Flu, disasters occupy council’s schedule

Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006

The County Council spent part of Monday and Tuesday discussing emergency preparedness.

During Tuesday’s legislative session, state health officials reported on efforts to combat avian flu, as well as a possible flu pandemic that may not involve the bird flu.

County health officer Ulder Tillman discussed local efforts, which include a disease hot line and quarantine orders in case of a flu pandemic.

The county is also planning a session with area businesses to establish crisis plans in the event that a pandemic affects a large number of workers.

Council President George L. Leventhal took issue with Tillman’s recommendations that residents stockpile up to 30 days of food and water in case of a flu quarantine.

‘‘I have half an acre of land that I live on. Where am I going to put all these gallons of water?” said Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park. ‘‘I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask people to give up a portion of their living space when they have no room.”

Asked by Councilman Michael L. Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg whether any county building or agency had taken the same precautions, Tillman said no.

‘‘The pandemic flu is not going to be something that is going to be three-day event,” she said. ‘‘With a possible quarantine the time could be much longer.”

The flu discussion followed a briefing Monday by Homeland Security Director Gordon A. Aoyagi, who detailed ‘‘Alert Montgomery,” a text messaging communication system. Residents may register for emergency alerts at alert.montgomerycountymd.gov.

He also discussed the ‘‘Ready Montgomery” plan to prepare residents for a disaster. Included in the plan is information on emergency contacts, establishing a family plan, assembling disaster kits.

Rental voucher cuts

Cost limits in a federal housing program are placing an increased burden on the county’s poorest families.

On Monday, the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee heard from D. Scott Minton, executive director of the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission.

Federal housing officials, who administer the Housing Choice Voucher Program, notified the county last year, that vouchers would be cut to $919 a month per unit, Minton said.

In Montgomery, where the average rent is $927, the cut means a possible shortfall of $1 million, Minton said. The reduction will affect HOC clients recertifying their vouchers in February. They will have to pay the difference between the voucher and the rent.

‘‘We’re asking our poorest residents to come up with money that they don’t have,” said committee Chairman Steven A. Silverman (D-At large) of Silver Spring.

HOC administers 5,600 HUD vouchers. There is a waiting list of more than 10,000 residents for the program.

Another committee meeting on the voucher program is set for Feb. 7.

In other actions

*Medical advisory board: The council unanimously approved establishment of a 15-member advisory board for the Montgomery Cares program. The board will include hospitals, community health providers, an oral health expert, other health care experts and three members of the public.

Montgomery Cares provides funding — expected to be $10 million in the next fiscal year — to clinics that care for about 40,000 poor and uninsured residents.

*Home sales dip: The county’s finance director and department officials updated the council’s Management and Fiscal Policy Committee on economic indicators including interest rates and fuel costs.

Of particular interest was a slowdown in residential sales since June. Home prices are still at record levels, and rose last year by 18.5 percent.

‘‘It is starting to become a sellers’ market,” said economic adviser David Platt about the housing market. ‘‘There is a little more risk in condo [market] because single-family homes retain their value better.”

*Remembering Coretta Scott King: The County Council took a moment to remember King, 78, who died Monday night, before convening for its regular legislative session Tuesday.

Accolades for the civil rights icon poured in from politicians across the state, including Maryland’s three gubernatorial candidates.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan described King as ‘‘a shining light” who devoted her life to ensuring the dream of her husband, Martin Luther King Jr. — fairness and equality — would come true.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele issued a joint statement, citing ‘‘her quiet tenacity and fortitude made her an effective advocate for equal rights ...across the globe.”

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley ordered flags in the city lowered to half-staff to honor King, calling her ‘‘a visionary leader in our nation’s struggle for equal rights and justice for all.”