Maryland Governor’s Grants Office Workshop – June 24

The Maryland Governor’s Grants Office is co-hosting with eCivis to bring a nationally renowned grants expert to Maryland on Wednesday, June 24th.  This one-day workshop will be led by Dr. Beverly Browning (“Dr. Bev”), who is​ a noted authority in helping local governments and non-profits win millions in grants.

Dr. BevShe has authored 41 grant-related publications, including five editions of Grant Writing for Dummies.

Objectives:

Dr. Bev will lead you through a day filled with award-winning grant writing techniques, keyword research strategies, tips on building relationships with private-sector funders, and methods for capturing federal competitive grants.

​Five Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits will be awarded for attending.

  • Recognizing red flags in Notices of Funding Availability (NOFAs) – so you know which competitive grants to pursue and which your community will likely not win.
  • Understanding how funding decisions are made – what’s not in print that can help your community win more highly competitive grants.
  • Translating your community’s grant-related needs into a compelling storytelling format – traditional writing approaches won’t win grant awards in 2015.
  • Developing an evidence-based project design – the one area where most grant applicants fail to receive 100% of the peer review points.

Register before June 12 for Early Bird Savings!

Annapolis Joins MACo OPEB Trust

At the City of Annapolis Board of Aldermen’s meeting this week, the Board voted to join MACo’s OPEB Investment Trust.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the MACo OPEB Investment Trust is a newly developed offering to assist counties and other local government units to invest toward long-term liabilities of their retiree health insurance cost programs. The City of Annapolis is the sixth government to formally join the Trust.

For more information, see Conduit Street‘s previous coverage of the Trust creation.

School Construction Officials Express Concerns Over Prevailing Wage Law

The Board of Public Works (BPW), composed of Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, approved $130 million in school construction projects yesterday, bringing the total amount of state funding for school construction projects to over $318 million for FY 2016.

During discussions on this agenda item, school construction officials raised concerns with the increasing cost of school projects.  David Lever, Executive Director of the State’s Interagency Commission on School Construction, stated that the improving economy and regulatory environment are having an effect, but the major concern is the State’s prevailing wage law. He said that “prevailing wage rules coupled with labor requirements that mandate the hiring of more highly paid journeyman workers could drive up costs between 8 percent and the teens in the next year.”

Under current law, school construction projects of $500,000 or more, funded with at least 25% of state funds are required to follow prevailing wage requirements. Previously set at 50%, legislation during the 2014 session lowered the threshold to 25% for school construction projects expanding the laws application.

In his comments to the BPW, Mr. Lever stated that, based on comparative research, prevailing wage rules could increase the costs of contracts by up to 11%.

Supporters of prevailing wage argue that the benefits of well-paid, skilled workers outweigh the increased contract costs.

This blog post summarizes an article published in the Daily Record. For full access to the article, please subscribe to the Daily Record.

Board of Public Works Agenda including Final Actions (School Construction begins on agenda page 20)
Board of Public Works Agenda Summary Item

New Montgomery County Department Heads and Ombudsman Appointed

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has announced appointments of three new county department directors and one new ombudsman position. Scott E. Goldstein as the new director of the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service. Robert L. Green as the new director of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. And Cherri L. Branson as the new director of the newly-formed County Department of Procurement.

Michael Smith was chosen as the Development Ombudsman in the Office of the County Executive to help navigate the development approval process and ensure transparency and responsiveness. The appointment of this new position comes on the heels of Leggett’s announcement of a bill to restructure the county’s Department of Economic Development.

As reported in the county press release:

“In Rob Green, we have a veteran, nationally recognized correction officer who has capably led Correction and Rehabilitation since former director Art Wallenstein retired in March. U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez has called Rob ‘…not only a local leader, but a national leader.’ In addition to his expertise and experience as a correctional officer and manager, Rob understands how government and stakeholder groups can work together for the betterment of our entire community.”

“As a 25-year veteran of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Scott Goldstein has a thorough knowledge of our system and the many operations that keep it functioning at its high-level of service. His service as acting chief, since the retirement of Chief Lohr in January, has been exceptional. His experience at all levels of fire and rescue service at the local level and with major incidents across the country gives him a broad perspective on issues that could arise locally.”

“To head the newly created Office of Procurement,” Leggett said, “I have chosen former County Councilmember Cherri Branson. With more than two decades of government experience at the federal and local levels, she is an ideal choice to direct procurement operations in Montgomery County. Cherri has worked to help increase the participation of small, minority and women-owned businesses in federal contracting opportunities. And, she supports my goals of making it easy to do business here and to ensure that all businesses get a fair shake.”

We have found the ideal candidate in Michael Smith who brings a wealth of experience in the public and private sectors and an enthusiastic, dynamic approach to the job of helping businesses to locate and expand in the County.

The release notes that the appointments await confirmation by the county council.

For more information read the full county press release.

Cudmore Selected as St. Mary’s Chief Financial Officer

According to a recent St. Mary’s County press release, Acting Chief Financial Officer L. Jeannett Cudmore has been selected to be the official Chief Financial Officer by the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County. Cudmore replaces former Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer who passed away in March.

cudmore
Jeannett Cudmore, Courtesy of St. Mary’s County Government

The release states,

Ms. Cudmore began her employment with St. Mary’s County government in 1998 as the Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer. Her title was changed to Deputy Director for Finance as a result of the classification study completed in 2000. Once hired, she implemented and trained all users on the County’s Integrated Financial System, HTE and continues to be responsible for maintaining application security for the financial modules. She previously served as the County’s Acting Chief Financial Officer in 2000.

Prior to coming to St. Mary’s County Government, Ms. Cudmore was employed by Charles County Government, as a Senior Accountant in Fiscal Services. In all, her combined experience in local governmental finance totals more than 20 years.

“Jeannett has proven to be an invaluable resource to the commissioners during this period of transition,” said Commissioner President Randy Guy. “She’s the right person to assume the role of Chief Financial Officer and ensure our continued financial stability in the years to come.”

As Chief Financial Officer, Ms. Cudmore will oversee all fiscal practices for the County, including accounting, procurement, budget development and management for both operating and capital funds. She will also evaluate and monitor capital project expenditures and the related debt capacity.

Ms. Cudmore will assume her role immediately.

Fitch and Moody’s Upgrade Washington County’s Bond Rating

As Washington County prepares for a bond sale issuance on May 12, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investor Service have upgraded the county’s bond rating for the General Obligation bonds.

As reported by the Hagerstown Herald-Mail,

Fitch has upgraded the county from AA to AA+ for general obligation, or GO, public-improvement bonds, while Moody’s boosted the county’s Aa2 rating to an Aa1 for GO bonds, as well as consolidated public-improvement refunding bonds, according to a county news release.

The upgraded ratings allow the county to borrow money at lower interest rates, as well as refinance previous bond issues and outstanding debt at lower interest rates, saving county taxpayers money in the process, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

…A summary from Moody’s stated that its upgrade “reflects the county’s ability to maintain its solid financial position, supported by strong fiscal policies and practices and healthy reserve levels, even in spite of recent tax base declines and increased funding for pensions.”

An article in the Business Wire, highlights the key rating drivers for FItch. A few are listed below.

STRONG FINANCIAL PROFILE: The rating upgrade reflects the county’s strong financial profile including revenue and spending flexibility as well as robust reserves in and outside of the general fund.

ADEQUATE ECONOMIC BASE: Employment opportunities are sufficiently diverse but are generally focused in lower-wage sectors including manufacturing, distribution, retail, and government. The county’s unemployment rate is slightly elevated and remains above the state and national averages. Wealth indicators are below state and on par with national averages.

FAVORABLE DEBT POSITION: Overall debt levels are low, amortization of principal is rapid, and county officials prudently analyze capital needs in the context of debt affordability guidelines.

AFFORDABLE OTHER LONG-TERM LIABILITIES: The county’s unfunded pension liability is low and should improve as the county moves to fully funding its actuarially required contribution (ARC) in fiscal 2015 and beyond. The county’s full funding of its OPEB ARC is a credit positive.

More information from the Fitch analysis can be found in the article.

MACo Endorses Innovative Self-Directed Investment Tool

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) in its continued partnership with the National Association of Counties and their Financial Services Corporation is pleased to endorse eConnectDirect® as an essential solution for members to manage their fixed-income investment needs. This proprietary tool, developed by Multi-Bank Securities, Inc. (MBS), gives county treasurers visibility to thousands of fixed-income offerings in a market with little transparency. It arms investors with the necessary tools and confidence to select and transact with the fixed-income marketplace.

econnectdirect_largeWhile eConnectDirect® allows customers to be self-sufficient, the service also allows them to work with licensed MBS account executives in a dynamic way – working side-by-side with clients on fixed-income investment decisions they wish to make or to answer any questions clients have.

eConnectDirect® offers access the following investment products:

  • U.S. agencies
  • Treasuries
  • Certificates of Deposit
  • Municipal Bonds
  • Corporate Bonds
  • New Issue and Secondary Bonds

Additional features of the platform include:

  • Quick and easy search and filter tools to allow for effortless navigation across multiple fixed-income markets
  • One-step market view via maturity ladder
  • “Request a Quote” – allows for bid/offer requests for any fixed income product with a CUSIP
  • Maturity alerts along with other customizable notifications
  • Certificate of Deposit insurance scrub
  • Consolidated position management tools and reports
  • Third-Party Research
  • Access to historical financial data for banks and credit unions
  • Customer support by a licensed securities representative
  • Free safekeeping/custodial solution

For information about how your county can participate in the eConnectDirect® program, contact:

Peter Torvik
Senior Vice President
Multi-Bank Securities, Inc.
ptorvik@mbssecurities.com
888.537.2056

Click here for an eConnectDirect® video demo

NACo News: Investing platform redefines how county treasurers do business

About Multi-Bank Securities, Inc.

Multi-Bank Securities, Inc. is an independent, veteran-owned, fixed-income securities broker-dealer that has been serving institutional investors across the U.S. since 1988. Member of FINRA & SIPC; MSRB Registered.

Calvert Commissioners Consider Tough Options to Balance Budget

Faced with a deficit in FY 2016 and beyond, Calvert County Commissioners consider four options to balance the budget – the use of fund balance, tax increases, furloughs, and reducing staff.

As reported by Southern Maryland Newspapers Online,

With the use of fund balance for one-time expenses, the county faces a $3,016,898 deficit in fiscal 2016. Without the use of fund balance, the deficit is $6,488,798, said Joan Thorp, deputy director of the Department of Finance and Budget.

To deal with the challenges, Thorp said, 10 days of furloughs, or unpaid time off, for all staff would mean a deficit reduction of $1.69 million in the coming fiscal year. It would be the first county furlough in history.

Another option would be to reduce the workforce, but there are regulations dictating which employees can be laid off.

The last option Thorp presented was “revenue enhancements,” or tax increases. Hejl said the property tax in Calvert County has not been increased since 1987. During this time, the median household income in Calvert County was about $30,000.

By increasing the income tax rate from the current 2.8 percent to 3 percent, it would result in revenues to the county of $2.3 million the first year and increase to $4.5 million the second year (the first full year). By increasing the real property tax rate from the current 0.892 per $100 of assessed value to 0.992 per $100 of assessed value, it would result in more than $11 million in increased revenues to the county. On a home valued at $275,000, this increase would mean an increase of $269 per year in real property tax, according to Tuesday’s presentation.

County Commissioners plan to hold a budget hearing on May 19 and adopt the FY 2016 budget on June 2.

The staff recommended budget for Calvert County can be found on the county website.

Washington County Bond Issuance Takes Advantage of Lower Rates

Washington County Commissioners have approved the issuance of $45 million in general obligation bonds to finance new projects and refinance existing debt. As reported by the Hagerstown Herald-Mail,

The five-member county Board of Commissioners voted to authorize the sale of bonds, not to exceed $44.9 million. That amount includes up to $15.4 million in “new money” toward infrastructure, public facilities, environmental and educational projects, as well as administrative issuance fees, according to Lindsey A. Rader, bond counsel for the county.

The county plans to refinance as much as $29.5 million in current debt to take advantage of lower interest rates. County Administrator Greg Murray said “the county could potentially save about $1.5 million in interest by refinancing past general-obligation bonds from 2005, 2007 and 2008.”

2015 End of Session Wrap Up: Finance and Procurement

This post summarizes the status of finance and procurement bills that MACo took a position on during the 2015 Regular Session.

Energy Efficient Outdoor Lighting Fixtures: HB 336 would prohibit State funds from being used to install or replace a permanent outdoor luminaire unless specified energy efficient lighting requirements are met. These new onerous requirements would apply to public works contracts of $500,000 or more, or to those funded with 50% or more in State funds.

MACo opposed the bill objecting to its mandatory nature and stating that it would limit qualified bidders and place more onerous requirements on the counties, increasing the costs of local contracts funded partially with State dollars.

FINAL STATUS: The House Health and Government Operations Committee voted the bill unfavorable.

MACo Testimony on HB 336

Contractor Occupational Safety and Health Plans: HB 404/ SB 279 would require a prospective bidder or offeror for a public works project over $100,000 to submit a public safety plan and an attestation that the plan meets certain requirements as part of the procurement process. The bill also requires the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR) to develop a safety and health calculation worksheet and rating system, and enforce the bills’ many new requirements.

As these bills were nominally the product of a workgroup that MACo participated in during the interim, MACo supported the bills with amendments to address additional concerns. Amendments offered would have increased the threshold to $1 million to better target higher risk projects and lessen the effect on smaller contractors, removed a requirement that a safety plan be submitted to a procurement official as part of the selection process, clarified that the completion of the safety questionnaire and additional safety measures do not impede work on a project, and protected local jurisdictions from any deficiencies in safety plans or safety-related issues that may occur at a worksite.

A Senate Finance Committee workgroup was appointed to work through concerns and amendments offered on SB 279, and MACo’s amendments were accepted. However, members still had reservations. The House Economic Matters Committee did not assign HB 404 to a subcommittee.

FINAL STATUS:  Both bills were voted unfavorable in their respective committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee.

MACo Testimony on SB 279 and HB 404

Open Space Incentive Program: HB 1091/SB 134 would establish an Open Space Incentive Program which would provide counties an annual payment of $250,000 for each unit of open space attributed to State forests, State parks, and wildlife management areas. One unit of open space is the equivalent of 10,000 acres. The payments that counties currently receive from a portion of revenues generated from State forests and parks are eliminated.

MACo supported the bill as it would serve an as incentive to counties to preserve their State forests, parks and wildlife management areas and provide a consistent revenue stream to offset losses in property tax revenues and fund the public services provided in these areas. A program has existed to provide some level of payment to counties with State forest and park lands through revenues derived from these areas, including net revenues from concession operations, but these payments have been reduced significantly over the past several years to balance the State’s budget.

As introduced, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2015 again reduced these payments by a projected $2.5 million. However, budget actions would restore these payments in FY 2017 contingent upon the passage of SB 134. To address the bills large fiscal note, SB 134 was then amended to apply only to Allegany and Garrett Counties. These two counties would receive funding through this new program, and other counties would continue to receive payments through the existing program beginning in FY 2017. If SB 134 did not pass, $2.5 million in funds would be restored through the existing program.

FINAL STATUS: SB 134 passed the Senate, but the House Rules Committee did not act on the bill to assign it to a standing policy committee. HB 1091 was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee, but no further action was taken. Since SB 134 did not pass, the $2.5 million in funds counties would have received through the existing park revenue sharing program will be restored.

MACo Testimony on SB 134 and HB 1091.