY-09 Operating Budget which the County Executive will present to Council in mid-March for their action in the spring.

The FY-08 Operating Budget cuts which you are blogging about are scheduled to go before Council on January 15. According to Council President Knapp's press release, Council will be "ready to act."

Anonymous said...

If we don't have enough money to pay for the services, we either have to raise taxes or cut the services. The deficit is $100 for every man, woman, and child in the county. Are we all willing to have our taxes increased that much? If not, then cuts have to be made.

By the way, the only cut proposed here was to eliminate the county liquor operation. That would actually increase the deficit since the liquor operation make a profit for the county. So, what would you cut that would actually save money? Or do you want to increase taxes?

My own preference actually probably involves some tax increase and some service cuts.

Anonymous said...

Ooops. I see an error in my post. The deficit is actually $400, not $100 for every man, woman, and child in the county. Are you willing to pay your share of that much more?

Anonymous said...

No more bloody taxes, between the state not being able to figure out how to cut some fat and the county having doubled is budget under Duncan...its blood from a turnip time

How about
Eliminate Casa's no-bid contracts
Eliminate music subsidies (Strathmore, Filmore, etc)
Eliminate council salaries
Eliminate arts funding
Eliminate police OT
Eliminate social outreach

bingo one tax cut.

Anonymous said...

The very suggestion that taxes should be raised in any manner to cover the budget shortfall is absurd. I say cut, cut cut and don't stop cutting until we get back to a budget the equates to 2000 expenditures grown by some reasonable rate (say, 2%-3%per year). Given the people who are serving on our County Council, I'm not overly optimistic that the taxpayers of this County will get a break. I hope Ike sticks to his guns.