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Montgomery County Schools Select Smith as New Superintendent

As reported by the Washington Post, Maryland’s Interim State Superintendent has been named Montgomery School Superintendent.

As described in the article,

Montgomery County named Jack R. Smith, Maryland’s interim state superintendent of schools, as its schools chief Thursday, ending a year-long search for a leader to take over the 156,000-student system.

Board of Education members voted unanimously to hire Smith, 58, as superintendent of the district, the state’s largest. It faces challenges posed by surging enrollment, budget shortfalls and increasing numbers of children who live in poverty.

For more information on Smith and his background, see the full story from the Washington PostInterim state superintendent Jack Smith to lead Montgomery schools.

In the meantime, legislation has been introduced that would change the appointment process for Maryland’s State Superintendent.

The legislation states that the State Board of Education must appoint a State Superintendent with the advice and consent of the Senate on or before April 1 of the year in which a term ends. Under current law, the Board of Education would appointment a new superintendent by July 1 of the year, when the legislature is not in session.

For more information about that legislation, see the Department of Legislative Service’s bill summary page on State Board of Education – State Superintendent of Schools – Appointment.

MACo Backs Vessel Excise Tax Cap

On January 27, 2016 Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in support of SB 58, Natural Resources – Vessel Excise Tax Cap – Repeal of Termination.

During the economic downturn, Maryland experienced a significant reduction in the number of boats registered in Maryland, negatively affecting the boating industry and funds going into the Waterway Improvement fund (WIF). The WIF finances projects that promote, develop, and maintain Maryland’s waterways and provides matching grants to counties for the construction of facilities, vessels, and equipment.

To spur the industry and increase revenue going into the WIF, the General Assembly enacted Chapter 180, Acts of 2013, that imposed a $15,000 cap on the vessel excise tax. Data indicates that the imposition of this cap has spurred the sale of higher-end vessels and is having a positive effect on the boating industry in Maryland.

Prior to the 2013 legislation, Maryland’s vessel excise tax required boat owners to pay 5 percent of the value of their boat if they bought it in the state or keep it here longer than 90 days a year. This bill would permanently keep in place the vessel excise tax cap of $15,000, which is due to terminate as of June 30, 2016.

MACo’s written testimony states:

The study found that the number of higher-end boats registered in Maryland during the two years the cap was in place increased significantly. Although the additional revenue didn’t fully offset the amount of revenue that would have been generated without the cap, the study indicates that the cap has had a positive effect on the boating industry in Maryland and that it should be continued.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 14, was heard on January 27 in the House.

For more on MACo 2016 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

 

MACo Advocates for Expansion of Clean Energy Loan Program

Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified in support of SB 173, Local Government – Clean Energy Loan Program – Commercial Property Owners – Renewable Energy Projects, on January 27, 2016 to the Senate Finance Committee.

Clean energy loan programs, first authorized in 2009, create a significant opportunity for local governments to help commercial and residential property owners reduce carbon emissions and improve the environment. When originally enacted, statutory language limited financing for commercial property owners to renewable energy projects with an electric generating capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts.

This bill would expand commercial financing options available through clean energy loan programs by removing the limitation that commercial renewable energy projects generate no more than 100 kilowatts.

MACo’s written testimony states:

Maryland has set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Larger scale renewable energy projects financed through Clean Energy Loan Programs could help the state meet these goals. Removing the limitation on the electric generating capacity of renewable energy projects could also serve as an incentive for more local governments to establish clean energy loan programs.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 105, was heard on January 28 in the House.

For more information on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

Bill Would Hamstring Bus Safety Audio Recorders

Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified in opposition to SB 199, Transit and Transportation Service – Audio Recordings – Requirements and Limitations, on February 4, 2016 to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

This bill would establish several new restrictions on the use of audio recording devices on state and local public transit. The bill would require that recording devices be under the exclusive control of the vehicle operator and activated by the operator only in the event of an incident involving public safety that requires documentation.

A number of local governments operate transit vehicles, some of which are equipped with audio recording devices that engage when the bus is in operation and disengage when the bus is not operating. The systems operate in this manner largely to protect the safety of the bus passengers and the bus operators.

Under SB 199, counties would need to retrofit audio systems already installed on buses to meet the new criteria that these systems are under the control of the operator.

From MACo’s written testimony,

This would not only be a costly endeavor for a number of counties, but could also jeopardize the safety of the operator and the public riding the bus. The additional step required to activate the recording device would be another distraction in a situation where the driver is already dealing with a public safety issue occurring on a moving bus.

Local transit systems also have protocols in place for specifying designated areas to be recorded, criteria for signage, and who may access the video. When verifying an incident, the footage may be used by transit staff, the police, or the State’s Attorney – following a strict chain of command involving supervisors and public safety officials.

MACo believes counties have proper protocols in place for addressing the issues raised in SB 199. They strike the right balance for a public transit system and serve to keep the systems safe for the public ridership. Therefore, MACo urges the Committee to give SB 199 an UNFAVORABLE report and allow counties to continue to regulate their transit systems in a manner that works for each individual jurisdiction instead of mandating restrictive statewide limitations.

For more on 2016 MACo Legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo: Additional Funding for Libraries Key for Full Economic Recovery

On February 4, 2016, MACo Research Director, Robin Clark Eilenberg, submitted written testimony to the House Health and Governmental Operations Committee in support of HB 144, Libraries – Regional, State, and County – Funding.

This legislation would provide additional funding for county libraries by accelerating increases to the library funding formula.

Maryland’s counties share funding responsibility with the State for our libraries and support additional resources for them. County governments directed more than $200 million of their operating budget general funds in fiscal year 2016 to supporting libraries.

From the MACo testimony,

Counties are proud to support libraries because they are an integral facet to a county’s ability to build community, and we would appreciate additional State support to help them further their aims. An acceleration in State funding will help libraries to continue to offer community services that are key to our full economic recovery.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

Would A “Standing” Rewrite Freeze Your Comp Plan?

On February 2, 2016, MACo Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in opposition to SB 166, Land Use Actions – Legislative Bodies – Judicial Review.

From the MACo testimony,

MACo believes the Bell case is a restatement and clarification of existing precedent regarding standing and that SB 166 would improperly expand standing for both comprehensive rezoning and comprehensive planning actions. The result would upend local comprehensive planning efforts, disrupt and potentially significantly delay the comprehensive rezoning process, and imperil Smart Growth-friendly redevelopment and revitalization projects. Accordingly, MACo would urge the Committee to give SB 166 an UNFAVORABLE report.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 243, will be heard on February 9 in the House.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

Baltimore City Council Development Deal Sets ‘New Standards’

In sealing the latest development deal, the Baltimore City Council required that the firm also set aside millions for a community benefit fund. This requirement may set the standard in the City for tax increment financing (TIF) deals to come.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

“This is going to set the standard and the bar for TIFs to come,” City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said. “Anybody that’s coming for a TIF is going to have to give something to the community. It’s going to have to be substantial. They’re asking for a lot of TIF money, they’re going to have to give us a lot for our communities.”

In recent years, tax increment financing deals have become the preferred vehicle for city development subsidies. Eleven such deals have been approved since 2003, requiring the city to float millions in bonds to pay for a development’s infrastructure needs. The city then uses the increased taxes from the development to pay off the debt, instead of committing that money to pay for other city services, such as schools or police.

Stokes said he agreed to move the subsidy forward only after the developer and surrounding communities signed a community benefits agreement. The agreement establishes a community fund of more than $1 million that would grow each year with contributions from the university and Wexford. The money is intended to help address parking problems, the development of Hollins Market and job creation, among other community concerns. Stokes said the fund will ultimately grow to about $4 million.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun.

Which Maryland County Schools Will Give Students Off for Lunar New Year?

MACo County Trivia

Monday, February 8 is Lunar New Year.

This week’s question:

Which Maryland County School Board Will Give Students Off for the Eve of Lunar New Year, Beginning in 2017?

lunarnewyear13_1327179420A Lunar New Year parade in downtown Rockville, Maryland, image courtesy of Marvin Joseph/THE WASHINGTON POST.

Tweet @mdcounties or email Kaley at kschultze@mdcounties.org with your answer.

A correct answer will be chosen at random and the winner and answer will be published in next week’s This Week on Conduit Street. 

Congratulations to Lynn Karr, the winner of last week’s trivia. Karr correctly identified Backbone Mountain located in Garrett County as being the highest point in Maryland. Karr is a Budget Analyst for Carroll County Government.

To see the highest and lowest points throughout Maryland, see the Maryland Geological Survey.

 

Tech Company to Bring Jobs to Prince George’s County

Prince George’s County and the Maryland Department of Commerce partnered to offer 2U, an educational technology firm, a package of financial incentives to open new headquarters in county that will create over 950 jobs.

As reported in The Washington Post:

Already located in New Carrollton, 2U agreed to a package of incentives worth an estimated $3.5 million in state and county funds that will have the company relocate nearby to one of the largest and most prominent buildings in the county, 7900 Harkins Road, in New Carrollton.

As part of the deal, 2U plans to double its current workforce from 650 positions to 1,315 by 2019. It then plans to add another 300 jobs and up its square footage from 168,000 square at move-in to 252,000 square feet by 2020. The incentives include a $1.5 million conditional loan from the county and $2 million from the Maryland Department of Commerce.

“We’re investing in our future and the 2U team with a new state-of-the-art facility that will match our unique corporate culture,” Paucek sad in a statement. “With the assistance of the Maryland Department of Commerce and Prince George’s County, our new headquarters will support our growth as we continue to acquire new university partners, launch new programs and empower the world’s greatest universities as they build great digital versions of themselves.”

The agreement keeping 2U in New Carrollton gives the county a tech company on which to hang its hat and advances efforts by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to grow jobs around Metro stations and transit hubs. At New Carrollton, the state recently opened a new office for the Department of Housing and Community Development, and a new apartment building is slated to break ground next door this year.

For more information read the full article in The Washington Post.

 

MACo Endorses Smarter Property Assessment Tech

Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified in support of SB 115, Property Tax Assessments – Inspection of Property, on February 3, 2016 to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

This bill authorizes the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) to use aerial or ground level photography or other similar technologies to perform property assessments. The use of these technologies will enable SDAT to operate more efficiently when assessing properties, which will ultimately improve the accuracy and timeliness of assessments.

Under current law, SDAT is required to perform an exterior physical inspection on all real property once every three years for assessment purposes. However, staffing levels have prohibited SDAT from meeting this statutory requirement.

SB 115 does not eliminate the three-year requirement. Instead it requires a review of each property every three years using either aerial / ground level photography, or a physical inspection.

An Assessment Workgroup (AWG), established pursuant to Senate Bill 172, Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2014, found that physical inspections are necessary on some periodic basis to ensure accuracies of assessments, but that new technology (oblique aerial photography) could be used to verify relevant property characteristics and update changes on properties without the need for a physical inspection.

As SDAT was just beginning a pilot on the use of this technology in Anne Arundel and Frederick Counties, the AWG recommended that no statutory changes be made to the time frame for physical inspections at the time of the final AWG report and that the issue be revisited at the conclusion of the pilot.

From the MACo testimony,

MACo understands that the pilot was very successful in both jurisdictions and therefore, supports the use of this technology to assist with the assessment process. This approach will create operational efficiencies and enable SDAT staff to focus on those properties that need a physical inspection and new properties to assure property assessments are accurate and timely.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.