MACo Advocates for Expansion of Clean Energy Loan Program

Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified in support of SB 173, Local Government – Clean Energy Loan Program – Commercial Property Owners – Renewable Energy Projects, on January 27, 2016 to the Senate Finance Committee.

Clean energy loan programs, first authorized in 2009, create a significant opportunity for local governments to help commercial and residential property owners reduce carbon emissions and improve the environment. When originally enacted, statutory language limited financing for commercial property owners to renewable energy projects with an electric generating capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts.

This bill would expand commercial financing options available through clean energy loan programs by removing the limitation that commercial renewable energy projects generate no more than 100 kilowatts.

MACo’s written testimony states:

Maryland has set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Larger scale renewable energy projects financed through Clean Energy Loan Programs could help the state meet these goals. Removing the limitation on the electric generating capacity of renewable energy projects could also serve as an incentive for more local governments to establish clean energy loan programs.

An identical cross-filed bill, HB 105, was heard on January 28 in the House.

For more information on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo: Additional Funding for Libraries Key for Full Economic Recovery

On February 4, 2016, MACo Research Director, Robin Clark Eilenberg, submitted written testimony to the House Health and Governmental Operations Committee in support of HB 144, Libraries – Regional, State, and County – Funding.

This legislation would provide additional funding for county libraries by accelerating increases to the library funding formula.

Maryland’s counties share funding responsibility with the State for our libraries and support additional resources for them. County governments directed more than $200 million of their operating budget general funds in fiscal year 2016 to supporting libraries.

From the MACo testimony,

Counties are proud to support libraries because they are an integral facet to a county’s ability to build community, and we would appreciate additional State support to help them further their aims. An acceleration in State funding will help libraries to continue to offer community services that are key to our full economic recovery.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

MACo Endorses Smarter Property Assessment Tech

Andrea Mansfield, on behalf of MACo, testified in support of SB 115, Property Tax Assessments – Inspection of Property, on February 3, 2016 to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

This bill authorizes the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) to use aerial or ground level photography or other similar technologies to perform property assessments. The use of these technologies will enable SDAT to operate more efficiently when assessing properties, which will ultimately improve the accuracy and timeliness of assessments.

Under current law, SDAT is required to perform an exterior physical inspection on all real property once every three years for assessment purposes. However, staffing levels have prohibited SDAT from meeting this statutory requirement.

SB 115 does not eliminate the three-year requirement. Instead it requires a review of each property every three years using either aerial / ground level photography, or a physical inspection.

An Assessment Workgroup (AWG), established pursuant to Senate Bill 172, Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2014, found that physical inspections are necessary on some periodic basis to ensure accuracies of assessments, but that new technology (oblique aerial photography) could be used to verify relevant property characteristics and update changes on properties without the need for a physical inspection.

As SDAT was just beginning a pilot on the use of this technology in Anne Arundel and Frederick Counties, the AWG recommended that no statutory changes be made to the time frame for physical inspections at the time of the final AWG report and that the issue be revisited at the conclusion of the pilot.

From the MACo testimony,

MACo understands that the pilot was very successful in both jurisdictions and therefore, supports the use of this technology to assist with the assessment process. This approach will create operational efficiencies and enable SDAT staff to focus on those properties that need a physical inspection and new properties to assure property assessments are accurate and timely.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

The “Mother Lode” of Local Government Financial Info

The Department of Legislative Services has released several reports that detail information on local governments, and local effects of the state budget. As always, these reports represent an extraordinarily valuable resource for county officials and financial managers.

Local Government Finances and Demographics

From the introduction:

The Department of Legislative Services has prepared this overview document to provide legislators and the public with a better understanding of the fiscal and social issues confronting local governments in Maryland. Topics discussed in this report include the following:

• Structure of Local Governments
• Demographic Indicators
• Local Government Finances
• Tax Rates for Local Governments
• Local Revenue Growth
• County Salary Actions
• Public School Funding and Student Enrollment
• Local General Fund Balances
• Local Debt Measures
• Balance of State Payments

Overview of State Aid

This report includes detail on virtually every component of state aid to local governments in the proposed FY 17 budget. Most areas are shown county-by-county, with comparisons to the prior year, and with additional analysis reflecting trends or changes important to the programs.

County Revenue Outlook

This report looks at local revenue sources and tax bases, with a variety of comparisons across jurisdictions and over time. Once again, the detail in these analyses makes the report deeply valuable for local professionals and policy makers.

Seat Belt Mandate Bill Triggers Big Cost Concerns

MACo Policy Analyst, Robin Clark Eilenberg, testified to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in opposition to SB 183, School Vehicles – Seat Belts – Requirements on February 2, 2016. The bill would require every school vehicle registered in Maryland to be equipped with seat belts for every seat in the vehicle.

MACo appreciates the bill’s underlying goal of improving student safety on school vehicles. The reason for MACo’s opposition is not the policy change; the reason is the cost of the mandate.

Maryland school boards do not have independent ability to raise revenue. They are completely dependent on county, state, and federal funding. As this bill does not reference any state or federal funding, it is a mandate that requires 100% local funding.

From MACo’s testimony,

Achieving the aims of the bill through either retrofitting existing school buses or purchasing new school buses has been estimated to cost more than $50 million. Without a State partnership to reach the policy aims of SB 183, this legislation represents an unfunded mandate on local school boards.

 For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

 

NACo Webinar: Applied Analytics – The Benefits of Spend Visibility in County Government: February 17, 2016

The National Association of Counties will be holding the webinar “Applied Analytics – The Benefits of Spend Visibility in County Government” on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 from 2:00 pm until 2:30 pm eastern time.

Did you know that county governments significantly understate their IT expenditure every year? Or that the average county already spends 75% or more of its money with small businesses? If you knew these to be true of your own county government, would they change how the county acts?

At the National Association of Counties, we recognize that every county in the nation is held politically accountable for the taxpayer dollars they spend. By contributing to the research being presented on this 30 minute webinar, we hope to shed greater light on how county government officials can use spend data to save taxpayer dollars, promote local economic growth, inspire confidence and manage risk, and create transparency within communities. The points raised in the research paper apply to every county, big or small, urban or rural, in every state.

Some of the findings surprised us. Some confirmed suspicions we already had. And some provided answer to questions frequently asked by county executives. NACo works constantly to identify, acknowledge, and offer solutions for the many challenges facing county executives, and we believe that this paper serves as an excellent addition to the list of resources we offer. This webinar represents the official launch of the “Applied Analytics – The Benefits of Spend Visibility in County Government” research paper.

Click here to register for NACo’s webinar. Questions? Contact Sarah Lindsay at 202.942.4228.

Harford Earns Triple-A Bond Rating

With a county’s bond rating an indication of overall fiscal planning and management, Harford County was pleased to have its general obligation debt rated “AAA” By Fitch Investor services – the highest rating available for municipal debt.

The highest bond rating assures that the interest rate fo the bonds, to be released on January 26, will carry a low interest rate – signifying the low risk of backing a well-managed and strong county.

For more detail on the Fitch analysis and rating sprocess, see a write-up on BusinessWire.com.

Upcoming NACo Webinars Focus on Grant Funding in Counties

The National Association of Counties (NACo) offers an array of timely, practical webinars for county officials and staff around the country.  There are a couple web-based education sessions focusing on grant funding offered in the next month.  To register, click the links below:

  • Making the Most of 2016 Grant Funding in Rural Counties
    Wednesday, January 20, 2016
    2:00 – 3:00 Eastern Time
    Small and rural counties are eligible for many of the same grant opportunities as more populous counties, and in some cases, being rural is an advantage in the competition for an award. In order to maximize the grant funding coming into your county, you need to know what’s out there and how to compete for it successfully.
    Join Grants Office CEO Michael Paddock and NACo Director of County Solutions and Innovation Dan Gillison for a review of the 2016 funding landscape for rural counties and tips for developing and implementing a comprehensive grantseeking strategy that makes your county stand out from other applicants and makes small size work in your favor!
    Register Now
  • Maximizing 2016 Grant Funding in Urban Counties
    Thursday, February 11, 2016
    2:00 – 3:00 Eastern Time
    Urban counties receive funding to address a wide range of issues from economic and community development to public health and transportation. But for those counties that are committed to a proactive grantseeking strategy, there’s a lot more available – for innovative projects, interagency coordination, community education, public safety, energy projects and much more.Join NACo as they review the 2016 funding landscape for urban counties and discuss tips for developing and implementing a comprehensive grantseeking strategy that multiplies the grant funding your county receives, while it inspires leaders to develop innovative approaches to meeting residents’ needs!
    Register Now

Don’t Miss the MDGFOA Conference on January 29, 2016 – Register Now!

The Maryland Government Finance Officers Association (MDGFOA) will hold its Winter Conference January 29, 2016 from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum, Maryland. MACo’s own Executive Director, Michael Sanderson, will be speaking in the Federal and State Legislative Update session.

MDGFOA logoSessions include:

  • State Treasurer Update
  • GASB Update
  • Briefing from the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation
  • The Economist Who Loved Me (Economic Update)
  • Federal and State Legislative Update

Register Now for the MDGFOA Winter Conference.

Click here to view the agenda and conference details.

Town of Bel Air Joins OPEB Investment Trust

A second municipal government, the Town of Bel Air in Harford County, has joined the MACo OPEB Investment Trust. The Trust, created to help local governments productively invest current funds toward long term liabilities for retiree health insurance.

Bel Air joins the City of Annapolis, Allegany County, the College of Southern Maryland, Queen Anne’s County, St. Mary’s County, the St. Mary’s Metropolitan Commission, and Talbot County as participating members.

For more information on the OPEB Trust, visit the Trust webpage, or contact MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson.