Regional Council Developing Plan for Federal Broadband and Transportation Grants

The Executive Director of the Upper Shore Regional Council (USRC), Doris Mason, met with Cecil County council members earlier this week to discuss the need for an economic plan to bring in federal grant funding for broadband and transportation projects. The USRC is a planning council for Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s Counties.

As reported by the Cecil Whig,

A Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is needed before this three-county region can be considered for any funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Mason explained.

Mason laid out a timetable, which includes creating a strategy committee, developing a CEDS plan, getting that plan reviewed by the public and submitting it for approval.

The USRC could begin applying for grants next spring if the plan is approved.

MACo Discusses PIA Act, Government Liability Caps With State & Local Finance Officers

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp joined Montgomery County Attorney’s Office Division of Operations Chief Edward Lattner in addressing members of the Maryland Government Finance Officers Association (MDGFOA) on July 18 at their 2015 Summer Conference in Ocean City on Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA), open data, and government liability caps.

Lattner provided an overview of the PIA and highlighted specific PIA legal issues that budget and finance officers should be aware of.  Knapp focused on the significant changes facing the PIA due to 2015 legislation and the recent increase to State and local government tort caps.  Both men discussed the specific issue of citizens wanting to record interactions with government officials and answered questions from the audience.

The MDGFOA 2015 Summer Conference ran from June 17-19 and also included presentations on information security; internal fiscal controls; MACo’s shared other post employment benefits (OPEB) trust with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education; state and national budget and economic updates; the allocation of new pension liabilities to local governments in Maryland; public-private partnerships for stormwater management; and banking, payment and technology trends.

 

MACo Detailed Handout on PIA Changes for MDGFOA

MABE, MACo Tout OPEB Investment Trusts to Public Finance Officers

At the summer conference of the Maryland Government Finance Officers Association, MACo Executive Director and Trustee of MACo’s OPEB Investment Trust, joined Steven James from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education in discussing options available to government units to invest toward long-term retiree health liabilities.

OPEB (“other post-employment benefits” — mainly comprising health insurance coverage or subsidies for retirees, but not including pensions) are a substantial liability to most Maryland governments. Maryland law was recently changed to explicitly allow governments to invest funds toward these long term liabilities in the same manner as pension investments — but to do so, the funds must be placed in Trust and inaccessible by the host government for other uses.

Mr. James spoke about the benefits of the Investment Trust to its nine school board members. His Power Point presentation on the Trust details its growth, scope, investing philosophy, and returns to date.

Mr. Sanderson spoke about the MACo Trust, citing its availability to not only county governments but municipalities and county-funded entities like libraries, community colleges, and service districts.

For more coverage on MACo’s OPEB Trust, see Conduit Street’s announcement of its formation earlier this year.

For more information about MACo’s OPEB Trust, contact Executive Director Michael Sanderson at MACo.

Worcester County Assigned AA Rating for Upcoming Bond Issuance

As Worcester County prepares for a bond sale issuance on June 16, Fitch Ratings has assigned an AA bond rating for the county’s General Obligation bonds.

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

HISTORICALLY STRONG FISCAL MANAGEMENT: Prudent management decisions and adherence to fiscal policies have yielded solid reserve levels despite revenue declines experienced in recent years. The county also maintains a high level of revenue-raising flexibility.

PERSISTENT DECLINES IN TAXBASE: Taxable values have declined six straight fiscal years leading to a pressured revenue environment. Officials prudently raised property and income tax rates in fiscal 2016 to offset this decline and maintain county services.

MODERATE OVERALL DEBT BURDEN: The county’s overall debt burden is expected to remain moderate, given its manageable capital needs.

CARRYING COSTS ARE LOW: Carrying costs including debt service, pension and other post-employment benefits are low but expected to increase modestly as the county issues additional debt and pension costs rise.

SEASONAL TOURISM-BASED ECONOMY: The tourism sector remains a significant economic driver, vulnerable to economic cycles and contributing to seasonal employment fluctuations, although the county’s reliance on direct tourism-related revenues is modest. The county’s tourism industry has historically demonstrated resilience during periods of economic stress.

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

St. Mary’s Commissioners Request Accounting of Unspent Funds Tied to Building Projects

After unspent funds from construction projects were transferred by budget amendment to a reserve account, St. Mary’s County Commissioners are requesting an accounting of these funds and may explore potential uses.

As reported by Southern Maryland Newspapers Online,

On Tuesday, budget amendments were made that resulted in $5.5 million in unspent funds from building projects going into a reserve account.

Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) requested a roundup of all of county government’s reserve accounts. “I’m not interested in spending anything. I’m interested in finding everything and see what the total is,” he said.

He said the $5.5 million left over from construction projects is “way too much.”

Depending upon the amount of reserve funds available, Commissioner Hewitt commented that there may be money available for updating textbooks for the school system or establishing a fund where business owners and residents could take out low-interest loans for specific issues related to growth.

Other expressed concern with this concept.

I’d like to see the legality of” a possible pot of money to borrow from county government, Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said Thursday, as well as where else it has been done, and if it’s been successful.

“I’m cautious about loaning taxpayer dollars out to a startup fund,” he said. What happens if that business fails? “It’s the local people holding the bag,” he said. “There’s a reason why banks lend money.”

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.