County residents got their first chance Tuesday to weigh in on a $4.2 billion capital spending program that County Executive Isiah Leggett says moves construction projects forward at a time when fiscal restraint is paramount.
The plan also moves the county's public safety facilities out of Rockville as part of Leggett's Smart Growth Initiative and funds several road and development projects that will impact traffic around Rockville.
A County Council hearing scheduled for Wednesday was canceled after speakers were accommodated on the schedule for Tuesday and Thursday. Thursday’s hearing, which will mainly focus on school construction, begins at 7 p.m. at the . It will be carried live on County Cable Montgomery (Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN; Channel 30 on Verizon).
The six-year plan, which Leggett (D) unveiled Jan. 17, covers fiscal 2013—which begins July 1—through fiscal 2018.
“I believe this Capital Budget and [capital improvements program] strikes a careful balance between meeting our capital construction needs and the continued need to put our fiscal house in order,” Leggett wrote in a memo to the County Council introducing the plan.
A chief concern of Rockville officials is at the former Hungerford Park Elementary School site.
The budget proposal cites a $3.45 million cost saving from the delay, which would buy the county time to relocate the from the West Edmonston Drive site to the former Broome School on Twinbrook Parkway without first finding a temporary home for the center.
One Twinbrook resident told The Gazette that she worries what relocating the center could mean for Broome’s athletic fields. Other city residents worry about what a delay could mean for students in crowded schools.
Rockville City Council members John Hall and Tom Moore are scheduled to testify on Thursday in support of building the new school sooner.
The county would spend $14.8 million to build a new 40,500-square-foot building for the center and a 20,000-square-foot parking garage at Broome. Construction would begin this summer.
A number of other county projects are planned for both inside and outside of the Rockville city limits and for neighboring areas:
- Montrose Parkway East—A $55.9 million, four-lane parkway connecting Veirs Mill Road and Parklawn Drive with a bridge over Rock Creek, a 10-foot-wide bike path on the north side and 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the south side.
- East Gude Drive—A $6 million project along East Gude Drive from Crabbs Branch Way to Southlawn Lane. It will reconfigure lanes, add a westbound lane between Calhoun Avenue and Crabbs Branch Way and add sidewalk connectors between bus stops and intersections on the north side of East Gude Drive.
- Redland Road—$618,000 to complete widening and traffic mitigation improvements and build shared-use bike paths/sidewalks along Redland Road from Crabbs Branch Way to Baederwood Lane and along Needwood Road from Deer Lake Road to Redland Road.
- Needwood Road path—$400,000 for a 0.8-mile shared-use hiker-biker path along the south side of Needwood Road between Equestrian Road and Muncaster Mill Road. The path would complete a continuous connection between the Shady Grove Metro station, , the shared-use path, Rock Creek Trail, the proposed North Branch Trail and . The project is scheduled to start in the summer and be completed in 18 months.
- renovation—A one-time county contribution of $500,000 toward the station’s renovation. Most of the funding for the nearly $5.5 million project will come from the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.
- Animal Services and Adoption Center relocation—$1.9 million for the design and construction of a new $26 million, 49,000-square-foot center near Muncaster Mill and Airpark roads in Gaithersburg. . The county police department's animal services unit will move from the 15,737-square-foot M, off East Gude Drive, in Rockville. The new center is scheduled to open in summer 2013.
- Public Safety Headquarters—$76.3 million in fiscal 2014 as part of a $108.5 million project to relocate county police headquarters from Research Boulevard and the county Fire and Rescue Service from the in Rockville to the G.E. Technology Park in Gaithersburg. The county’s Department of Transportation moved into a five-story, 340,000-square-foot building at 100 Edison Park Drive—on land formerly owned by the National Geographic Society—in 2010. The police and fire departments, police crime lab and forensics division, the 1st District county police station and the county’s Office of Emergency Management are expected to move there later this year after more than $20 million in renovations. The move is part of Leggett’s Smart Growth Initiative. The budget plan argues for the co-location of the public safety agencies “to facilitate their ongoing interaction and to enable the sharing of resources and support services” and to “eliminate regular travel between agencies.”
- The Public Safety Training Academy and County Service Park—Nearly $47.4 million over the next two fiscal years for land acquisition and site improvements on the Webb Tract on Snouffer School Road in Gaithersburg. The school system’s food distribution facility and maintenance depot and the Park and Planning Commission’s maintenance depot will be relocated there from Crabbs Branch Way in Rockville to make way for a transit-oriented community near the Shady Grove Metro station as outlined in the Shady Grove Sector Plan. The county’s Public Safety Training Academy on Darnestown Road also will be relocated to the Webb Tract to make room for 2,000 homes as part of the in Shady Grove. The budget plan proposes $62.7 million over the next three fiscal years to relocate the academy. The nearly $97 million Webb Tract site development, including $47.6 million already approved through fiscal 2011, is the centerpiece of Leggett’s Smart Growth Initiative.
- Criminal Justice Complex—The $6.6 million project, which will be built on Seven Locks Road on the site of the 1st District police station once it is demolished, will be 103,000 square feet and will include underground parking. It will operate as an intake unit for inmates for up to 72 hours prior to transfer to the county jail in Clarksburg.
- Judicial Center Annex—$10.8 million for planning, design and construction of the annex in Rockville Town Center. on the annex, which is part of $140 million in expansion and improvements to the Montgomery County Judicial Center. The six-story annex is scheduled to be completed by fall 2013, with the Judicial Center renovation completed by fall 2014. It will provide 10 new courtrooms, clerk’s offices and expanded central holding.
- Continued funding for planning and design, land acquisition and construction of roads, bridges, and bikeways as part of the White Flint Sector Plan. The design includes a plan for a new street grid system. Known as the Western Workaround, the goal of the grid system is to “provide relief from existing Rockville Pike traffic and help accommodate additional congestion caused by construction of new White Flint development,” according to Leggett’s memo.
- Funding for Linkages to Learning Centers at five elementary schools, including and .
- Funding to support construction of child care centers at four elementary schools, including Wheaton Woods.
- Needwood Golf Course—$1.25 million for the continuing improvements, including upgrades to the clubhouse’s snack bar and a replacement of the course’s irrigation system in fiscal 2015 and 2016.
The county’s debt, which will cost $296.7 million to service this fiscal year, is having an impact on the operating budget, which Leggett will propose in March.
"As the level of debt service grows, it has begun to crowd out spending in the operating budget for many critical services,” Leggett said in his memo to the County Council introducing the budget. “If debt service were a department today, it would be the second-largest county department—behind only Montgomery County Public Schools.”
The county must meet its debt obligations in order to protect its triple-A credit rating, which allows the county to borrow at the most favorable rates, Leggett wrote. But doing so meant delaying or eliminating construction projects, he wrote.
Now is not the time for cuts, County Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring said in The Examiner last month.
"I don't know if there really is a question that over the long term the debt service is too high. It's just a question of what is the right time to be cutting back," Riemer told The Examiner. "This is not a good time to be cutting back."
All slots for testifying at Thursday’s hearing have been filled. The council is still accepting written testimony on the capital budget. Submit testimony by email at email@example.com or by U.S. mail to: The Montgomery County Council Office of Legislative Information Services, 5th Floor, Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850.