Monday, December 07, 2009

Ike Leggett's State of the County Speech

Following is the text of County Executive Ike Leggett's State of the County speech that he delivered tonight in Germantown.

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The 2009 State of the County Address
Montgomery County Executive
Isiah Leggett

December 7, 2009

Good evening. It is my great honor and privilege to serve as your County Executive.

The video you just saw is a snapshot of the wonderful, industrious and caring people… now nearly one million strong, who call Montgomery County home.

This truly is a special place to live… work… learn… raise a family… watch a ball game… volunteer at a community center… enjoy a night out.

And, we do enjoy a night out at wonderful places… such as the beautiful BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown… from where I address you this evening.

Fellow residents… tonight, I am pleased to report to you once again on the State of our County… at this three-year mark in my term.

Given the difficult economic times we are in, you might expect that I will spend all of our time tonight talking with you about the current state of the County’s finances and the extraordinary challenges we must address.

But, there is much more for me to report to you about this evening, and when I conclude my remarks I believe you will share my great hope in the promise of our future.

I think it’s important to let you know that in the face of today’s challenges, my priority has been to make decisions and take actions that will not just steer us through today’s crisis.

My priority has been to make decisions and take actions that will position this county to become an even better place to call home, not only today, but well into the future.

My goal has been – and will continue to be – to turn today’s challenge… into tomorrow’s promise.

In order to turn today’s challenges into tomorrow’s promises, we must not settle for quick-fixes or politically convenient solutions -- which may only mask today’s problems.

Despite the challenges that lie ahead, tonight, I say to you with confidence…
that Montgomery County continues to be vibrant… resilient… and poised for even greater opportunities for our residents in the future.

No matter the difficulties, our County is, and will continue to be, one of the best places in America to live and work.

One of the great business minds of the 20th century, Peter Drucker, once wrote – and I quote – “Management… is doing things right. Leadership… is doing the right things.”

I am firmly committed to making sure that my administration is doing things right – and I am committed to ensure that we do the right things, regardless of the hard work and courage required.

The challenge before us today is how do we weather the tough economic times, while investing in measures that will help us emerge even stronger from this downturn?

Here are the six principles that I have used to address our financial challenges over the past three years, and will adhere to in the future:

One… bring our budgets under control by reducing spending significantly from the unsustainable trends that had marked the years prior to when I assumed office.

Two… identify new sources of revenue, in order to overcome the difficult challenges we faced in balancing the county’s budget.

That is why, for example, despite considerable opposition, I sought an Emergency Medical Services transport fee that will not cost County residents anything, but will bring in much-needed revenue from health insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid... to help meet our critical Fire and Rescue needs.

I favor an increase in the State gasoline tax, so that we can gain more State dollars for desperately needed roads and transit projects, to relieve congestion.

Neither of these measures is popular. I know that. But, I believe that they are the right things to do.

And I would rather adopt these measures than increase property taxes for County residents.

In fact, I will recommend again this year no increase in property taxes above the Charter limit.

I believe our homeowners are financially burdened enough.

Three… operate our County government in the most efficient and effective way possible, with greater accountability measures.

Four… mitigate the damage to our County from State budget cuts, working hand-in-hand with our County delegation in Annapolis.

Five… prioritize our budgets to protect as much funding as possible for critical services such as education, public safety, and assistance for our most vulnerable residents. And,

Six… manage our financial crisis in a way that will allow us to emerge from the current economic downturn in a stronger financial position.

Three years ago, when I assumed office, I pledged to lead Montgomery County on a course that would rely upon a well-drawn roadmap to direct our future objectives.

These principles are that roadmap.

To ensure an inclusive and transparent form of government, I pledged an administration that would be open and honest.

I said, without a doubt, that there would be times when some of us would disagree on public policy matters… but that we could disagree without being disagreeable.

As I stand before you tonight, I am proud to say that I have been steadfast in upholding these standards.

My administration and the extraordinary employees that make up our county government work hard each day to embody the values we laid out in my pledge to serve the residents of Montgomery County.

Collaboration. Competence. Fiscal Prudence. Inclusiveness. Innovation. Integrity.
Knowledge. Respect for the Individual.

And... Transparency.

These are the core values that drive our decisions and our actions.

These are the values that are helping us work through some of the toughest financial times that our county – and our nation – has ever faced.

And these values will continue to enable us to navigate the challenges of today… and rise to meet the promise of tomorrow.

These are tough times.

We know that local businesses are hurting, like everyone else. That’s why I have an 11-point program to lend a helping hand.

At a time when there may be nothing more important to the well-being of our community than protecting, creating, and attracting jobs…
there are encouraging signs for us to build on.

For example… just weeks ago, Microsoft announced it will bring 500 new jobs to Montgomery County… in Chevy Chase.
In Silver Spring… we finalized an agreement that paves the way for construction of a new Fillmore Music Hall in the heart of the downtown area.

This new venture is estimated to generate 1.7 million dollars annually in public benefit from the very start, while giving a boost to local businesses and to the arts and humanities community.

In Rockville… Aeras, a non profit research company opened a new vaccine manufacturing plant that is helping prevent a global tuberculosis epidemic… and employ more than 140 people.

In Gaithersburg… Lockheed Martin – in collaboration with a dozen other area companies – opened a new R&D center to develop new ways of combating cyber-security threats.

The future is quite bright for our core federal employers with expansion planned for NIH, FDA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Institutes Standards and Technology.

And somewhere in Montgomery County – at a location soon to be determined – the International Baccalaureate organization will open a new global center for the Americas that adds another, 100-plus jobs.

In addition to these developments, we continue to benefit from many of the unique strengths of our community.

Our proximity to Washington, D.C., the seat of the federal government.

Our position as an international hub for life sciences and biotechnology.

Our low unemployment rate – which, although higher now than it has been in recent years, is still, by far, among the lowest in the nation.

Our vibrant neighborhoods, thriving community-based organizations and the Arts and Humanities.

Our exceptional public libraries.

Our outstanding higher education institutions, including Montgomery College, the Universities at Shady Grove, and Johns Hopkins University.

And, of course, our world-class public school system.

Each of these strengths will help us to successfully emerge from the economic downturn.

Each contributes to the quality of life that makes Montgomery County such a great place to live.

In the latest County household survey, which is soon to be released, nearly 9 out of 10 residents rated Montgomery County as an excellent or good place to live.

All of these positive signs point to one fact, that despite our challenges we are moving forward, once again.

We are moving forward at building a better, leaner government that is both responsive and accountable.

• Our new “311” one-stop, phone and online information system, which we expect to launch soon, is a prime example.

The 311 system will provide our residents with a single point of contact for inquiries, guidance, information and direction.

• Not only is this system more informative for our residents, but it will save the County considerable dollars.

• Another initiative that I launched to improve efficiency is – CountyStat, which tracks County government’s performance using real-time data analysis… and holds departments and agencies accountable for improving their results.

• One example of its use and success, in the first year of its operation…
CountyStat helped to reduce overtime costs by $16 million.

As I promised, I have opened the lines of communication with our residents in an unprecedented manner.

Since I was elected in 2006, I have held a record number of Town Hall meetings – 15 in all! And these are in addition to a series of budget forums I hold each year, as well as hundreds of other community meetings, I attend all over the County.

• I have also hosted an extensive series of on-line chats… and cable television call-in shows, which are jointly hosted with the County Council president.

I have worked tirelessly to ensure that everybody has a seat at the table and a voice in the outcome of issues that affect their lives.

And I have made sure that every part of the wonderful diversity that is Montgomery County is represented in my decision-making. I believe that our diversity is one of our strengths as a County.

We are moving forward to make housing more affordable for many people who might not otherwise be able to live in the same County where they work.

• Over the past three years, we increased our Housing Initiative Fund from 18 million to 58 million dollars.

• We added, or preserved, more than 3,400 affordable housing units… and there are currently about 1,600 other units under construction.

• This past summer I was honored by the affordable housing community for the great work and great progress Montgomery County is making in addressing our housing needs.

We are moving forward to make our transportation network more effective and efficient.

• Our Ride On bus system carries nearly 30 million passengers a year, which reduces the number of vehicles on the road. And, increasingly, our buses are running on alternative fuels.

• Our future transportation needs must be met in large part through the advancement of transit.

• We have made major progress in bringing both the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway to fruition.

I will continue our push for full funding for these projects that are vital to our region.

• We also are investing half a million dollars in a study that will help bring a bus rapid transit system to Montgomery County.

• We broke ground on the new Silver Spring Transit Center, and when completed, it will serve 97,000 transit users daily by the year 2020.

• And we have completed the first-ever comprehensive inventory of all County roads, laying out a strategic plan to target maintenance where it is most needed.

We are moving forward to keep our streets safe and our neighborhoods secure.

• Along with education and assisting the most vulnerable, public safety is one of my top priorities.

That’s why the only two department budgets that actually increased this year within the County government are those of our Police Department and Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

• I am pleased to report that in the first half of 2009, our crime rate dropped by five percent overall, and by more than seven percent in serious crimes – compared to the same six-month period last year.

• Our police also play an important role in promoting traffic safety… and in administering our “Safe Speed” program.

While I know there are mixed reviews from some on the speed camera system – especially from those who have received a citation – the good news is the “Safe Speed” program is working.

• A recent report by the County’s Office of Legislative Oversight showed a 39% reduction in collisions in the areas where the cameras are located… and a reduction in driver speeds of nearly 20 percent.

• One of my highest priorities in transportation continues to be that of improving pedestrian safety.

• I fully funded a comprehensive initiative that was developed by our Pedestrian Safety Task Force.

Key elements of that plan include a greater emphasis on education, engineering and enforcement. In addition, we have doubled the funding for new sidewalk construction.

• I was proud this year to cut the ribbon for the new Germantown-Kingsview Fire Station, which further advances the response capability of our Fire and Rescue personnel.

• This was the first new fire station to open in our County in 25 years. By next spring, we will add two more stations, including one in Takoma Park and one in the Germantown-Milestone area.

We are moving forward to protect both the health and well-being of our residents.

• While the national healthcare debate goes on… our “Montgomery Cares” program last year provided primary care, medications and other medical services to more than 21,000 uninsured, low-income adults.

• Meanwhile, our “Care for Kids” program enabled 3,600 children to access primary health care services, prescriptions and specialty care.

• Despite our relative lack of new resources, we’ve focused our departments on improving access and outreach to County seniors. And we’ve worked, also within existing resources, to help provide veterans and their families with help – and with recognition for their sacrifices from a grateful County.

• Our Positive Youth Development Initiative – for which I recently received the “Wheaties National Breakfast of Champions Award” for helping at-risk-youth by providing them with positive alternatives, is a strong example of the County’s commitment to our children.

We are moving forward to better protect our environment.

• We successfully convinced the State to select Montgomery County to be the home of the Maryland Clean Energy Center, which is spearheading efforts to strengthen the clean energy industry, throughout the state.

• We expanded our purchasing of clean, renewable energy for county facilities, so that it now supports 30 percent of our annual electricity consumption.

And we have launched a new Green Business Certification program that will help to showcase best practices among county employers.

• We are leaders in the area of stormwater management, working with the Maryland Department of the Environment to craft a new stormwater permit for the County that puts us at the forefront of protecting our streams, as well as the Potomac and the vital Chesapeake Bay.

• We are stepping up our recycling efforts. The countywide recycling rate has risen this year to a record level of more than 43 percent… moving us ever closer to our minimum objective of recycling 50 percent of our solid waste stream.

Montgomery County now has the most expansive recycling program in the entire region.

• In terms of agricultural preservation, this year, we reached our goal of protecting more than 70,000 acres of farmland. This is the largest percentage of preserved agricultural land of any county in the nation.

We are moving forward to make sure our children are well prepared to learn… and to provide opportunities for lifelong learning, with more education options than ever before.

• As County Executive, as a teacher… and as a grandparent, I know that a first-class education system is the foundation upon which much of our success depends.

• Nearly everything about the future that we want for a better Montgomery County begins with doing what we can to ensure that the future is better for our children.

That is why support for education always has been and always will be one of my top priorities.

• Despite the fact that we reduced the overall FY 2010 budget, I increased funding for our Public Schools by $38.5 million – a two-percent increase – and fully funded all educational programs in the school system request.

• Now as all of you know, we were not able to fund the cost-of-living pay raises for school system employees, or for any of our public employees.

• I would be remiss if I did not thank our dedicated public servants for their understanding of the economic situation we currently face and its impact on our budget.

This supportive action allowed us to avoid much deeper cuts, and saved hundreds of jobs.

• Our funding of 99 percent of the schools’ budget request this year was made possible because of our close collaboration with the Board of Education and Superintendent Jerry Weast.

• Notwithstanding these efforts, we find ourselves at odds with the State over how our school funding decisions correlate to the intent of State law requiring maintenance of effort.

• I am prepared to initiate legal action, if necessary, to preserve the County’s ability to make the difficult budget decisions that we must make.

We will also work closely with our State legislators to help craft a legislative solution to this important funding issue.

• But I can tell you, without hesitation… we made the right decision… that it saved hundreds of jobs, and that it prevented the County from having to make more cuts in the classroom or in other vital public services.

• In terms of higher education, I also increased funding this year for Montgomery College by 3 percent.

This is at a time when MC’s enrollment is at an all-time high.

We are moving forward to strengthen the foundation of our local economy.

Historically, the key to our county’s success has been our highly educated workforce, attracted here by our outstanding quality of life.

Another key for Montgomery County is that we are one of the nation’s foremost centers for biotechnology and the life sciences in America. This is due to the vision of some of the extraordinary leaders of decades past.

Revolutionary companies such as MedImmune, Human Genome Sciences and others help to save and change lives and put our county on the world map.

But before they could do that, someone had to have the vision to put Montgomery County on the right road to help attract the right industries.

People like former County Executive Charlie Gilchrist… and my dear, former colleague on the County Council, Bill Hanna, among others. Bill is a true visionary.

He has never been one to just rely on the quick-fix solutions of the day.

As a council member, he always looked at the big picture… and to the future.

Our life sciences community here in Montgomery County is one that stands on the shoulders of those who helped to shape it many years ago.

Bill Hanna is here tonight… and I want to take a moment to say thank you and welcome him.

Thank you, Bill.

I want our County, to build on the success of the I-270 Corridor and the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

Montgomery County continues to be one of the nation’s premiere locations for biotech and related industries, but we can not rest on our laurels.

That is why our success in purchasing 115 acres of property from the WSSC will help bring life science institutions to the east county.

And, next week, I will announce our plans to help assure the continued growth of those industries, when I release the final report of my Life Sciences Task Force, which has been so ably led by former MedImmune CEO David Mott.

I am grateful to him and all of the members of the task force for their outstanding work.

I look forward to unveiling the details of their visionary plan and recommendations.

Currently, the County Council is nearing final action on not one, but two very important local master plans – for the White Flint area and Gaithersburg West. Both are essential to the long-term success of our county.

Both provide an excellent opportunity to solidify our county’s economic strengths, while striking the right balance between job and housing growth, along with an efficient transportation system, schools, and other public facilities.

In addition, my Smart Growth Initiative will also help shape the Montgomery County of tomorrow.

I am pleased to have the strong support of the County Council in advancing this initiative, which ties together important public policies regarding environmental sustainability, affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and the creation of jobs in the life sciences sector.

At the heart of this initiative is my goal to maximize strategic locations to increase economic development opportunities, while working to properly relocate some currently existing, but essential public facilities.

This Smart Growth Initiative is about successfully building an even better Montgomery County, on the foundation of the forward-thinking, smart growth decisions that we make today.

We are moving forward… again… in one critical area after another.

But to keep moving, we need to continue with our efforts to put the County’s financial house in order.

I started this important process when I first took office, by reversing what had been an absolutely unsustainable trend in county spending.

That effort began with my initial budget that I recommended to the County Council; this was before the County was hit with the harshest realities of the current economic downturn.

So far, in our first three years, we have closed a combined budget gap of 1.2 billion dollars – that’s $1.2 billion, with a “B”.

And I should add that we have managed to do that… while still preserving our county’s coveted triple-A bond rating and maintaining our essential services and programs in education, public safety and protecting our most vulnerable residents.

In my first budget, I closed a $200 million shortfall – reducing the tax-supported rate of increase, at that time, from 14.1 percent the prior year… to 6.9 percent.

The second year, the projected shortfall climbed to more than 400 million dollars.

We imposed a hiring freeze, recommend $30 million in mid-year savings, abolished more than 225 positions, and slowed the rate of growth in the operating budget to just 1.6 percent.

This past year, the gap between revenues and expenditures grew to nearly $600 million. And once again, we closed that gap as well.

Now, before I address the challenge of next year’s budget, let me first say something about why these decisions are so difficult… and why it is important that we keep in mind the essential role played by local government agencies and the hard-working people who keep our county running.

Local government is, literally, where the rubber meets the road… where our streets get paved and the potholes are filled.

It is the local government from where most of our first-responders originate and from which most aspects of our daily lives are truly impacted.

To understand this, we need to look no further than to three examples from the past year that I know will be vivid to each and every one of us.

First… the River Road water main break.

I doubt that any one of us will ever forget the images we have in our minds of that frightening scene, from last December.

I hope it will remind all of us of the importance of investing in the maintenance and upgrading of our infrastructure, including our vital public water and sewer system.

I know everyone in our community will recall the excellence and the professionalism of our Fire and Rescue Services workers and volunteers who helped rescue those stranded motorists.

If not for their heroics, the auto passengers could have been swept away by the raging waters,

Second… the H1N1 virus. Our Health and Human Services team has worked tirelessly to lead our countywide response to this worldwide pandemic.

I am proud of the way they have worked closely with our school system and other county agencies to coordinate flu vaccine clinics and to provide the best information to the public about how to keep from getting and spreading the virus itself.

And, third, the recent incident involving a failure of the computer system that guides the operation of our countywide network of traffic lights.

I want to again apologize to all of you who were impacted by the added congestion that lasted for nearly two days.

I also want to thank the hard-working team in our Department of Transportation, who worked around the clock to remedy the problem, and who are working with us to make sure that we replace the current technology with an upgraded system that will avoid a repeat of that situation in the future.

I believe you will now fully understand why I made a commitment to invest in the replacement of the traffic system, despite our budget challenges and criticism for making this a priority, when I came into office three years ago.

Each of these three examples should give powerful testimony to the importance of our key county government operations and the outstanding public employees who perform exceptional service for all of us.

And, I think you will see why I do not, and would not ever, take lightly any budget decisions that impair our essential county services.

But having said that, in our upcoming budget we will need to make some very painful choices.

Looking ahead to next year – with a budget shortfall now projected at more than 600 million dollars – I will soon announce an aggressive savings plan to reduce even more from this year’s budget.

The choices ahead will be much, much more difficult, because of the extensive budget reductions we have already had to make over the past three years.

None have been easy… and none have been made lightly.

In each case, we have worked to carefully weigh the significance of our decisions – evaluating them both on how they will impact the current budget… and how they will affect our county, in the long run.

But there is – as they say – no more low-hanging fruit, when it comes to balancing our county budget.

Although the economy is on the mend, the reality is that it will take quite some time before our revenue stream returns to its full strength.

And as all of you know, we will have to play better defense than ever to fend off new cuts at the State level, in order to protect the amount of local aid that we receive.

If there is anything we should have learned from the current fiscal crisis, it is that we can no longer look at this county as being recession-proof.

And, we can no longer oversimplify our decisions about how we plan to build our future and solidify our tax base, by bringing each issue down to a choice between growth… and no-growth.

In order for our county to move forward, we must continue to grow. But we can and should grow in a thoughtful, careful and smart way that ensures we will make this already great County even better in the future.

We must grow at a sustainable and environmentally sensitive pace that does not place undue financial burden on the taxpayers or crowd out existing communities.

I strongly believe, that with the right resolve, the right planning and the right vision… we can and will ensure that all of the generations ahead will feel as blessed to live and raise their families in Montgomery County, as so many of us do today.

And making sure of that… starts with the decisions we make right now.

As I close tonight, I will tell you that given the magnitude of the fiscal challenges, many people have said to me: “Ike, you sure picked a lousy time to be County Executive.

I mean, look at it – three terrible budget years and another on the way.”

But to them, and to you, I say… to the contrary

This is exactly the right time to be county executive.

This is the time leaders need to make real choices – when we may not be able to afford to do everything that is wanted … when more often than not, you unfortunately have to say NO.

When you must very carefully select what things you are able to do…
and what things you are not able to do.

I say… this is the time when true leadership is needed.

For me… this is exactly the right time to be the County Executive. I am honored to serve… at one of the most critical times in our county’s history.

I welcome the opportunity to lead this great county through the challenging times of today… while guiding us ever closer toward that promise of a brighter tomorrow. We are moving forward …

Together, we will move forward.

Thank you.

Media Contact: Patrick Lacefield, 240-777-6528