Guest Commentary: Montgomery County at a Crossroads
By Marilyn Balcombe
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series. More than 20 candidates are running for four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council in 2018 – and the number could grow. In an attempt to sort through the confusion and enlighten voters, Maryland Matters has asked the candidates to submit an op-ed piece introducing themselves and making their case. Subsequent articles will appear over the next several weeks.
When I tell people I am running for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council, the typical response I often receive from political insiders is “Who isn’t?” or “Join the club.” True, the list of candidates vying for an at-large council seat in the 2018 election is long, but I believe that’s a good thing. We want our democracy to be full of smart, engaged people who care about our community and are willing to step up to the plate. This is a landmark election that will bring significant change in leadership to the county. Everyone needs to be engaged.
I am actively engaged and running for county council because I love Montgomery County. I know I have the knowledge, skill and vision to move our county forward. For 25 years, I have served our community and built a solid track record of getting things done. Whether serving as the founding president of my homeowner’s association, being appointed to the Upcounty Citizen’s Advisory Board, advocating for a fire station or securing funding for a major transportation project — I roll up my sleeves, do the work and deliver results.
I’ve lived in Montgomery County for almost 25 years. My daughter was born and raised here. Like many people I moved to the Washington, D.C., area for a job and, for many years, worked as an organizational psychologist at the Department of Energy. As my daughter grew older I became more involved in our community, and soon realized my passion was the volunteer work I was squeezing in on nights and weekends. When I was more energized working on a school boundary change than speaking at a national security conference half way across the country, I realized it was time for a change. I made the decision to work in my community, for my community.
I had the great pleasure of being the executive director of BlackRock Center for the Arts through the construction of the building to the opening of the center. I consider BlackRock to be one of the gems in the county, and yet it wouldn’t have existed without the passion, perseverance and dedication of the community activists who insisted that Germantown have a professional art center. I loved bringing the community together and working with county and state legislators to make BlackRock a reality.
As the president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, I have continued building partnerships and advocating for community improvements. Every day, I work on a wide range of issues affecting our county — transportation, land use, business climate, economic growth, workforce development and the environment. Whether it’s helping a small business navigate a crisis, advocating for the Watkins Mill Interchange or establishing a scholarship endowment for Montgomery College, I can see the positive impact my work makes on my community. It is truly rewarding.
Montgomery County is at a crossroads. As one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, we are fortunate to have one of the best school systems, a highly educated workforce, a dedicated team of first responders and protected green space. But, we are now a community of more than one million people and our needs often exceed our collective resources.
And while many residents continue to enjoy a high standard of living, not all residents have the same economic opportunities. The disparity in income in the county has grown over the past 20 years and created new challenges. Having grown up relying on public assistance, I understand the importance of helping families achieve financial stability. If we want the county to continue providing a comprehensive range of quality services, we must be proactive.
There are only three ways to balance the county’s budget — raise taxes, decrease services or expand the tax base. We heard loud and clear that taxpayers do not want higher taxes. We also know that decreasing services would be detrimental to our most vulnerable residents. I believe our best option is expanding the county’s tax base. A vibrant local economy means a strong, secure tax base resulting in the resources necessary to ensure our county is an excellent place to live, work and raise a family.
I work with local business owners every day, helping them expand their businesses and hire more employees. We need to collaborate with these job creators to create a climate where entrepreneurs can plant seeds and watch them grow and thrive. We also need to reclaim the county’s pre-eminence in the biotech industry, as well as increase our attraction and retention efforts to not only attract more jobs but also protect the good jobs we have.
Our greatest asset in Montgomery County is our educational system. My daughter received a world-class education through our public schools, and I will ensure all children continue to have the same access to this education. I want to invest in early childhood education so that every child entering kindergarten, regardless of income, has the same preparation and opportunity to succeed. We also need to expand our skills-based education options for students who choose not to attend a standard four-year college and ensure our workforce is trained and ready to compete in today’s economy.
We need to celebrate our growth and focus on creating the infrastructure needed to accommodate a continually increasing population. I support transit-oriented and mixed-use development for future growth and investments in transportation projects that will yield both short and long-term relief. We also must recognize that different areas of the county require different planning, zoning and transportation options. As the county grows, we must redouble our efforts to protect our green space and continue to protect the agricultural reserve.
It’s difficult to compress a lifetime of experience into a short blog post. It’s even more difficult to convey my passion and my ideas in a few sound bites. The issues addressed by the county council are complex issues that demand complex solutions, in-depth understanding and creative thinking. I am up to the task and will work hard every day to do what’s best to move our county forward. Join me as we create our future.
Marilyn Balcombe of Germantown, a Democrat, is running for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council. She can be reached at MarilynBalcombe.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @Balcombe2018.