2014 Legislative Issues
An opinion piece in the Salisbury Daily Times, discusses the findings of a study performed by the Jacob France Center which indicate substantial economic benefits for Somerset County should the Great Bay Wind Energy installation move forward. From the opinion piece,
A little more than two years ago, the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore was commissioned to evaluate the projected effects on employment, labor income and output, and the fiscal effects at the county and state levels. This was done using a fact-based, unbiased model developed by the University of Minnesota, which is the gold standard for economic impact analysis and is used in a variety of industries in analyzing large scale investments
Our analysis found construction of the full project will create more than 500 jobs in Somerset County (and more than 765 overall in Maryland), and that there will be more than $50 million in spending in Somerset County alone during the construction phase.
The study also concluded during the 30-year life of the wind project, Somerset County will receive more than $44 million in new tax revenues — money the county could use to improve schools, fix roads, offset residents’ taxes or fund other programs in the community.
The Jacob France Center study can be found here.
Harford County Council President Billy Boniface and Council Member Mary Ann Lisanti have withdrawn legislation that would have increased salaries for council members in the next four-year term. Instead, they have introduced a resolution recommending that the county executive provide raises to county employees. As reported by the Baltimore Sun,
Council President Billy Boniface and Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti announced Thursday night they are pulling the controversial bill that would give their successors on the council a pay increase.
He and Lisanti will instead introduce a resolution Tuesday recommending the county executive enter into an agreement with the Board of Education, Sheriff’s Office, Harford County Public Library, Harford Community College and their respective bargaining units.
Legislation to increase the county executive’s salary is still under consideration.
The legislation would set the county executive’s base annual salary at $130,000. The existing base salary, set in 2004, is $90,000; however, subsequent annual increases tied to the Consumer Price Index have moved the executive’s current salary to $105,136.
Local students of Allegany College of Maryland (ACM) and Frostburg State University (FSU) are receiving the first Allegany County Opportunity Scholarships, established by Allegany Commissioners Michael W. McKay, Creade V. Brodie, Jr., and William R. “Bill” Valentine.
From Allegany County’s news release,
The county’s investment in higher and continuing education is already greatly enhancing economic opportunities for its citizens and thus supporting families and the community at large, according to representatives from the ACM and FSU foundations.
The ACM Foundation created four categories for the Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship –Merit Scholarship, Tuition Subsidy for Credit Students, “Jump Start” Early College Scholarship and Continuing Education and Workforce Development Scholarship. Scholarships have already been awarded in the first three programs, with additional scholarships scheduled for the fourth this fall.
“The Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship reflects a genuine commitment on the part of the Allegany County Commissioners to enhance the quality of life and increase economic opportunity for our citizens and community through expanded access to higher education,” said ACM’s president, Dr. Cynthia Bambara. “In its first year, we are excited to award nearly 300 Allegany County Opportunity Scholarships for the fall 2014 semester to students enrolled in credit courses. We look forward to continuing these awards throughout the academic year and to expanding the effort to include continuing education students.”
FSU awards the Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship to new and continuing students at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels to offset the cost of tuition and fees. As of Aug. 18, FSU had awarded 98 scholarships to 75 undergraduate students, 15 graduate students and eight doctoral students. Nearly $114,600 has been awarded so far. A review of transfer students is underway to ensure that they are aware of this opportunity, and as many as 27 more may be eligible.
The funds for the scholarship are provided from a portion of Allegany County Government’s share –2.25 percent –of the annual gross revenue generated by the video lottery machines at Rocky Gap Casino Resort. The county commissioners designated 70 percent of this revenue for the Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship –45 percent for ACM and 25 percent for FSU.
Fewer than one in five Allegany County residents, 16.3 percent, have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. The county ranks 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions.
The county commissioners believe that this scholarship accomplishes many goals: encourages population retention and growth, enhances the quality of the local workforce for current and prospective employers, and supports economic development and the associated prosperity it creates.
The county commissioners determined that the future well-being of Allegany County depends on having an educated and skilled workforce. However, many county residents face financial barriers to pursuing post-secondary education. Funding through the Allegany County Opportunity Scholarship provides additional financial resources to increase educational opportunities, enhance economic development, and support the continued well-being of the community.
A constitutional amendment to be included on the statewide ballot in November would authorize charter counties to fill a vacancy in the office of county executive through a special election. As reported by the Gazette, the momentum behind this initiative started in Montgomery County with Councilman George Leventhal.
While the county has a clear process for replacing those who resign or die while in office, Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said he noticed that the process for replacing a council member differs from replacing a county executive.
What began as idle speculation on Leventhal’s part about making the processes uniform became the catalyst for one of two ballot questions Maryland voters will answer when they visit the polls on Nov. 4.
Under current law, a charter county may only hold a special election to replace a council member.
According to the State Board of Elections, voters will be asked if they are in favor of authorizing charter counties to provide for special elections to fill a vacancy in the office of chief executive officer or county executive and exempting a special election to fill a vacancy in the office of chief executive officer or county executive of a charter county from the constitutional requirement that elections for state and county officers be held on a specified four-year cycle.
The amendment does not mandate a charter county to hold a special election for the office of county executive. It would give the charter county the authority to do so if they wished to fill the vacancy in that manner.
Through the Maryland Energy Administration’s (MEA) Smart Energy Communities program, the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and the Offices of Central Services received over $1 million in grant awards. As reported in The Gazette:
The grants include $400,000 to support the installation of energy efficiency upgrades within offices and facilities in the county and a $643,000 grant for development of energy projects.
This second grant will be used to expand the development of policies and projects that contribute to reducing fossil fuel usage, and to increase the use of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency, said DoE director Adam Ortiz.
As noted on the MEA website, $4 million in funding was available to new and existing Smart Energy Communities. Of those funds, $3 million will go to energy efficiency projects and $1 million will go to renewable energy/transportation projects. In total 34 communities (27 municipalities, 7 counties and Baltimore City) are Maryland Smart Energy Communities. The goal of the program is “to have local governments adopt policies and commit to them for the long term, leading to sustained energy savings and additional opportunities for renewable energy development.”
For more information on participating communities, program requirements and benefits of participating visit Maryland Smart Energy Communities.
In an August 27 MarylandReporter.com opinion piece, Bay Journal News Service writer and environmentalist Tom Horton discussed the challenges that currently “uncontrollable” variables p0se to Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration efforts. Specifically, he cites: (1) the expansion of watershed farmland; (2) the reduced use of agricultural buffers due to higher grain prices; (3) predicted climate change effects, including rising sea levels and warming waters; (4) the effects of natural gas fracking; (5) population increase; and (6) natural cycles like the North Atlantic Oscillation.
Horton argues that while the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tries to account for these uncontrollable in its Bay computer models, Bay stakeholders should take more direct action to address at least some of these variables. From the opinion piece:
Deal right now, with the most predictable uncontrollables, like sea level rise. Retreat wherever appropriate from the Bay’s edges; leave room for rising seas to create wetlands as they destroy existing ones. Build reforestation into the price of all that “cheap” new fracked gas to reflect its real cost.
Require proven ag pollution controls like winter cover crops that suck up polluted runoff. Regulate the spreading of animal manure. Tightly monitor farm practices to reduce pollution. Too much is now computer-modeled, not measured, and we don’t know what’s working.
And, we can begin to honestly ask whether it’s likely we’ll have water quality in a Bay with a watershed that holds 24 million people that’s as healthy as when there were 8 million.
Washington County has named Kathleen “Kassie” Lewis as the county’s new Director of Business Development. As reported in The Herald-Mail:
In her new role, Lewis will serve as the primary sales and development driver for the county and act as the staff liaison to the Economic Development Commission board.
Working under the director of Assistant County Administrator Sarah L. Sprecher, Lewis will manage department staff and be responsible for the development and implementation of strategic programs to encourage business relocation, retention and expansion in the county.
“We wanted the candidate with the strongest credentials to build upon the growth efforts already under way in our community and we’ve found that with this hire,” [Commissioner John F.] Barr said. “Kassie’s outside perspective will help in identifying fresh opportunities to advance economic development opportunities in Washington County citizens.”
Lewis previously worked for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, most recently as manager of federal facilities.
For more information read the full article in the The Herald-Mail.