Wednesday, May 16, 2012

MoCo JuiceBlender: Council Passes Ambulance Fee (Again), Lockheed Welfare Rejected, Wheaton COSTCO Update & More

Below Maryland Juice provides a mish-mosh of recent policy decisions from Montgomery County elected officials. Indeed, the political scene has been feisty in MoCo lately, as a number of proposed laws have generated controversy. The County's cable news show produced a segment outlining some of the changes. Watch the news segment and see our news round-up below:

MOCO POLICY #1: LOCKHEED MARTIN WELFARE REJECTED - Last week, the Montgomery County Council rejected a proposed $900,000 tax cut for defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The Council had previously rejected the idea in 2010, but County Executive Ike Leggett brought it up again under the guise of stimulus spending this year. Last Tuesday, the idea was summarily dismissed without much fanfare. If you care to watch the five second dismissal of the Lockheed welfare plan, see below:

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MOCO POLICY #2: MOCO COUNCIL PASSES AMBULANCE FEE (AGAIN) - In 2010, Montgomery County's Executive proposed an ambulance fee to try and raise revenues by billing insurance companies for MoCo's emergency response services. After the County Council passed the fee, volunteer firefighters gathered signatures to repeal the measure, which was rejected by a majority of voters. This year, County Executive Ike Leggett revived the ambulance fee proposal with some amendments, and last Tuesday the County Council passed the bill again. You can read responses from some Councilmembers at The Washington Post. It is currently unclear how the volunteer firefighters will react. See coverage from WTOP radio:
WTOP: The Montgomery County Council approved ambulance fees Tuesday, effectively overturning what voters decided in a referendum just 18 months ago.

Only insurance companies will get billed under the plan, not individuals.

"If you have insurance in Montgomery County, you are paying for this cost," County Executive Ike Leggett told WTOP in April. "The customers are already paying for it. They're paying for it right now. We just don't have a way to collect it."

Councilmember Phil Andrews called the bill a "radical thing" Tuesday and a "thumb in the eye" of voters....

Opponents of the proposal worry residents might think twice about calling 911 in an emergency. Leggett says there's no evidence people hold back in neighboring counties, all of which have similar fees.

The fee would produce about $17 million per year, the county executive says....

MOCO POLICY #3: IKE LEGGETT & COUNCIL SPAR OVER LAND SALES - The Montgomery County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett have recently been sparring over separation of powers issues. Things escalated to the point that Mr. Leggett recently vetoed a bill expanding the County Council's powers to review certain decisions by the Executive. The Council proceeded to overturn the veto. The Potomac Patch had a summary of what the flap is all about:
POTOMAC PATCH: For his first time in office Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) vetoed a bill passed by the Montgomery County Council.

For the first time since 2002, the council voted to override an executive veto.

And, for the first time possibly ever, the council has given itself a voice in the disposition of county land and assets.

The council voted 6-3 Tuesday to override Leggett's veto of Expedited Bill 11-12 requiring council approval and encouraging early collaboration when the county executive seeks to sell or lease county property, according to a council release.

The new measure requires the county executive to receive council approval before selling county property at less than full market value...

Six votes are required from council to override an executive's veto....

MOCO POLICY #4: WHEATON COSTCO GAS STATION CONTROVERSY - Alongside the Lockheed welfare plan, Ike Leggett's package of "economic development" proposals debated last week included $2 million for the Westfield shopping mall chain. The grant, which the County Council approved last week, allows the company to build a Costco discount store at Wheaton Plaza (aka Westfield Wheaton). But along with the new store, COSTCO and Westfield hope to build a 16-bay gas station. It now appears that the plan has hit a snag, as a majority of Councilmembers have co-sponsored legislation that would effectively block the COSTCO gas station. Anything could happen, since the vote has not yet occurred, but this is a bad sign for Westfield's chances. The Wheaton Patch reported:
WHEATON PATCH: Costco is now using the email addresses of its members to appeal for their help in convincing the Montgomery County Council not to pass legislation that would block Costco's business interests in Wheaton....

In an email sent to Costco members, the wholesale corporation is now asking supporters to send emails to the Montgomery County Council president, Roger Berliner, to protest a zoning text amendment that, if passed, would block the gas station construction. Emails sent to the president are automatically distributed to other councilmembers.

Costco’s email message (attached as a PDF to this article) includes the following paragraph about Zoning Text Amendment 12-07: “The proposed legislation appears to be designed specifically to keep us from opening our gas station at Wheaton Mall. It singles out operators of high-volume gas stations – without regard to the superior safety record of our gas stations. This proposed legislation may preclude Costco from being able to open a new gas station not just at the Wheaton Mall, but anywhere in Montgomery County....”

The public hearing for the ZTA is scheduled for June 19.

One Costco member, who requested that her name not be used, received both the “snail mail” letter and the electronic follow-up.

“I just got this email from Costco - which as a Costco member I think is a totally inappropriate use of my email address,” she wrote....

MOCO POLICY #5: MOCO SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE - It is worth noting that with all of the taxpayer assistance going to mega-corporations in Montgomery County, the Council did approve some small business assistance funds. Councilmember Nancy Navarro sponsored a bill (co-sponsored by Councilmembers Ervin, Floreen, Leventhal, Berliner and Riemer) to provide financial and technical assistance to small businesses impacted by County redevelopment projects. County Executive Leggett signed the bill below into law on April 26th:

Montgomery County Small Business Assistance Legislation - April 2012

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