- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett yesterday proposed establishing the county’s third day-labor center on an industrial area of county-owned land near the Gaithersburg city limits.

County officials said their goal is to open the center, located near the intersection of Shady Grove Road and Crabbs Branch Way, by mid-February.

Day-laborer advocates say Mr. Leggett’s proposal is a step forward in solving a problem that has plagued the county for over a year, while critics say the proposal is an attempt to sidestep the public planning process.

The Montgomery County Planning Board has scheduled a Feb. 8 public hearing on the site selection at its Silver Spring office. The hearing is required when county officials decide to change the purpose for which they use public land.

However, the planning board serves in an advisory role. County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the final decision is up to Mr. Leggett.

“We obviously welcome any feedback we get from the public hearing and the planning board,” Mr. Lacefield said.

County resident Susan Payne, an opponent of publicly funded day-labor centers, said she questions the sincerity of such statements.

“County land does not belong to Ike Leggett,” she said. “County land belongs to the citizens of Montgomery County.”

The proposed day-labor center, which would operate out of a doublewide trailer, is about 2.5 miles away from the current site where laborers, mostly Hispanic immigrants, gather to seek work.

The Rev. David Rocha, pastor of a nearby United Methodist Church called Camino de Vida, called the county’s proposal a victory for “jornaleros,” the Spanish word for day laborers.

“We feel that we’re finding a solution for the community as a whole,” said Mr. Rocha, who serves breakfast to laborers where they congregate outside an abandoned building on North Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg. “We’re not in favor … of having places for day laborers — we want places in which we can empower them” to get better jobs.

The day-labor centers are part of Mr. Leggett’s long-term plan to help workers establish stable careers in higher-paying jobs.

“No one wants to be a day laborer forever,” Mr. Leggett said. “That’s why it’s critical to engage these folks and help them move from the informal economy into the formal economy using our already existing county job-training and development resources.”

The county’s other day-labor centers in Silver Spring and Wheaton, operated through the immigrant-advocacy group CASA of Maryland, provide some vocational training, health care and other services.

CASA spokeswoman Kim Propeack said operation details of the new center haven’t been worked out. Mr. Lacefield said county officials plan to discuss those details with CASA.

The county estimates one-time setup costs of $45,000 for the center and annual facility costs of $24,000 for trailer rental and electricity. The County Council has approved $114,730 for operational costs.

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