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AAA Bond Rating for Harford County Affirmed

Harford County recently affirmed it’s AAA bond rating from all three major bond credit rating agencies.

County Executive Barry Glassman released this statement:

“I am pleased that Harford County’s Triple-A bond rating has been affirmed this week by all three major bond credit rating agencies. These highest possible ratings by Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch will keep borrowing costs low when the county sells bonds to pay for capital projects. While noting the challenges of accumulated debt and declining reserves facing my new administration, Moody’s cited ‘proactive management and comprehensive fiscal policies’ in its decision. Standard & Poor’s cited ‘very strong management’ and Fitch noted the county’s adherence to ‘conservative debt management guidelines.’

Not only do these ratings affirm our fiscal management plan, they are a reflection on our county employees who work with integrity and diligence in service of our customers, the citizens of Harford County.

Finally, I would like to thank my director of administration and my entire team for their ongoing efforts to find efficiencies and ensure our fiscal stability moving forward. We hope that by taking these difficult but necessary steps, we will emerge in a better position to reinvest in our county workforce.”

Phosphorus Management Tool Regulations Agreement Finalized, No Legislation Moving

As previously reported on Conduit Street, legislation that would have codified phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations proposed by former Governor Martin O’Malley to change when phosphorus can be applied to agricultural lands was put on pause pending a potential agreement with current Governor Larry Hogan on modifying PMT regulations that he introduced in response to the legislation.  A March 26 DelmarvaNow article reported that the Senate version of the legislation has now been referred back to committee – effectively sealing the compromise agreement. From the article:

Legislation restricting phosphorus use on Eastern Shore farms may be on its dying breath after a Senate bill was referred back to committee Wednesday — clearing the way for the larger compromise.

After Gov. Larry Hogan and Assembly Democrats announced the sides had reached an agreement last week on a new version of Hogan’s regulations, Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-22-Prince George’s, referred his bill back to the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs committee Wednesday. …

While the bill’s referral back to committee doesn’t completely kill the chance of it coming back to a Senate vote, Dawn Stolzfus with the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition said she had only heard of “rare occasions” where that was the case.

From a March 21 Star Democrat article:

According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, two changes were made to the regulations proposed by Hogan on Feb. 23, which now are set for publication in the Maryland Register on April 3. …

Hogan, Democratic lawmakers, and agriculture and environmental groups agreed on a final implementation date of 2022, which can be extended to 2024 if there is not adequate capacity to handle extra chicken manure.

The newest version of the PMT also creates an expert advisory committee to evaluate the infrastructure and capacity available to manage additional manure as farmers transition to the PMT, according to MDA.

The committee is allowed to make recommendations to the secretary of agriculture should it feel an extension of PMT implementation is necessary.

The agreed-upon PMT now includes two one-year delays for PMT implementation, providing farmers with what Delmarva Poultry Industry Executive Director Bill Satterfield called a “release valve” if there is not adequate capacity for alternative manure uses.

 

Alex McCoy Named Garrett’s New Economic Development Director

Garrett County Administrator Monty Pagenhardt has announced that the Board of Garrett County Commissioners has appointed Alexander McCoy as Director of the Department of Economic Development.

Alex McCoy, Courtesy of Garrett County Government
Alex McCoy, Courtesy of Garrett County Government

The Garrett County press release notes

Mr. McCoy was previously Vice President of Economic Development at the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce in Palatka, Florida and Executive Director of Worth County, Georgia Economic Development Authority.

Board of County Commissioners Chairman Paul Edwards stated that “Alex comes to us with a fantastic resume and experience in rural county economic development. He’s an engaging guy who will fit in here very well and be an excellent asset to us for years to come. We are excited for him to get started.”

“I, along with my family, am very excited by this opportunity” said Mr. McCoy. “Garrett County has been very lucky to have many strong leaders, both past and present, who have worked diligently to create a strong foundation to build from. I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead”.

Mr. McCoy will begin his employment with the County on April 6.

House Pretrial Bill Removes “Quick Action” After Hours

The Maryland House of Delegates has amended and passed HB 494, a bill that as originally introduced proposed reforms to the pretrial system intended to reduce the burdens and increase efficiency. However amendments to the bill may undermine some of the bill’s benefits, and actually force longer stays in local jails for many arrestees.

MACo originally supported the bill with amendments in the House, suggesting that the approach could become a productive resolution to the troubling issues with pretrial initial appearances. However, the House’s removal of both Commissioners and Judges from a rapid response to determine bail/release eligibility would mean many after-hours arrestees could be detained much longer in local jails.

As amended, HB 494 could increase the number of individuals processed into the pretrial system and increase the amount of time spent waiting for an initial appearance. Much of the bill’s impact on local detention centers is dependent upon whether its provisions generate a release rate that exceeds the current rate and does so in a timely fashion. The amendments raise concern as they remove provisions that would require courts to be open additional days for initial appearances and for individuals not released to see a judge within 24 hours.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on April 1, and the revised version will be heard before MACo’s Legislative Committee for a potential new position.

 

 

Public Information Act Bill – Compromise Settles Thorny Issues

As introduced, HB 755/SB 695 would make major changes to Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA), including creation of a Public Information Act Compliance Board with oversight authority over document denials, fee waiver decisions, and the fees charged by a record custodian.  The bill also changed the rules for charging fees, increased a custodian’s mandatory free search time from 2 hours to 5 hours, required itemized lists of records be included in a denial, exposed local government custodians to new statutory damages, and made agricultural nutrient management plans subject to public inspection.  The bill was drafted by a consortium of open government and environmental advocates, including Common Cause Maryland, the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, and the Maryland ACLU.

In its testimony at the bill hearings, MACo supported the bill with amendments, noting that while it supported the bill’s general purpose of increasing transparency it had problems with many of the bill’s specific provisions.  MACo, along with representatives from the Maryland Municipal League and the State, have engaged in over 30 hours of negotiations with the bill’s proponents and have reached agreement on a set of amendments that addressed county concerns.  On March 25, the Senate unanimously passed SB 695 with the consensus amendments.

MACo HB 755 Testimony

MACo SB 695 Testimony

A March 23 MarylandReporter.com article discussed the bill’s earlier unanimous vote passage out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee:

In a unanimous vote, a Senate committee brought legislation to the floor Monday night that will create a new Public Information Act Compliance Board to oversee fees. It will also establish that those fees must be actual costs to assemble the records — with the first two hours free — and create a new ombudsman in the office of the Attorney General to mediate and offer guidance to all government agencies about requests for public records.

The legislation, SB695, was a response to persistent complaints and horror stories of government agencies failing to comply with Public Information Act requests and overcharging for the requested documents or files.

The bill was backed by a broad coalition of nonprofits, good government groups, media and advocacy groups under the umbrella of Marylanders for Open Government. …

The committee removed a section of the original bill that applied only to agriculture, and it also removed fines that the compliance board could impose.

The section on the ombudsman was added at the suggestion of Attorney General Brian Frosh, who supports the legislation. The ombudsman would be an attorney.

The Health and Government Operations Committee has not yet taken action on HB 755 but with an agreement reached will likely move one or both of the bills with the consensus amendments.

Many local media outlets have run editorials in support of the PIA legislation (links courtesy of Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association)

February 11, 2015 Baltimore Sun Editorial

February 12, 2015 Carroll County Times Editorial

February 13, 2015 Frederick News-Post Editorial

February 16, 2015 Cumberland Times-News Editorial

March 15, 2015 Capital Gazette Editorial

 March 18,2015 Gazette.net Editorial

 

Allegany County Health Department Receives National Accreditation

On Thursday, March 26, the Allegany County Commissioners recognized the county’s health department for its national accreditation achievement by the Public Health Accreditation Board.

dr raver photo
L to R: Commissioner Creade Brodie, Commissioner Jake Shade, Deputy Health Officer Patrick Panuska, Health Officer Sue Raver, MD & President of the Board of County Commissioners Bill Valentine

According to Allegany County’s press release,

Those involved in this achievement include Director Sue Raver, MD, MPH, Health Officer, Accreditation Coordinator Jenelle Mayer, MPH, Director of Community Health, the 18 member accreditation team, and the health department staff.

The official citation states

WHEREAS, under the stellar and visionary leadership of Health Officer Sue Raver, MD, MPH, the Allegany County Health Department has achieved national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board; and

WHEREAS, the Allegany County Health Department is one of only 59 local health departments in the United States to achieve this prestigious accreditation; and

WHEREAS, this accreditation exemplifies and demonstrates the quality, range and breadth of services and programs provided by the Allegany County Health Department and available to the citizens of Allegany County; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Raver and the health department staff have brought positive national recognition to Allegany County.

NOW THEREFORE we, the Allegany County Commissioners, wish to congratulate and commend all individuals associated with this accreditation achievement and to highlight the multi-faceted, important life-enhancing and life-saving work of The Allegany County Health Department

President of the Board of County Commissioners and MACo Board Member, William R. Valentine has known Dr. Sue Raver for 30 years.  He said,

“The health department’s national accreditation was achieved under Dr. Raver’s exemplary leadership. She spearheaded this effort. Sue Raver has been a tremendous asset for Allegany County. With her upcoming retirement, she will be truly missed.”

Maryland Senate Unanimously Approves Budget Plan

The Maryland Senate unanimously passed its budget plan earlier today, which only makes modest changes to the budget passed by the House.

As reported by the Washington Post,

The Maryland Senate voted to unanimously approve a $40.4 billion state budget that wipes out 75 percent of the state’s structural deficit and restores funding cuts made by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to education and state employees’ salaries.

The 46 to 0 vote was followed by cheers in the Senate chamber.

Veteran lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, said they could not recall a budget process that went smoother.

Both budget plans almost restore full funding for education, restore a 2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for State employees, and increase Medicaid rates for health care providers. A Baltimore Sun article highlights one difference that will need to be resolved.

The main difference between the Senate and House plans is that the House removed Hogan’s proposed 1 percent cap on education formula increases. The Senate kept the caps but raised them to 1.5 percent in future budgets.

The Senate also identified an additional $24 million to be  redirected to General Assembly priorities.

It’s anticipated that a House and Senate conference committee will meet next week to resolve the differences in each chamber’s plan.

For more information on the proposed FY 2016 budget and the House and Senate budget plans, see our previous posts on Conduit Street.

MACo Mourns Loss of St. Mary’s CFO Elaine Kramer

Elaine Kramer
Elaine Kramer, Courtesy of St. Mary’s County Government

With great sadness, we share news of Elaine Kramer’s passing on March 25. Ms. Kramer served as the Chief Financial Officer for St. Mary’s County, and was a regular participant in MACo conferences and events. She had been a longtime presenter of a County Financial Management course offered as a part of the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance for local officials.

St. Mary’s County press release notes

Ms. Kramer served as the county’s Chief Financial Officer since August, 2000. During her tenure she initiated and/or participated in several significant budget and financial management initiatives, including the full implementation of the county’s Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) program.

Under her direction the county has continually focused on improving a variety of fiscal practices, including procurement, and budget development and management for both operating and capital budget funds. She was often selected by the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) to present issues of interest at training sessions and in connection with legislative efforts.

“She was much loved. She was committed to her family, work and community,” said Dr. Rebecca Bridgett, County Administrator. “She had a standard of excellence like no other. She was honest, forth-right, and quick-witted and will be sorely missed.”

MACo, and her many friends and admirers in the county community, extend our sorrow and condolences to her family and friends.

Read St. Mary’s County’s statement of heartfelt loss online.

 

 

Cecil Bond Refunding Yields $2.3 Million in Savings

Cecil County recently issued $35 million in bond refunding saving the county $2.3 million in debt service. From the county’s press release,

“I am constantly looking for ways for County government to reduce costs,” stated County Executive Tari Moore. “This refunding of bonds has allowed us to take advantage of low interest rates to save the people of Cecil County millions of dollars in interest.”

In preparation for the bond issuance, Moody’s Investors Service and Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed the county’s AA bond rating.