Effective Sustainable Government

The recent Montgomery County resident survey showed that fewer than half of residents feel that the value they get for their tax dollars is ‘excellent’ or ‘good.’ We need to restructure county government so that it is more cost-effective and ensure that it is fiscally sound for the future.

Key Indicator I.  
Percent of County Contracts with Minority, Female, and Disabled-Owned Businesses

About the Indicator: The County’s Procurement Office has distinct MFD purchasing goals for four categories of contracts that are subject to MFD rules (Construction, Professional Services, Non-Professional Services, and Goods) with an overall benchmark of 20% of eligible purchases to come from MFD-owned firms.
 1.      How are we doing?
As of 2016 the County has consistently exceeded the 20% MFD Procurement bennchmark, though progress is appearing to level off.
 2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Structural advantages for MFD firms. There are six different agencies/groups that can certify MFD vendors, and preferences exist for MFD and Local Small Business Reserve Program (LSBRP) contracts (a point advantage in the contracting process). Additionally, the County Council passed LSBRB rules and the Office of Procurement has MFD goals in place, which has created positive inertia for existing MFD firms to keep competing for contracts. 
Assistance from the County. There is increased outreach to minority business organization (e.g. the black chamber of commerce), plus semi-annual seminars and forums hosted by the Office of Procurement and training is available to new firms.  The County’s Office of Procurement has goals for contracting with MFD-owned business across four categories: Construction, Professional Services, Non-Professional Services, and Goods. The overall benchmark is 20%.
Increasing activity. The number of contracts to MFD firms has been increasing year-over-year. Many County businesses are owned by people of color and these vendors are becoming more familiar with doing business with the government. 
Negative Factors
 No requirements for prime contractors.  Currently, a prime contractor is not required to have MFD or LSBRP firms as subcontractors for contracts under $50,000. 
 Office of Procurement practices.  Current process and policies are perceived to be cumbersome (requiring some level of technical skill to manage).
 Institutional Racism.  Institutional racism is built into the regulatory system.  In addition, it seems like only certain minority groups get the contracts.   
 Leadership.  MFD firms need leadership from the County Executive to make this a priority
 Out-of-County Competition.  Competition from out-of-County MFD firms further disadvantage applicants. 
 Non-profits cannot get MFD certification.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve? 
 1)      Contracting requirements and increasing targets for MFD and LSBRP Firms.
a.      The County Executive could increase the current requirement goals for the percentage of contracts that must be given to MFD and LSBRP firms.
b.      Procurement requirements should cover all groups (goods, industries, services, products, etc.)
c.       Set required targets within specific demographics and understand which minority groups are getting the contracts, and if any are being left out. The demographics of purchasing should match the makeup of the business community or perhaps overall County-wide demographics.
 2)      Improve procurement regulations and process and the outreach and training that is conducted on obtaining County contracts.
a.      Examine and remove burdensome regulations that hinder MFD and LSBRP vendors for competing for County contracts. The improved process should ensure a consistent experience across county departments.
b.      Simplify and improve outreach to help more firms get a County contract. One option would be to use the Office of Community Partnerships for outreach to specific communities.
 3)      Add a liaison role to promote MFD and Local Businesses.
The Procurement liaison would advocate for local, small businesses and ensure MFD and LSBRP firms are competing for County contracts.
 4)      Too many studies; need act on existing recommendations.
Mandate the County to implement the recommendations of the recent disparity study that showed low participation from African-American owned businesses.
 5)      Increase funding for minority business start-ups.
Give minority businesses funding to start businesses so that they can compete. Funding could be provided though the incubators and economic development programs.

Key Indicator II.  
Resident Satisfaction with Value of Services for Tax Dollars

 About the Indicator: The County’s Resident Satisfaction Survey asks respondents to rate “The value of services for the taxes paid to Montgomery County.” 
1.  How are we doing?
In the most recent survey (2017), satisfaction in this area dipped below 50%, continuing a downward trend from prior surveys. The 2017 survey is a representative sample of 1,075 County residents, with a margin of error of 3%. The County did not administer this survey between 2009 and 2017, and the next survey is being planned for spring 2019.
 2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 “Good government” practices. Montgomery County has a high quality workforce and values access to services, transparency and accountability, collaboration between government and non-profits to provide needed services, and operates with a high level of integrity.
 Available resources and amenities. We are a relatively wealthy county and can provide a high quality of life and the resources and variety of services that meet the needs of our residents, including parks and recreation, community centers, schools, and very nice facilities for the public.
 Communication. The County’s website is effective and there are a number of transparency tools and public-facing accountability mechanisms (though residents may not have a complete understanding of how tax dollars are being spent).
 Visible investments. Initiatives such as community revitalization (e.g. downtown Silver Spring and Wheaton) create positive feelings about community, which can translate to positive ratings for local government.
 High employment rate. When jobs are available for residents they are happier, which can translate to positive ratings for local government.
Negative Factors
 Financial sentiment. Real or perceived high level of taxation, especially property taxes, housing prices, etc. for regular residents while developers benefit from numerous incentives. 
Obstacles to access. It can be hard to find and obtain the service needed, whether searching on the County website or using MC311 to reach an employee. The physical locations of some service locations (e.g. Regional Service Centers) may be inconvenient and thus a barrier to service.
 Structure and responsiveness of County government. Residents may encounter too many layers of authority, which can slow the County’s response. There is a lack of information flow between the County and residents and systems such as the County’s new hiring process and the building/permitting process are lengthy and complicated. 
The overall negative feeling about government at all levels (Federal, State, and Local) also influences public opinion.
 Lack of innovation. County services are neither innovative nor smart. For example, MC311 and government IT in general need improvements, too much licensed software is purchased, and there should be wi-fi and solid cellphone coverage all over the County. 
 Transportation headaches. Drivers experience traffic congestion, poor road quality and frustration with speed cameras, and transit users have insufficient options in certain locations.
 Decaying infrastructure. Essential utilities, both public and private are aging or already outdated, such as water and sewer systems that are not being kept up for replacement. The modernization of neglected properties (e.g. Glenmont shopping center) needs to be prioritized.
 Issues at MCPS. County schools must contend with issues that people care deeply about such as class size, school boundaries, and the achievement gap.
 Increasing poverty. There are insufficient services and programs with the coverage to properly address poverty, while some feel the County spends too much on immigrants and those in need. People see more homeless and panhandlers, who could benefit from increased or more strategic workforce training.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve? 
 1)      Improve customer service through training of front-line staff, enhancements to 311 to better locate the right information, and overhaul of County websites.
a.      Create positive customer service in phone and in-person interactions by not acting simply as a “gatekeeper” or being dismissive when a caller is trying to reach a County employee or service.
b.      Improve 311 so the right information can be easily found.
  • To enable customers to get better answers, improve staffing and training and decentralize the intake process, with an emphasis on frontline staff.
  • Allow 311 Customer Service Representatives more discretion to transfer calls into the departments for unique requests.
  • Overhaul MC311 website to be more customer friendly and to make it easier to find information.
  • Develop a customer-friendly MC311 mobile application for service requests.
c.       Overhaul county websites - All County Government websites need to be more customer focused. The website should have large knowledge base and how-to videos. The site should have ability for Skype or online chat options for getting help.
 2)      Increase accountability of County Government and require department directors to define success for customer satisfaction.
a.      Create a mechanism or forum that enables more public accountability for outside agencies such as the Housing Opportunities Commission, Parks, and Planning
b.      Department directors must be out in the public to get direct input and define success both publicly and to their employees. Directors must be held accountable to the set standards.
 3)      Utilize process improvement methods to improve service delivery.
Make County Government more efficient, improve customer service, and cut costs simultaneously through process re-engineering and continuous improvement tools such as Lean, Six Sigma, etc.
 4)      Improve hiring systems and software to simplify the hiring process and make it more equitable
 5)      Ensure better representation of County interests at the State level.

Key Indicator III.  
General Obligation Bond Rating

About the Indicator: The County is evaluated annually by the three Rating Agencies: Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s. A higher rating of the municipal entity indicates strong financial conditions and practices that will result in lower interest rates and an improved ability to access the municipal debt market even when general financial market conditions are not favorable.
 1.  How are we doing?
Montgomery County boasts an active streak of AAA Bond Ratings – the highest achievable – over the past several decades, with a current outlook of “Stable”; which is remarkable given the fiscal challenges presented by the Great Recession and the subsequent downgrading of other jurisdictions.
 2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Strong and steady fiscal management. Montgomery County Government consistently demonstrates effective financial management practices and policies. County leadership has taken steps to increase reserves, improve funding of retiree health obligations, and reduce future borrowing.
 Resident profile. The County has a highly educated workforce, a healthy percentage of high-income residents, and low unemployment.
 Community assets. The excellent school systems receive proper funding, the value of County real estate, and the mix of life science and other high-skill industries provide an enviable array of qualities valued by communities.
Negative Factors
 Fiscal challenges. County revenue is growing slower than the cost to maintain current services.  Debt service costs are large and growing, and the county’s ability to increase tax rates is constrained by state law and the county charter. These factors affect our capacity to absorb the consequences of the next recession.
Changing county demographics and needs. The high cost of living may be driving away young people needed to grow the tax base, creating an imbalance. Similarly, older residents may choose to move out of the County.
Economic vitality. The County is highly dependent on the federal government as an employer, while not enough new businesses are being created to diversify our economy and bring new jobs to grow the tax base.
 Negative perceptions. Some view the new County Council and County Executive as not being fiscally restrained. There is also a feeling in Annapolis that Montgomery County is so wealthy that it does not need resources.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
1)      Slow the growth of personnel costs.  Hold down the growth of County compensation costs and overall headcount to ensure expenditures do not exceed revenues just to keep the same level of service.
 2)      Continue to examine the structure and efficiency of government.  Elected leaders need to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used to meet the community’s needs and do so in an efficient and equitable manner.
 3)      Grow the tax base.  Actively recruit businesses to either relocate to or startup in the County.
 4)      Develop a long-term financial plan.  The County should understand where its costs and revenues are headed under different economic scenarios and take action to ensure that we are on a sustainable fiscal path.

The Team

Team Captain:
April Kaplan
Team Members:
Hesam Aghdami
Tufail Ahmad
Saqib Ali
Girma Allaro
Joanne Antoinne
Jeffrey Buddle
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Kathleen Connor
Torrie Cooke
Bill Conway
Peter Ettinger

Janice Freeman
Bill Frick
Pat Grant
Amilcar Guzman
Joan Kleinman
Chong Lee
Lesley MacDonald
Nagender Madavaram
Abbe Milstein
Sayed Naved
Barron Oakcrum
Linda Plummer
Gino Renne
Vernon Ricks
Ash Shetty

Jeffrey Slavin
Milford Sprecher
Herman Taylor
C. Marie Taylor
Dale Tibbitts
Beth Wong
Robert Wu
Heloisa Vila
Phil Lee
Wade Holland

Public feedback and questions from the CE’s Listening Sessions relating to this Priority Outcome reflect concerns about:
  • Finding efficiencies and operating the government in a cost-effective manner.
  • Managing the County’s growing debt and debt service levels.
  • Ensuring public and community input, in general but particularly to the Planning Board and regarding development.
  • Ensuring money flows to the County back from the State.
  • Preventing public corruption like the DED theft issue.
  • Getting more women into leadership and decision-making roles and looking at ranked choice voting in local elections.
A public survey on the transition website collected input from residents as well; Respondents conveyed the following related to this Priority Outcome:
  • The greatest number of responses advocated fiscal responsibility and sustainable government.
  • Respondents emphasized the importance of the county’s responsiveness to residents and engagement of citizens in government. Multiple responses advocated increased means of proactively seeking constituent input.
  • Improved performance and adherence to best practices was identified as important, and respondents advocated innovation and agility to improve service delivery.
  • Respondents raised the issue of equitable access to government for residents of diverse backgrounds and areas of the county. Multiple respondents supported hiring equity and professional development for staff.
  • Multiple responses identified the need for decreased bureaucracy and increased coordination, efficiency, and transparency.

Performance Index: Effective, Sustainable Government

Below can be found the Montgomery County Government Departmental Performance Measures that align with the County Executive's Priority to provide an effective and sustainable County government.