2014 Legislative Issues
Maryland’s Board of Public Works reviews projects, contracts, and expenditure plans for state agencies – many of which have effect on county governments. It meets on alternating Wednesdays at the State House reception room, and its meetings are both open to the public and available through live streaming video.
The Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 29, 2014. Materials for the upcoming meeting are available online:
For “frequently asked questions” about the Board’s charge and meetings, visit the Board’s website.
Partnership Leverages UMD Faculty & Students To Help Solve Local Government Policy Challenges; Currently Seeks County RFPsOctober 24, 2014
The Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS) is an organization that offers local governments the assistance and technical expertise of University of Maryland faculty and students to address local sustainability issues related to business and economic development, land use, the environment, or social needs. Counties and municipalities may submit a request for proposal (RFP) to PALS and if accepted, PALS and the University will create a series of coursework and projects built around the local government’s issue(s).
PALS is currently seeking local government RFPs for the 2015/2016 term. Proposals are due November 24. From the PALS RFP Request Packet:
The Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability (PALS), administered by the National Center for Smart Growth (NCSG) at the University of Maryland College Park (UMD), invites proposals from Maryland jurisdictions interested in partnering with the University in a program that pairs the sustainability-related projects of a local government with experienced faculty and courses from across the University of Maryland campus. The successful applicant will benefit from between 40,000 and 60,000 hours of work by UMD students and faculty from a variety of disciplines. The core of this request for proposals is the development of an annotated list of projects by the jurisdiction that aim to enhance a community’s quality of life, protect is resources and develop sustainable practices.
RFP Issue Date: October 20th, 2014
Pre-bid Meeting (call-ins allowed): November 5th, 10AM–11AM @ NCSG
Proposal Due Date 3:00 PM, November 24th, 2014 via e-mail (Electronic submission only): to email@example.com
Notification of Interviews: December 1st, 2014
Interviews with top candidates: December 8th, 2014
Selection and notification: December 15th, 2014
Start of PALS process: January 5th, 2015
Beginning of Fall PALS courses: August 31st, 2015
For the 2014/2015 tern, PALS partnered with Frederick City to address a variety of City issues, such as: composting and organics recovery, a recreation plan for its waterways, promoting local businesses, and East Frederick industrial redevelopment. Through PALS, the University is offering 30 courses involving 350 students drawn from 10 schools across the College Park campus to address Frederick City’s sustainability challenges.
Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance thanked MACo representatives and the counties for working with the Governor’s Intergovernmental Commission on Agriculture (GICA) on agritourism and other agricultural issues at GICA’s October 23rd meeting. Through MACo, Secretary Hance and other Department employees have been meeting with county planners and health officers to discuss agritourism, food permitting, and zoning issues.
GICA was formed in 2006 and is composed of representatives from State agencies, local governments, and the agricultural sector. GICA works to identify and address issues important to the agricultural industry, coordinate State, local, and private sector efforts to promote agricultural businesses. Currently, Carroll County Commissioner Robin Frazier and Kent County Planner Amy Moredock are MACo’s two representatives on GICA. MACo Legal and Policy Director Les Knapp also attends GICA meetings.
At its October 23rd meeting, GICA considered: (1) a model definition of agritourism that could be used by the counties; (2) a model checklist to help potential agritourism operators navigate state and local requirements; and (3) a short list of recommendations, such as asking counties without Agricultural Marketing Professionals (AMPs) to designate an “ombudsman” for agritourism purposes. GICA will likely adopt some version of the definition, checklist, and recommendations in the next several weeks.
GICA also heard presentations on: (1) State and local permitting and zoning issues related to farms providing housing for federal H2A temporary foreign agricultural workers; (2) the Agritourism Signage Program; and (3) the Department of Business and Economic Development’s Office of Tourism. County sampling licenses for farmers were also discussed.
In a new project with SolarCity, Wicomico County will fulfill 37% of its county government utility needs and save an estimated $1.5 million over the next twenty years. The County recently negotiated a fixed 4.5 cent/kWh purchase price allocation for the next twenty years, with no annual increases. This means that the county is guaranteed to be able to purchase energy from SolarCity at a stable rate, protecting against utility cost escalation and uncertainty.
The power purchase agreement provides that SolarCity will install, maintain and finance the solar systems, while Wicomico County simply “hosts” the system and only pays for the electricity produced. There are no upfront costs–SolarCity fully leverages all incentives and depreciation. There is a 100% performance guarantee over the next twenty years and at the end of the term the County may renew the agreement, purchase the system, or have it removed at SolarCity’s expense. There are also early buyout options available starting at Year 6.
According to Lee Beauchamp, Wicomico County’s Public Works Director,
The solar farm concept is a win for both the county taxpayer and the environment. This project allows the county to re-purpose the property adjacent to the landfill for power generation at half the price paid on the electric grid. . . and it is clean energy produced locally. This initiative allows the county to reinvest energy savings into core services such as road paving and/or education.
For more information on the project, contact Director Lee Beauchamp, PE.
Early voting began today October 23, 2014 and will run through next Thursday, October 30. As reported by the Baltimore Sun,
Early voting centers — there are one to eight in every county in Maryland, depending on population — will be open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through the following Thursday, Oct. 30. All registered voters can cast ballots at any early voting center in their home county. They will use the same touch-screen machines found in polls on Election Day.
This will be the first election since the General Assembly expanded early voting during the 2013 session. SB 279 (Ch. 157, Acts of 2013) expanded the number of locations based on the number of registered voters in each county. This bill was enacted to expand access to voting and address lines at early voting locations during the previous election.
Marylanders first approved early voting in a referendum in 2008. Maryland held its first early voting in the 2010 election. That year, early voting during the primary accounted for just under 10 percent of turnout. In the general election the proportion grew to almost 12 percent, or 219,624 voters.
Participation was higher in the 2012 presidential election, in which 430,547 cast their votes early, amounting to almost 16 percent of votes counted, even though Hurricane Sandy shut down the polls for two days. Gov. Martin O’Malley added a day and extended hours to make up for the interruption.
Fitch Ratings has assigned Montgomery County a AAA bond rating as the county prepares to sell $821.87 million in general obligation bonds in a competitive bond sale on November 6. The article in Market Watch identified the following key factors as rating drivers:
HEALTHY FINANCIAL FUNDAMENTALS: Montgomery County has a sophisticated management team that uses conservative budgeting and has established debt and reserve policies that have resulted in healthy reserve and liquidity levels.
SOLID OPERATING PERFORMANCE: Strong operating results in fiscals 2011 through 2013 have materially enhanced the county’s reserve position. Fitch believes operations will remain positive and in line with the county’s plans.
BALANCED FISCAL PLAN: The county has adopted a multi-year fiscal plan that balances current resources against spending and continues to address other critical operating priorities relating to fund balance replenishment, pay-as-you-go capital, and other post-employment benefits (OPEB).
STRONG ECONOMIC CORE: The stable regional economy is anchored by the extensive presence of the federal government and related contracting employment, marked by consistently low rates of unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and very high income metrics.
DEBT REMAINS MODERATE: Debt ratios are expected to remain at a moderate level despite some pressure from future bond issuance plans to fund the county’s capital improvement program (CIP). The county has prudently managed its exposure to other long-term liabilities related to pension and OPEB.
The article also addresses other factors that were considered:
- Continued strong financial performance
- Economic performance remains very strong
- Sharp improvement in reserves
- Fiscal plan addresses key priorities
- Debt to remain affordable despite sizable annual issuances
The latest meeting of the Governor’s Commission to Reform Maryland’s Pretrial System focused on narrowing down proposed subcommittee recommendations to include in the Commission’s report to the Governor. A large portion of the meeting’s discussion centered on the management of attorneys at initial appearances.
Commission members came to a consensus that the Office of Public Defender, not the Judiciary, should be responsible for providing attorneys at initial appearances. Supporters stressed the public defender’s role and expertise in representing indigent individuals and how the change would allow for continuity of counsel between the initial appearance stage and remaining parts of the process.
Since July 1, 2014 the Judiciary has been managing the appointed attorney program under a $10 million budget appropriation. The stopgap measure was put in place to ensure the state complied with the Maryland Court of Appeals’ DeWolfe v. Richmond decision establishing the right to indigent representation at preliminary bail hearing.
The Commission got through about half of the subcommittees’ recommendations on the agenda for the day, voting on three of the seven proposed subcommittee recommendations. The commission will be voting on the remainder of the recommendations at the next meeting tentatively scheduled for November 11, 2015. The commission must submit a final report its recommendations to the Governor by December 1, 2014.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, the purpose of the commission is to bring together experts and interested parties to comprehensively examine the State’s pretrial system and to provide recommendations for reform.
For more information and meeting materials please visit the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP)’s website. For additional coverage of the commission meetings read the article in The Daily Record (subscription required) and previous coverage on Conduit Street.