Friday, May 24, 2019

MoCo Council hikes property taxes, slouches toward bankruptcy in disaster budget

Property tax bills will rise for almost all Montgomery County residents in the coming year, after the Montgomery County Council approved a disastrous $5.8 billion FY-20 budget Thursday. The vote virtually ensures future tax hikes will be necessary, as the Council also went on a spending spree despite starting off with a $208 million shortfall. Increases in spending on Montgomery County Public Schools, already proven to have no impact on student performance despite record-large MCPS budgets this decade, will be a major cause of tax hikes down the road. Once the MCPS budget is raised, state law requires the Council to maintain that level of spending going forward.

The fact that the Council had no qualms about spending even more than MCPS asked for despite that binding maintenance-of-effort state law raises questions of the councilmembers' fitness for office. Councilmembers approved the massive spending on MCPS while knowing that there are only two uncertain sources to pay the additional $16 million, and one of those is a one-time $5 million possible payment from the state for upgrading the County's long-failing 911 system. The other $11 million? LOL - they'll figure it out. And thanks to the law, we now have to give MCPS - the system that has declined in performance even as spending on it has surged - that amount every single year going forward. We already are in the red every single year as far out as the forecasts go as it is. Heckuva job, Brownie!

"The annual [property tax] bill for the average homeowner will increase," the Council's press release on the budget vote acknowledges - while not admitting the real-world dollar value of that increase, which is far more than the "average" cost cited often by the County. That tax hike comes after the Council and County Executive Marc Elrich promised voters they would not raise taxes. 

Bloated and filled with loot for the Montgomery County cartel, the budget maintains the corrupt Council's MO of "managing the decline," and continuing our slow slouch towards Gomorrah. The Council has failed to take a single action on our economic development crisis since taking office last December, forgoing for another year any sensible attempt to increase our revenue from commercial development or attracting major corporate headquarters - something Montgomery County hasn't been able to do for over twenty years. Instead, the County has sunk to rock bottom by every economic development benchmark, even behind tiny counties like Culpeper and Rappahannock. It's humiliating.

Considering the Council has raised property taxes every year except 2014, imagine what will happen when the national economy goes into a recession. We are now in the weakest position ever to confront such an economic challenge. Given the County's massive debt, the much-touted AAA bond rating will be in jeopardy as soon as bad times hit, and we are due for a bust cycle any month now. Remember: we have to maintain this level of MCPS spending and county employee pay hikes every year no matter how bad the revenue picture gets.

With that in mind, it's obvious that while our leaders may be tools, they aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the drawer. But that's the caliber of leadership you end up with when most voters don't bother to research the candidates before voting, and simply go by the party affiliation after the name. We can't go on like this.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Fogo de Chão sets opening date at Pike & Rose

Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian churrascaria that has taken over the Nike Factory Store corner spot at Pike & Rose, is about a month away from opening. Construction continues inside ahead of the June 24 grand opening date. Lighting fixtures, seating and even artworks on the walls are already in place throughout the dining room.

This is the fourth Mid-Atlantic location for Fogo de Chão, following openings in Baltimore, D.C. and Montgomery County's arch-rival Fairfax County. Moises Lopes will be Head Gaucho Chef and General Manager of this location, and first learned how to cook meats gaucho style growing up on his family's farm in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

The Pike & Rose Fogo de Chão will seat 300 indoors, with additional seating at the bar and outdoors. Founded in 1979, the chain's signature dining experience centers around the roasting of high-quality cuts of meats over open flame, which are then carved tableside by Brazilian-trained gaucho chefs. With a month to go, they are still hiring staff. Applicants for both the front and back of house can visit, or call 301-841-9200 for more information.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Five Below sets opening date in Rockville

The new Five Below store at the Congressional North shopping center on Rockville Pike will open on June 14, 2019. As you can see, the sign is now in place above the storefront. Here's a sneak peek inside the new store, which sells "cool stuff for $5 or less." Think of it as an upscale dollar store.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thomasville Furniture space cleared, signage removed at Congressional Plaza

Thomasville Furniture closed earlier this year at Congressional Plaza in Rockville. Their space has now been cleared out, and their signage removed from the building. Thomasville was one more victim of the moribund Montgomery County economy, in a jurisdiction where "Going Out of Business!" signs have become ubiquitous.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Final week for Payless at Montgomery Mall

This is your last chance to pay less at Payless at Westfield Montgomery Mall. The store is in its final week of business, the latest victim of Montgomery County's moribund economy. Montgomery County has suffered a net loss of retail jobs since 2000, according to the Maryland Retailers Association.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Rockville City Council race begins taking shape; Mullican declares

Twinbrook resident and former Rockville planning commissioner Brigitta Mullican announced her entry into the 2019 Rockville City Council race yesterday. She cites her extensive community service resume among her qualifications, including being a founder and past President and Vice-President of the Rockville Sister City Corporation, VP and secretary of the Twinbrook Citizen's Association, and member of the Richard Montgomery High School PTA and Booster Club.

Mullican is a graduate of Richard Montgomery, and an alumnus of Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, from which she earned a management degree. She says she will use her experience of working with government officials at all levels to "improve Rockville’s working relationship with both the county and state governments."

Among the issues Mullican plans to campaign on are school overcrowding, increasing the number of City Council seats to seven, and traffic congestion. She endorses Gov. Larry Hogan's plan for Express Lanes on I-270 and the Beltway. While she pledges to help small businesses in the city, she has misgivings about the appearance that elected officials are offering "selective bailouts" to some struggling businesses like Dawson's Market, but not to others.
Cynthia Cotte Griffiths
Mullican joins two other candidates who have declared for the Council race. Cynthia Cotte Griffiths is the Richard Montgomery High School's Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) President and editor of the former Rockville Central blog and Facebook page. With an extensive professional background in non-profits, she is currently Executive Director of DC-MD Justice For Our Neighbors in Rockville. Her top issues include transit-oriented development, economic development, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and requiring the Mayor and Council to appoint a new member if a vacancy opens.

Cotte Griffiths has been a commissioner on the City of Rockville Traffic and Transportation Commission since 2015, a past commissioner on the City of Rockville Human Service Advisory Commission from 2008-2014, a member of the 2009 City Boards and Commissions Task Force, a member of the City's Sesquicentennial Committee, and won a Good Neighbor Award from the City in 2006 for volunteer efforts in the community and at Ritchie Park Elementary School.
James J. Hedrick
James J. Hedrick is a member of the board of Rockville Housing Enterprises, and a Rockville resident since 2014. He is currently a Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) employee, and serves on the Executive Committee of the Twinbrook Citizens Association. After starting his career at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hedrick worked as a consultant to local governments for several years. His firm advised towns and cities on budget, staffing, services, and strategic planning. He says he hopes to bring this experience to the Council.

Hedrick's top issues include better mobility connections among the different parts of the city, economic development, more diverse representation on boards and commissions, and environmental sustainability.

Expect the field to grow, and if you enter the race, send your press releases throughout the campaign season to Rockville Nights.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

David Blair launches MoCo public policy non-profit

Montgomery County businessman David Blair, who narrowly missed being elected County Executive last year, has returned to the political stage. He has just announced the launch of a non-profit public policy organization, The Council for Advocacy and Policy Solutions, of which he will serve as Chair.

Other notable members of CAPS' Advisory Board include Bethesda realtor Jane Fairweather, former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party Terry Lierman, Gov. Larry Hogan administration appointee Rose Li, former associate counsel to President Obama Jason Green and Badlands Playspace CEO Mikel Blair.

Blair says CAPS will fill the information void left by the disappearance of local newspapers by providing accurate information and data about the impact of public policies. It will advocate for new policies and initiatives, and launch private pilot programs. Blair announced the first such pilot today, a Seed Stage Incubator Program in partnership with the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.

“We have bright students, and brilliant faculty within Maryland’s business schools, and that’s something worth investing in and cultivating,” Blair said. “We’ll provide space for these early-stage businesses, connect students with established business leaders within the community to provide networking and mentorship, and facilitate introductions to angel investors.”

CAPS today also announced its first policy study, which will examine the best practices to recruit and retain teachers of color in Montgomery County Public Schools. The organization's website also hosts a beginner's guide to understanding the Montgomery County budget.

The launch of CAPS indicates Blair intends to remain engaged on County issues, specifically citing economic development, infrastructure and education as primary focuses. With the County economy and budget picture remaining bleak, Blair could be in a strong position to run for executive again in 2022.