ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council met on July 9 to work through their consent calendar of agenda items and hold a second work session on accessory dwelling units.
Consent calendars make it easier to expedite government meetings by grouping issues together that only need a short amount of time to discuss. The council had 16 items to work through during their regular council session. However, two issues facing the county received further discussion: public safety modernization and accessible childcare.
Councilmember Hans Riemer called attention to the introduction of an amendment to the FY19 Capital Improvements Program, which funds the cost of replacing Montgomery County’s aging public safety radio tower system.
The county’s public safety radio tower system facilitates communication between 911 operators and emergency responders, such as police, fire and ambulance personnel. According to the council, the public safety radio tower’s end-of-life date was back in 2009, and the system has experienced failures.
“The county’s public safety radio tower network is decrepit, and it needs to be replaced,” Riemer said. “It failed catastrophically on Mother’s Day weekend, and the county has been working for years to build a new public safety radio tower network. We need a state-of-the-art, first-rate, world-class public safety radio tower and public safety communication system.”
The money appropriated by the council will go toward creating a network of 22 towers each interdependent on one another.
“When a police officer or firefighter pulls out their radio, it’s sending a signal to a tower nearby somewhere, and then that tower signal relays through the other towers,” Riemer explained. “Each of these towers has a line of sight to a different tower, so every tower in the network is interdependent with every other tower. The whole network works when it is all in place, as it was designed.”
The network project has been delayed several times due to seeking alternate locations for two of the tower sites: on the corner of Georgia Avenue and the Intercounty Connector (ICC), and one in Bretton Woods.
According to the council, most recently the project was delayed from fall 2020 to fall 2021 or 2022.
“There was some concern from neighbors about the unsightliness or some unfounded accusations about health impacts about the towers, which led County Executive Elrich to recommend canceling two locations,” Riemer said. “(Changing the location of two towers) has crea tremendous problems, because it’s not easy to build the 22-tower network and deliver it on time while you’re trying to find alternative locations.”
Riemer explained that the issue of public safety radio towers in the area is one of life safety.
“The Capital Budget amendment that we’re introducing today would remove the discretion about the locations and say we are going to proceed with the locations that we have designated,” he said.
A public forum on the public safety radio tower network is tentatively scheduled for July 30.
The council also discussed approving the disposal of the former Silver Spring Library on Colesville road to be replaced by a childcare center.
“We have a property disposition law, and this comes before our committee in order to do our due diligence and make sure that if we are going to dispose of public property, that it is in the best interest of our public,” Council President Nancy Navarro said, “and this particular proposal is very exciting, especially in light of the early care and education initiative that seeks to expand the availability of child care slots by 600 by the end of this fiscal year.”
According to the council, the former library building will be used by the Martha B. Gudelsky Child Development Center (MBGCDC) operated by CentroNia. It will be required that at least 75% of children enrolled in child care at the site will be eligible for free and reduced lunch. In other words, the child care center will serve low-socioeconomic families.
The building will undergo renovations, and additional space will be built to accommodate two stories.
“In downtown Silver Spring families are often on a waiting list for three or four years to access high- quality childcare, and (so this child care center) is a big win for the community and for the county,” Councilmember Hucker said.
The new child care site will help the council and County Executive Marc Elrich reach the goals they set to make early education and child care more accessible to children in the county.
“I’m excited about this great contribution of downtown Silver Spring, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” Hucker said.