GERMANTOWN—The Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board (UCAB) met to discuss current issues facing the area.
The 20-member board represents nearly 18 upcounty communities, including Boyds, Damascus, Gaithersburg and Barnesville, among others.
The UCAB members are appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the county council. Members serve three-year terms. The board holds its meetings at the Sidney Kramer Upcounty Regional Service Center in Germantown.
At the meeting held on April 29, the board received briefings from police liaisons, the Montgomery County Planning Department and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Lieutenants Harley Schwarz and Ian Clark delivered to the board a briefing about recent crimes reported in the area. Lt. Schwarz provided an update on the April 16 shootings in Germantown that left one person dead and three injured.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Schwarz said. “But as it comes to a close, and people are arrested more information will become public. I would say this incident had gang elements, but I can’t say it was gang related.”
He explained that, recently, police have been able to remove two guns from the streets without using any force.
In another report, both Lt. Schwarz and Clark strongly suggested caution when selling items online for strangers to come pick up. They both recommended performing transactions at the local police precinct, where officers are readily available to help if needed.
The two police liaisons explained that recently there have been multiple robberies perpetrated through the LetGo app – a platform that operates like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
The UCAB also received a report from Susanne Paul of the Montgomery County Planning Department on possible sites for a new dog park in Montgomery County.
“Dog parks are one of the fastest-growing segments of national parks,” Paul wrote in her report.
She explained that there is a high rate of dog ownership in Montgomery County, and with a dense, growing population, the need for public greenspace for a dog park grows.
Paul said that the dog park project is currently in the outreach phase for the department to get the word out to communities and gauge interest.
There is an online platform called Open Town Hall, on which residents can voice their opinions or make recommendations to the planning department for the areas where they would like to see a new dog park, according to Paul.
She said that the planning department noticed in its park research that the Bethesda and North Bethesda area have a dire need for a dog park, given its high residential density. Without convenient dog parks, residents often look for any available green space, which often happens to be near school play areas.
“We’ve gotten calls from school principals who have had to go out before school and pick up dog waste when they could be doing other things,” Paul said.
The next steps in the dog park project for the planning department include narrowing the number of potential sites to recommend and then implementing the new park in the community.
Finally, the board heard from Alvenia McQueen, who works as a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau.
She said that in 2010, Montgomery County had an 80 percent response rate to the census questionnaire, which is high. But this is the first year that the Census will be filled out primarily online, and this change, along with anxiety over the types of questions that will be asked, could drive down the response rate.
McQueen explained that communities miss out on about $2,000 for each person who is not included in the head count. That money compounds each year so in the 10 years between census counts, it’s possible that a community will miss out on $20,000 for each person who is not counted but still uses community resources.
Census takers have a number of challenges in getting an accurate count, including reaching hard to contact communities like homeless populations, children under five years old and people refusing to respond to the survey altogether.
“Distrust in the government is a challenge,” McQueen said, “We have to come up with ways to make people more comfortable.”
This year comes with an extra hurdle for the Census Bureau to overcome — the possibility of a citizenship question included in the survey.
The question, which would directly ask if the respondent is a legal citizen of the United States, could discourage people from answering accurately, or at all.
Part of a solution to reach populations that are difficult to contact is getting in touch with local officials like the members of UCAB, who know their communities better than officials at the Census Bureau and are more trusted locally.
The Census will go live on April 1, 2020.