Housing, budget, more: What awaits Montgomery Co. Council after recess

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The article has been updated to reflect a clearer explanation on the “Removal of Mercury Service Regulators” bill.) 

The Montgomery County Council in Maryland is in recess until Jan. 12. When the nine members return, several pieces of legislation will focus on housing, public safety and budget pressures created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A hearing on Bill 50-20, known as the “Removal of Mercury Service Regulators” bill is scheduled for Jan. 12 at 1:30 p.m.

It requires landlords to “immediately” determine if their rental properties have mercury service regulators. Investigators cited a faulty mercury service regulator in the 2016 fatal explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments complex in Silver Spring.

If they find that any indoor service regulator was a mercury service regulator, the landlord would then be “required to notify each tenant” and contact the gas company to replace the device with “a safe alternative.”

The landlord would then have to notify the tenant once the regulator was replaced.

There will also be a hearing on Bill 49-20, which would require landlords to state requirements for past criminal and credit history on rental applications and limit inquiries about specific types of criminal history.

Council member Evan Glass is sponsoring the Housing Justice Act. Glass said the legislation would still allow landlords to deny applications from people with records for violent offenses, but he said, “If you didn’t pay a speeding ticket, you should not be disqualified from having safe housing.”

Legislation that would eliminate what Council member Will Jawando called “rent gouging,” or boosting rents in transit corridors, will also get a hearing when the council returns. The bill would set a base rental amount for specific units.

Looking ahead to the budget process, Jawando said that he wants to have a conversation about avoiding “draconian cuts” when county residents have been struggling with job losses and the financial pressures that the pandemic has created.

Jawando said that he recognized that, due to the pandemic, the county is facing revenue shortfalls and added expenses to provide services to residents whose needs have increased. But he said that he does not think that services to people should be what is on the chopping block.

Montgomery County won’t be alone in making difficult decisions as the county government faces tight budgets, Jawando said. Every local government will have to ask, “How do you not make things work with draconian cuts or austerity budgets?”

Jawando said he would support a tax increase — an idea he floated in a previous discussion by the county council in a meeting on Dec. 8.

He is also backing a bill proposed by Maryland state Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, D-Montgomery County, which would allow local governments to have an income tax with multiple-tiered tax brackets instead of the single, flat rate of 3.2% that is currently allowed.

Using last year’s numbers, “If you raised the top rate from 3.2 to 3.5% — just 0.3% — on millionaires, people making an adjusted gross income of $1 million or more a year, you would raise almost $100 million in revenue a year,” Jawando said.

Other bills getting hearings on Jan. 12 include one on community policing data and a proposal to eliminate the school resource officer program that places police in Montgomery County Public Schools.

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