Leggett outlines his priorities

Panel describes a growing county that will hit 1 million in four years

Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006

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Twenty days before taking office, County Executive-elect Isiah ‘‘Ike” Leggett was looking for long-term solutions to some of the county’s problems during a Tuesday morning forum.

About 150 county leaders, business people, politicians and administrators, deemed Leggett’s ‘‘transition team,” attended the first of three meetings at the Bolger Center in Potomac. True to his campaign promises for a more open style of governing, Leggett invited the team to weigh in on his seven priorities for the county, which include demanding accountable government, safe streets and secure neighborhoods, preparing children to learn and live and expanding affordable housing.

‘‘I don’t think it’s in the county’s best interest to have flash-point ideas that don’t stand the test of time and provide no sustainability,” Leggett said Tuesday. ‘‘I am focused on long-term sustainable ideas. They may not be things that get headlines, but they will benefit the county.”

An expert panel provided a glimpse into the county’s future during the presentation, ‘‘Imagine Montgomery One Million.” The county’s population is expected to reach 1 million by 2010, according to state planning department projections.

The presentation was especially timely Tuesday with various media outlets reporting results of studies that show the county’s population increasing, gridlock worsening and affordable housing lacking.

Leggett takes over the state’s largest jurisdiction as the housing market slows and the resulting tax revenues from buying and selling homes falls. Still, Montgomery remains an attractive destination because of its highly regarded school system and quality of life, panel members said.

Leggett’s priorities
Demanding accountable government and responsive service delivery
Providing safe streets and secure neighborhoods
Building healthy and sustainable communities
Keeping Montgomery moving
Preparing children to live and learn
Ensuring vital living for all of our residents Expanding affordable housing for an inclusive community

Town meetings set
7:30 p.m. Nov. 28, Leland Community Center, 4301 Willow Lane, Chevy Chase
7:30 p.m. Nov, 29, Olney Elementary School, 3401 Queen Mary Drive
7:30 p.m. Nov. 30, BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Common Drive, Germantown

‘‘Everyone sticks to the door handle,” said Arva Jackson, a retired county human rights administrator, in likening the population increase to a refrigerator. ‘‘There are a number of people who want to come to Montgomery County to earn a reasonably good living and hopefully make the lives of their children a little better than theirs.”

Joining her were Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson, University of Maryland economics professor Mahlon Straszheim and William Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis and Chevy Chase.

With the growth rate holding steady, only about 5,000 new affordable housing units can be built over the next 20 years, Hanson said. There is only space in the county for about 75,000 total units, or 25 to 30 years worth of building.

‘‘It will be just as important what we build and how we build it as will be what we save,” he said.

With the county’s available undeveloped land limited, Hanson said development emphasis would change from new construction to redevelopment of existing buildings.

Straszheim, who creates the county’s Annual Economic Development Report Card, said the county will close this fiscal year with a balanced budget, but warned of future financial obligations, such as employee retirement funding beginning in fiscal 2008, which will have an impact on the operating budget.

The county is also likely to end the year without the $100 million yearend surpluses it has been accustomed to. Leggett and the new County Council also must find a way to pay for county expenses, which have increased about 8 percent each year for the past three years, Straszheim said.

Most important will be a collaborative leadership style, Hudnut said.

‘‘Leadership doesn’t care where the credit goes,” he advised. ‘‘Remember the importance of constituent service, collaboration, and planning carefully.”

The second phase of open meetings comes at the end of the month with town hall meetings in Chevy Chase, Olney and Germantown.

The next transition team meeting will be held Monday at the Doubletree Hotel in Rockville.