Wicomico County Council Gives Preliminary Approval to Solar Array Projects

September 17, 2014

During its meeting this week, the Wicomico County Council approved two preliminary agreements with SolarCity to construct two solar array projects that overtime could provide electricity for all county facilities. As reported by the Salisbury Daily Times,

By a vote of 5-2, with Joe Holloway and Bob Culver being the two “nos,” the council agreed to sign both the purchase power agreement and the performance guarantee agreement with SolarCity, creating the basic outline of the two-site project that Public Works Director Lee Beauchamp said could cut the county’s energy costs in half.

The council will hold a public hearing on October 7 to receive comments on the site location. The county Board of Education and the City of Salisbury plan to piggyback on the agreements negotiated by the county.


Free Resources and Tips for Researching State, Federal, and Local Law

September 15, 2014

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At this year’s Annual Conference of the International Municipal Lawyers Association, research librarians and attorneys shared information on the best free resources for researching local, state, and federal law. These resources may be helpful for county elected officials and county employees seeking information about comparative laws in other jurisdictions, or researching federal laws and regulations that have an effect on local practices.

Here are a few resources that were shared at the Conference:

State and Federal Case Law

Google Scholar is a great resource for US Supreme Court decisions, and state and federal case law.  Good Scholar allows the user to search all federal courts, and state courts of appeal and supreme courts.  The site has a built-in case citator.

Federal Law

The Office of the Law Revision Council’s version of the US Code includes current and past editions of the Code, and shows pending updates to the Code.  The search tool allows for smart searches, such as proximity connectors.

Federal Regulations

e-CRF provides a currently updated version of the Code of Federal Regulations. If you sign up with federalregister.gov, you may receive email alerts when a specific agency is about to issue a new rule.

Additional Research

Several libraries provide research guides for state and local law.  In Maryland, resources include The Maryland State Law Library’s Gateway to Maryland Law, the Thurgood Marshall Law Library’s Maryland Research Guide, and Georgetown Law Library’s Maryland Resources In-Depth.  The UCLA Law Library provides links to online municipal codes in every state. The Harvard Law Library provides several resources for legal and law-related research.

Google Scholar also provides a search tool for academic journal articles.  When articles require registered access to publication or research databases, attorneys may ask their alma maters for remote access to scholarly articles and other publications via their university’s law library.  Alternatively, searching for the article’s author may yield a free version of the article on the author’s own personal website.

 

 


Maryland Clean Energy Center Holds Local Government Discussion Group on Green Energy Bank

September 12, 2014

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The Maryland General Assembly has required the Maryland Clean Energy Center (MCEC), in consultation with the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), to study the feasibility of developing a “green bank” that would use public funds and authority to lower the cost and increase the amount of private financing for clean energy technology (SB 985 of 2014).

MCEC and MEA are holding local government discussion group on September 24 in the Amoss Hearing Room on the 4th floor of the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis starting at 3:00 PM.  The address is:  11 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland 21401.

The meeting is open to county and municipal elected officials and professional staff and is expected to last approximately 1 and a half hours.  A photo ID will be needed to enter the building.  Please RSVP by email to Sandi Davis at MCEC (sdavis@mdcleanenergy.org).

 


Foreign Investment Shores Up Funding For College Park Project

September 11, 2014

As reported by the Washington Business Journal, Prince George’s County has successfully shored up investments for a planned mix-use development on Route 1 in College Park using a program known as EB-5.

Roughly $16.5 million of the $63 million in financing needed for the project will come from EB-5, also known as the Immigrant Investor Program, which swaps U.S. Green Cards in return for a minimum $500,000 investment in development projects. In the District, EB-5 is a relatively common financing tool, playing a role in projects from CityMarket at O to the Marriott Marquis. In Prince George’s, it has never been used before.

The project was announced in Shanghai before a group of potential EB-5 Chinese investors by Victor Hoskins, Prince George’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic development.  Mr. Hoskins joined County Executive Rushern Baker and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray on a 10 day trade mission to China.


Assessing Real Property For Taxation Purposes

September 4, 2014

The State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) has appointed a workgroup composed of state and local representatives to examine the property assessment process in Maryland.  Two areas of focus include whether the physical inspection of property is necessary to assess property and whether changes in property status and new properties are being picked up timely and added to the tax rolls. To assist with making recommendations in these areas, the workgroup was briefed on the property assessment process at the previous meeting.

SDAT is responsible for the assessment of real and personal property for taxation purposes. This blog post will focus on the process for real property assessments.  The personal property assessment process will be discussed in a future post.

Process Overview

In Maryland, real property, land and improvements to land, is assessed on a three-year cycle in which a third of properties in each jurisdiction are assessed each year. Any increase in assessed value is then phased-in over a three-year period to reduce the financial impact on the taxpayer. The financial impact on owner-occupied property is further reduced by counties imposing a cap on the annual assessment increase. This is known as the Homestead Tax Credit. Local jurisdictions are required to limit taxable assessment increases to 10% or less each year. Each jurisdiction has the authority to set its own cap for assessment purposes.

Assessments notices are sent by SDAT to taxpayers in early January. SDAT then certifies assessments to the local jurisdictions where the local tax rate is applied to convert the assessment into a tax bill.  Tax bills are sent to homeowners each July corresponding with the beginning of the fiscal year.

Goal of the Assessment Process

Article 15 of the Declaration of Rights of Maryland’s Constitution requires that all property be assessed and taxed uniformly.  State law requires all taxable property to be assessed based on its fair market value.

Approaches to Determine Fair Market Value

An assessment is based on an appraisal of the fair market value of the property. Assessors are the appraisers who estimate that value. There are three accepted approaches for calculating fair market value: 1) the sales approach; 2) the cost approach; and 3) the income approach.  Assessors use the  sales and cost approach to estimate fair market value of residential properties.  The income approach is used for properties that produce an income stream from rent or lease agreements.

The SDAT website describes both of these approaches.

THE SALES APPROACH

The premise of the sales approach is that the fair market value of a given property (called the subject property) may be determined by examining the sale prices of comparable properties. If similar properties sold for approximately $100,000, it could be assumed that other comparable properties would sell in the $100,000 range. The key to the sales approach is comparability and the availability of sufficient data.

COST APPROACH

The premise of the cost approach is that the fair market value of a given property equals the total of the cost to construct a similar improvement, less any depreciation for age and condition, and the price of the land. For example, if the cost to construct an 1,800 square foot rancher is $70,000, the cost approach assumes that a prospective purchaser would not pay more than $70,000, plus the cost of the land, for a home which is already built. If the existing house were not new, it may sell for less than $70,000. In general, the older the house, the greater the loss in value due to depreciation. A house which is 10 years old will usually sell for less than a comparable house which was recently built.

Assessors use a blend of these two approaches to appraise residential property.  This appraisal information is included in the assessment notices that property owners receive in January of each year.

Additional information on the real property assessment process can be found on SDAT’s website.

Information on the Property Assessment Workgroup appointed by SDAT can be found on Conduit Street.

 


NACo Financial Services Center Announces New Management Team

August 28, 2014

The National Association of Counties (NACo) and the NACo Financial Services Center (FSC) are pleased to announce David F. Thompson as the new President and Managing Director and Bill Jasien as the new Executive Chairman.

Matthew D. Chase, NACo Executive Director, said, “After a national search and rigorous process spanning several months, David was among a very high-caliber slate of qualified candidates. He was chosen to lead the NACo FSC based on his impressive track record of success, strong reputation as a visionary leader and sterling credentials as a county manager and state association executive.”

Thompson currently serves as the Executive Director for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. He began his service to counties in 1982 in Mecklenburg County, N.C. During his career, he has served as county manager for the North Carolina counties of Hertford, Stanly, Henderson and Durham. In each of these assignments, he earned a reputation for accountability, strategic decision-making and financial integrity.

Thompson left government for a stint in the private sector to serve as a managing partner for FreemanWhite, Inc., the oldest and second largest architectural/engineering/consulting firm in the Carolinas at that time.

He holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from North Carolina State University and has participated on boards and councils such as the Council of Southern County Associations (past president), University of North Carolina School of Government Foundation Board (member), and County Reinsurance, Limited National Board of Directors (member).

Thompson’s official start date will be November 5, 2014.

Chase continued, “We are also pleased to announce that Bill Jasien will serve as the Executive Chairman of the NACo FSC. In this role, Bill will provide strategic direction and oversight of the NACo FSC including outreach with our corporate partners and leadership.”

“For the past four months, Bill has graciously served as the interim Managing Director of the NACo FSC and led the national search for his replacement,” Chase said. “His dedication and support have been incredibly valuable and we are forever appreciative of his efforts. Bill will lead the organization from a strategic perspective and work closely with David as he manages the day-to-day operations of the FSC.”

Prior to forming his current company (StoneHedge), Jasien spent 20 years with ING including serving as President of the Government Business Division and Executive Vice President of the U.S. Retirement Services Business.

He served as Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury for Finance and Management and Assistant to President George H.W. Bush at the White House.

He currently serves on the boards of the Federal Retirement Thrift Savings Board, Virginia College Savings Plan, Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and the American Red Cross.

“We are excited to have two highly professional executives, with such complementary skills, to lead the NACo FSC to new heights. In the coming weeks, Bill and David will provide further details on how the FSC will move forward to support our members and partners with value added programs. In the meantime, please join me in congratulating and welcoming David and Bill,” said Chase.

NACo Financial Services’ focus is to assist counties and partners with value-added, cost-effective services that provide solutions and savings. Its programs include cooperative purchasing, retirement savings programs for county employees, healthcare, infrastructure and financial programs that offer bond financing, investment management and short-term cash management.


Study Indicates Charles County Should Invest $600 Million in School Infrastructure

August 28, 2014

A consultant study recently released in Charles County indicates that the County should invest $600 million in its public school infrastructure over the next 10 years. As reported by the Southern Maryland News,

The county commissioners, on the prompting of state official David Lever, who specializes in public school construction matters and reports to the Board of Public Works, launched the study with an outside contractor, Baltimore-based GWWO Inc./Architects, in late fall 2013.

The $250,000 report, on the dime of the commissioners, would provide the board of education, school and county officials and the public with a look at the state of the county school buildings — a comprehensive roadmap at the successes and failings of the infrastructure of each building, as well as the optimal price tag for the improvements that would bring the schools up to the school system’s standards. The study serves only as a suggestion for school officials.

The article indicates that the reaction to the report varied.  Some lauded the detail, while others felt it was a wish list.

…in the past 10 years, the school system has funneled $60 million of its own funds into school improvements. For some, the disparity of the two numbers highlights what they say is the squishiness of a new study of the county’s public schools and the long road school and county officials have ahead to restore some of the school system’s more aged facilities.


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