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March 7, 2014

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MACo Meets With Hogan MDE Transition Team

December 19, 2014

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson and Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp joined with MML representatives at a December 16 meeting with Governor-elect Larry Hogan’s transition team for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).  Both the MACo and MML representatives offered their thoughts about MDE and key environmental and land use concerns.

The Chairman of the transition group, former MDE Assistant Secretary Steve Pattison, stressed the importance of local governments to MDE’s function – both as regulated entities, but also as agents of enforcement (as many MDE-delegated functions, and other statutory mandates, are actually carried out by county agencies).

Sanderson and Knapp both praised MACo’s generally positive relationship with MDE Secretary Robert Summers and staff, noting that MACo’s relationship with MDE has been strained in the past.  They also highlighted five broad environmental challenges facing the counties that incoming MDE leadership should address: (1) regulatory overload; (2) mandated oversight and enforcement; (3) treating counties as partners and not as “enemies”; (4) providing flexible rather than “one size fits all” approaches; and (5) breaking down departmental silos and having better communication across state agencies.


State Approves New Voting System – Will Cost Counties $14M

December 19, 2014

The Board of Public Works, composed of Governor Martin O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, and Comptroller Peter Franchot,  approved a $28 million contract this week to replace Maryland’s touch screen voting system with a new optical scan paper-based system. This new system will be in place for the 2016 Presidential Election.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun,

The contract comes more than seven years after the legislature decided the state should replace tens of thousands of touch screens deemed unreliable and susceptible to fraud.

Since then, arguments and tough budget times have repeatedly delayed efforts to replace the machines with a system that has a verifiable paper record.

Members on both sides of the aisle support the change to a paper-based system.

“We, for a generation of elections, have had no paper trail,” said Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat and a leading proponent of scrapping the touch-screen system.

“This is long overdue,” House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said Tuesday of the new machines. “It’s something that the legislature has been asking for at least six years. A paper-verified voter system is essential to restore voter integrity to the system and reduce the errors that we saw in the last election.”

As required by statute, the State and local governments will share the cost of the new voting system.


Howard Revenue Shortfall Does Not Deter Budget Requests

December 19, 2014

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman held his first public budget meeting this week as he begins to prepare his budget for fiscal 2016. With lower than expected revenues, he used the start of the meeting to set budget expectations. As reported by the Baltimore Sun,

Kittleman cautioned that the county would likely have to do some belt-tightening in fiscal year 2016, which runs from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.

“We’ve been told that our revenues for next year aren’t exactly what we anticipated,” he said.

Kittleman has already instructed county department heads to cut their spending by 5 percent for the rest of fiscal year 2015 to make up for the current budget deficit, which was created by lower-than-expected revenues from this year’s income and recordation taxes. By charter, the county is required to have a balanced budget.

Despite a difficult budget outlook for the current fiscal year and the next, may organizations came in requesting additional funds.

Valerie Gross, CEO of Howard County Public Libraries, said the system would be requesting additional funding in fiscal year 2016 for curriculum needs.

“While we recognize the potential budgetary challenges that you may be facing, our budget represents less than 2 percent of the county’s overall budget; a smart investment for a major return,” Gross said. The library, which last year received $22.3 million in funding from the county, was named Library of the Year by Library Journal in 2013 and is often touted as one of the county’s biggest assets.

Representatives from another of the county’s often-cited top assets, the school system, asked Kittleman for continuing support. Last year, the school board received a record $530.4 million.

Howard Community College President Kathleen Hetherington also pointed to a rapidly expanding student body at the county’s institution for higher education. She requested funding to complete a new science, engineering and technology building for the school, which recently broke ground, as well as funds for additional parking.


Hogan Meets With County Leaders

December 19, 2014

In a candid and positive December 18 meeting, Governor-elect Larry Hogan and members of his incoming Administration met with county and municipal leaders to discuss local priorities and state-county relationship. Three MACo officers — Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Washington County Commissioner John Barr, and Cecil County Executive Tari Moore — joined the meeting, along with three officers from the Maryland Municipal League.

Hogan was very positive and reiterated his commitment to work with local governments, citing his appreciation for “all that you do.” One topic that recurred through the meeting was a commitment to engage across the levels of government, and the Governor-elect was very clear: “I’m glad we had this meeting. I promised throughout the campaign that MACo and MML would have a seat at the table on decisions impacting our local governments, and today’s meeting is just the first of many as we work together to restore Maryland’s economy.”

The MACo officers raised MACo’s priority policy issues, emphasizing the substantial drop in road funding in recent state budgets. Governor-elect Hogan reiterated his pledge that restoring local highway user revenues “is a priority to me.” MACo also raised lingering issues with drug overdoses, as well as challenges with District Court initial appearances.

In a conversation about the state-county fiscal relationship, the Governor-elect promptly responded appreciatively about the importance of locally-delivered public services, and noted “you’re the closest to the people.”


Council on Open Data – Report Coming in January

December 19, 2014

In June 2014, the Council on Open Data was created (Chapter 69, Acts of 2014). The Council is to promote the State policy on open data: that open data be machine readable and released to the public in ways that make it easy to find, access, and use. Senator Bill Ferguson, Baltimore City, serves as the Maryland Senate’s representative on the Council on Open Data.

At the Council on Open Data meeting on December 18, the Council reviewed their draft report for the legislature and made final edits.  The section of the report that received the most attention during the meeting was about public information act requests.  The report will be completed and delivered to the General Assembly in January.

For a list of the other topics of discussion at the meeting, see the complete agenda here. The next meeting is scheduled for February 25, 2015.

For more information, contact Barney Krucoff, Geographic Information Officer, State of Maryland, Department of Information Technology, Barney.Krucoff@maryland.gov, 443-370-3008, http://imap.maryland.gov.

At this year’s MACo Winter Conference, Senator Ferguson will moderate an educational session on open data and transparency in county government.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

Questions? Contact Meetings & Events Director Virginia White.


Senator Edwards Proposes Compensation Formula For Counties With High Percentage of State Owned Land

December 19, 2014

A December 17 Cumberland Times-News article reported that Senator George Edwards will propose a formula that will provide consistent payments to a county where the State owns a high percentage of land within the county.  The article noted Allegany and Garrett Counties have the most amount of State-owned land, with 24 percent and 22 percent of acreage being State-owned respectively.  Such land is not taxed and cannot be developed.  State reimbursements to such counties have fluctuated and been unreliable over time.

Sen. George Edwards plans to propose a way to compensate counties for the limitations they face because of the high proportion of land owned by the state.  …

The senator hopes to stabilize the income by introducing legislation creating a set fee for the state to pay to counties to compensate for the control of the land. Edwards said he’d like to see a payment based on each 10,000 acres of state owned land. For instance, the state would pay $250,000 for the first 9,999 acres, then additional fees for state-owned acreage in 10,000-acre increments.

Payments could be tied to the consumer price index and adjusted based on economic conditions, Edwards said.


Congressional Spending Bill Includes $70.3 Million For Maryland Waterway Projects

December 19, 2014

A December 15 DelmarvaNow article reported that the omnibus spending bill recently passed by the United States Congress includes $70.3 million in funding for Maryland waterway projects from the Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore.

 U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has announced the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 includes $70.3 million for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects in Maryland.  …

“These public investments in Maryland’s waterways create and sustain private sector jobs. This federal investment in the lives and livelihoods of those who depend on clean and open waterways will keep businesses open and keep Marylanders working,” Senator Mikulski said.

The bill includes $23.725 million for annual maintenance dredging of the Port of Baltimore shipping channels, which support more than 25,000 jobs across the state, including 14,630 direct jobs. These jobs generate $3 billion in salaries to for hardworking Marylanders and their families and $304 million in state and local taxes.

The article lists all of the funded projects, including $15.1 million for the continuation of the Poplar Island environmental restoration project in Talbot County, $22.4 million to dredge the  C&D canal, $2.5 million for oyster restoration, $1.9 million for Jennings Randolph Lake in Garrett County, and $0.5 million for the Anacostia Restoration Plan.


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