Mary Lehman at NCPCA, Feb 2011

Mary Lehman, our new county council member for District 1 came over the other day to the NCPCA’s February monthly meeting and spoke about her new job in Upper Marlboro.

In front of some 30 North College Park residents, her speech covered a wide range of topics, such as the county budget, local school system and the much-controversial ethics bill.

She said the county council recently had a hearing on the proposed county budget at the Laurel High School. The hearing was attended by about 20-25 people. Similar to the State’s budget process, the county budget is introduced by the county executive body. She said the the council cannot make a lot of changes to Mr. Baker’s budget and can only move around money and substitute existing proposed programs.

She said the county is facing a projected $77 million budget shortfall in 2012 (the school system has been in worst shape). The PGCPS is facing somewhere between a $85 million to $100 million deficit. The county executive Mr. Baker, after speaking with school superintendent Mr. Hite, said the situation is really grim. The new budget will affect the school system with larger class sizes and eliminating Pre-K classes.

The school system is also looking into possibilities of limiting school transportation to students going to out of local school districts. The county has the highest transportation cost per student in the entire state and this  costs the county a small fortune. “I know a student who lives in my neighborhood which has a blue ribbon school, but takes an empty bus to travel 20 miles to another elementary school,” – she said. “To me this does not make sense,” – Lehman added.

Among the other budget items, the public hearing also received supports for the proposed Laurel Public Library, which has been in the county’s funding pipeline since 2005.

She said she objected to two ethics bills in the MD House of Delegates, one by Co. Exec Rushern Baker and another by Del. Frush. She said both bills will take away the county council’s ability to review Detailed Site Plans, and will leave up to the citizens to request call-up to district council on any future site plan review. “We need to have a check and balance kind of system. The process of planning approval favors the developer and is not really citizen friendly” – she said. “The Planning Board often does not follow its own rules in many cases with giving notices, comments and technical staff report issued on time,” – she added.

Though critics say other chartered counties such as Howard, Anne Arundel and MoCo don’t have a similar restrictive site plan review process, Lehman said that PG county is in a unique position because of the Park and Planning’s involvement in the approval process.  “Unlike the PG county where the county executive appoints Park and Planning representatives, the Montgomery county’s council members appoint the park and planning members,” – she explained.

When asked about the Washington Post’s criticism on the council members’ opposition to the bill, Ms. Lehman said “we are interested in some level of reform, but taking away our site plan review is not an ethics reform.

Ms. Lehman said she is committed to working on the traffic lights at the intersection of Rhode Island and Edgewood Rd., as well as the proposed North College Park Community Center.