By Nickolai Sukharev @Nickolaiss
BETHESDA — Residents in Bethesda had the opportunity to raise their concerns and issues Saturday evening at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School with newly-inaugurated County Executive Marc Elrich.
Topics included broad issues, such as the environment and traffic, to more specific issues such as pedestrian safety, improvements in particular neighborhoods, and possible bans on gas-powered leaf blowers.
“It’s a mix of countywide issues and local issues,” Elrich said after the event. “Every place has kind of the same range of bigger issues and then all the local issues.”
Residents had two minutes to ask questions, with Elrich either giving a response or assurance to follow up on a particular issue.
Saturday’s event followed a series of sessions held in Germantown, Silver Spring, Olney, Takoma Park and Poolesville following the Nov. 6 election, in which Elrich defeated Republican Robin Ficker and unaffiliated candidate Nancy Floreen.
The session commenced with a resident asking how Montgomery County could address the reading proficiency of students and fund the Kirwan Commission recommendations.
Elrich, a former school teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, explained that the County executive writes “a broad check” and has little authority to determine specific items in the MCPS budget but stressed the importance of reading proficiency in early-stage education.
The Kirwan Commission, formed in 2016 to examine education funding across the state, will release its recommendations before the Maryland General Assembly convenes in Annapolis on Jan. 9.
“My goal is to make sure whatever they do, the County doesn’t wind up paying a ton more,” Elrich said about the Kirwan Commission.
One resident asked about a topic frequently mentioned at the sessions – growing the County’s economy. Elrich reiterated his campaign promises to implement small-business assistance programs and entrepreneurship incubators.
Answering a question about helping the vendors at the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market, which is slated for redevelopment into a mixed-use high rise with townhomes, Elrich, said he was not sure assistance would be a solution but added the issue was worth a conversation.
One woman asked if the County could look into banning or regulating gas-powered leaf blowers, citing their potential issues with respiratory health and air pollution. Elrich explained he would work with the County Council to explore the issue, given the existence of electric alternatives.
Responding to a follow-up question about vehicle emissions, Elrich said he would pursue electrification of the County fleet, such as police cruisers, and shut down the Resource Recovery Facility, the County’s waste incinerator in Dickerson.
Opened in 1995, the Resource Recovery Facility burns waste to generate energy in the form of electricity or steam while metal recovered from the ash is recycled.
During a previous listening session, Elrich said he would have the incinerator follow Obama-era emissions guidelines if a shutdown is not possible in the near term.
With the County implementing the VisionZero program aimed to reduce road fatalities by 2030, Elrich said he would support “making easier” for residents to request stop signs and other traffic-calming measures on residential streets.
Elrich also expressed support for Del. David Moon’s (D-20) bill to grant Montgomery County authority to lower speed limits on certain roads.
A resident identifying herself as a “political minority” asked the County Executive if he plans on raising taxes to pay the interest on the County’s debt and how he plans to work with Republicans in the General Assembly to “get more tax dollars back to Montgomery County.”
Elrich explained he does not plan to raise taxes and will meet regularly with the County’s General Assembly delegation as well as Republican delegations from other counties to foster bipartisan cooperation.
Responding to a similar question, Elrich said he “passionately” believes in running the County government more efficiently, a point he repeatedly stressed during his campaign.
The final two listening sessions are scheduled at Churchill High School on Monday, Dec. 17, and Einstein High School on Thursday, Dec. 20.