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This Week in Potomac 8/8/12

Pepco and Derecho Storm

The Maryland Public Service Commission will host eight public hearings across the state this month to ask residents about their opinions and experiences during the June 29 Derecho Storm that left many homes and businesses without power for more than a week.

A hearing at Montgomery County Council headquarters in Rockville Tuesday, Aug. 7 included on all three power utilities that serve Montgomery County, but the focus of the hearing was planned to be on Pepco.

The hearing was scheduled to be broadcast live by County Cable Montgomery and will be available through the county website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

Written public comments should be sent by Sept. 10 to David J. Collins, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, Md. 21202.

Contact Regina L. Davis of the Public Service Commission at rdavis@psc.state.md.us or at 410-767-8054.

New Farmer Pilot

County Executive Isiah Leggett announced a pilot program to support, train and mentor new farmers by placing them on individual, longer-term, leased sites.

The program will encourage new farmers to start and sustain new farms in Montgomery County, said Leggett, at a conference at Red Wiggler Farm Barn in Germantown.

“Our region has an ever-increasing demand for sustainable, local food — food that nourishes our children, reclaims our environment and provides meaning employment within the County,” said Leggett. “The New Farmer Pilot Project will give new farmers a head start by matching them with private land owners and a support network that enables them to grow their businesses.”

Two private land owners have already agreed to lease a portion of their properties to new farm businesses for five years or more, and more landowners are expected to participate. Access to land makes the difference between prospective farmers starting in Montgomery County or looking elsewhere, said Jeremy Criss, manager of DED Division of Agricultural Services.

Montgomery County’s program differs from other “incubator programs” across the country in the amount of time farmers are permitted on the leased land. Shorter-term programs challenge farmers to find new sites, conditioning soil at new sites and planning new plots immediately.

“You only want a new business to endure the start-up phase once,” said Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. “If new farmers are able to start their businesses on private land, and not have to worry about finding new space right away, they will have a better chance at long-term success.”

The program has financial support from the U.S. Small Business Administration, private landowners, and a training partnership with the University of Maryland Extension Program. Green Economy Task Force, the Sustainability Working Group, the County Commission on Health and the Montgomery County Food Policy Council advocate for increased production of local food.

Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve was created in 1980 and encompasses on third, or 93,000 acres, of Montgomery County’s land.

New farmers will be selected through an application program that started with the announcement Tuesday, Aug. 6. The County and landowners leasing land hope to have new farmers on their sites within 10 weeks.

See www.choosemontgomerycountymd.com.

November Ballot Charter

The Montgomery County Council approved ballot language Tuesday, July 31 for a proposed charter amendment that would help establish a program within the county merit system to recruit, select and hire people with disabilities directly for county positions.

Councilmember Phil Andrews was the chief sponsor. “The unemployment rate for people with disabilities far exceeds the general unemployment rate,” he said. “In order for the County to significantly expand opportunities to bring qualified people with severe disabilities directly into County Government jobs, the County’s Charter must be amended to provide that authority.”

Andrews told other council members earlier this year that the county has taken previous action to expand opportunities for people with disabilities; including 2010 legislation that provides a hiring preference to veterans and people with disabilities who are applying for an initial position in county government and are among the highest rated group of applicants.

County Executive Isiah Leggett and the County’s Commission on People with Disabilities strongly supports the charter amendment, according to county officials.

Unlike the Federal Government’s Special Hiring Authority, the county cannot hire qualified people with significant disabilities directly into certain positions under the current merit system, according to the county.

Zoning Rewrite Project

Montgomery County planners have been revising sections of the Montgomery County Zoning Ordinance since 2010. Planners seek to rewrite the Zoning Code — last rewritten in 1977 — to modernize antiquated, redundant zoning regulations and create new tools to help achieve goals in community plans, according to the Montgomery County Planning Department.

“The current 1,200 page code is viewed as inconsistent and outdated. The revised code — which will be considered by the Planning Board in a number of work sessions before going to the County Council for review early in 2013 — is expected to reduce the number of zones, clarify what uses are permitted in each zone, and rethink 1950s-era commercial strips and office parks,” according to Planning Board officials.

Planners have released a consolidated draft combining all of those sections and seek input before taking a revised draft to the Planning Board for consideration in September and throughout the fall.

The draft Zoning Code covers what’s permitted in each zone, how one can build, and the process by which development is reviewed and approved. It consolidates 123 existing zones into less than 40 proposed zones and seeks to ensure consistency with current height and density rules as well as recommendations in each community’s Master Plan.

Download the draft at www.zoningmontgomery.org. Feedback is encouraged at the Zoning Rewrite Project’s online comment board.

Democracy in Action

The Montgomery County Board of Elections seeks students from sixth grade through senior year of high school to serve as Election Day Student Aides during the 2012 Presidential General Election.

Interested students will be required to attend training with their guardians and will be placed on Election Day in neighboring precincts according to their home addresses, The effort would qualify as Student Service Learning credits.

The election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Students with bilingual and American Sign Language skills are encouraged to apply.

Register before Oct. 1 at http://www.777vote.org

The Board of Election also seeks election judges who are fluent in Spanish.

Election judges must be a U.S. citizens, registered to vote in Maryland, and 18 years or older. Election judges must also be able to speak, read and write in English. Montgomery County residency is not a pre-requisite to serve.

All election judges will be compensated for training and for Election Day service.

Contact the Board at 240-777-8532, download an election judge questionnaire from www.777vote.org or e-mail Dr. Gilberto Zelaya at gilberto.zelaya@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Get Involved: County Committees

The County Executive seeks applicants for a number of County boards, committees and commissions.

Currently, the county seeks applications for three people to serve on the Cable and Communications Advisory Committee, which advises the County Executive and Council on franchise agreements between the county government and providers of cable television service.

One student member is sought to serve on the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, which advises the council and County Executive and the Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission on policies, programs and legislation to prevent domestic violence.

Seven vacancies remain on the Commission on People with Disabilities.

The Board of Registration for Building Contractors seeks a builder member who provide for the licensing of residential building contractors.

See http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/exec/vacancies

Applications consisting of a brief cover letter, resume and contact information should be sent to County Executive Isiah Leggett, 101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor, Rockville, Md. 20850 or by email to countyexecutive.boards@montgomerycountymd.gov

Members of such committees may not serve on more than one group at any given time. Appointments are subject to confirmation by the County Council.