Baltimore City Council Considers Providing Tax Credit For Urban Farmers

October 1, 2014

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is lending her support to legislation sponsored by Baltimore City Council Member William “Pete” Welch to provide a tax credit for urban farmers.

In legislation pending in a City Council committee, Welch is seeking a 90 percent break on property taxes for urban farmers who grow and sell at least $5,000 of fruit and vegetables a year. The credits, which must be approved by the city’s Office of Sustainability, are good for five years, but can be renewed for a total of 10 years, according to the bill.

Welch has said he hopes the legislation will help eliminate the city’s so-called food deserts in which some neighborhoods have no access to healthy food nearby.

The Mayor held a press conference today in support of the legislation, which will heard in committee when the Council convenes this evening.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the new bill is needed because several urban farms in Baltimore are smaller than five acres and therefore do not qualify for a state-authorized tax break.


MACo Adopts 2015 Legislative Initiatives

October 1, 2014

At its October 1 meeting, the MACo Legislative Committee formally adopted the proposed initiatives for the 2015 session, a work product of the Association’s Initiatives Subcommittee.  The Initiatives Subcommittee met through the summer to refine and focus a list of 25 initiatives into no more than four, as required by the Association’s bylaws. With the upcoming election in November and potential changes in local elected officials serving on the Legislative Committee, the Legislative Committee will discuss and approve the initiatives again in January.

The 2015 Initiatives are a very proactive agenda which will span across all budget and policy committees of the General Assembly.  MACo will continue to advocate for local transportation funding and seek greater cooperation and investment in our schools. MACo has also responded to county concerns in other policy areas, adopting initiatives to address the growing drug problem confronting each county and build an efficient and effective pretrial system.

The items adopted as legislative initiatives are as follows:

Local Transportation Funding Restoration – With the recent expansion of transportation revenues, it is time for local governments to again play a more significant role in the State’s transportation funding plan. Many new State projects, including transit, have been added into the Consolidated Transportation Plan, while local governments have continued to struggle to maintain and preserve their roadways. MACo believes all avenues should be explored to restore local funding – the use of federal resources, the reallocation of funds should projects be delayed, and the reallocation of state highway user revenues back to local governments over time. MACo urges State policymakers to take the necessary steps to restore HUR and local roadway infrastructure.

Cooperation and Investment in Education – Counties have concerns that strict school funding laws may deter county investment of additional funding above required minimums and stem cooperation between county governments and school boards. Reducing funding disincentives may encourage county support for innovative pilot programs, and more fairly recognize short-term needs or investments as outside perpetual mandates. A smarter system for budget submissions to the State could mesh with county and school board budget processes, giving them a meaningful opportunity to consider reducing overall costs through joint administration of programs and other collaborations.

Broad Tools to Tackle the Drug Crisis – Drug-related deaths and crises continue to rise in epidemic proportions. Counties in all regions need support and coordination among state and local agencies, with appropriate local flexibility, to bridge remaining gaps. A customized approach is required as the diverse agents will require different forms of assistance. First responders will benefit from additional training and equipment. Public health providers will benefit from support to retain and expand treatment and preventative services. Citizens will benefit from increased access to life-saving medications and innovative policies to protect their individual and collective well-being. MACo advocates for comprehensive legislation and budget initiatives to address the growing drug problem confronting each county and the unique needs of their communities by providing broader and better tools.

Efficient and Effective Pretrial Functions – Counties urge the state to adopt effective measures to improve pretrial services in District Courts. A one-time $10 million earmarked to provide court-mandated counsel offers nothing more than a temporary effort. District Courts are seeing process backups, local jails face housing challenges, and counties anxiously await the unknown mid-year cost burden. An effective and efficient pretrial system requires investment in properly trained staff, improved communication technology, better tools for risk assessment, and assurances that the State will back up this new commitment. Counties urge the State to deliver a plan to resolve this vexing issue without overloading local jails with longer term pretrial holdings, or unfunded mandates to support programs or employees totally outside their control.


Frederick County Alters Development Fees For Areas Near Overcrowded Schools

September 26, 2014

A September 24 Frederick News-Post article reported that the Frederick County Board of Commissioners has approved increasing a variety of development mitigation fees for projects that would add new residential homes to areas with schools that over-capacity or near over-capacity.  The article noted the exact amount of the fee varies based on type of housing and type of school.  The article also explained that the fee was created in response to building moratoria created by school capacity adequate public facility ordinances.

The changes will lift the fee in most cases but lower the amount paid when single-family houses and town houses are constructed close to over-capacity middle schools. The fees are based on the cost of building new classroom space and the average number of students generated by each housing type.

The article also noted that some officials and advocates do not believe the mitigation fee is effective.

However, local education advocate Janice Spiegel said the fee will fall far short of meeting school construction needs and is setting the county up to worsen its overcrowding problems. Spiegel looked at a list of current residential projects and calculated that they will furnish the county with more than $160 million in impact and school mitigation fees. However, this amount is about $110 million shy of what the county would need to build or expand schools for students moving into these new houses, she said.  …

Kelly Weaver, the county’s assistant budget officer, said Spiegel’s calculations don’t take into account the money provided by the state for school construction. But Spiegel said the county shouldn’t bank on money from the state, which can be an unpredictable funding source.


U.S. Transportation Secretary Announces 2014 TIGER Grants

September 23, 2014

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox recently announced 2014 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants  totaling $6oo million for 72 projects across the country. From the Department’s press release,

The Department received 797 eligible applications from 49 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, an increase from the 585 applications received in 2013.  Overall, applicants requested 15 times the $600 million available for the program, or $9.5 billion for needed transportation projects.

Projects funded through this round of grants support the following goals:

  • Improving Access to Jobs and Creating New “Ladders of Opportunity
  • Reversing neglect by repairing U.S. infrastructure, enhancing quality of life and commerce
  • Supporting Game-Changing Local Initiatives
  • Helping communities plan for the future

Maryland received approximately $16 million for 3 transit and 2 roadway projects.

  • South County Circulator – Funds will be used to purchase additional buses for the Oxen Hill and Branch Avenue circulator routes and demand service to meet the ever-increasing needs of a growing community, and to reduce congestion and over-crowding on the current system.
  • Howard Street Livable Communities – This Livable Communities project involves the demolition of existing worn out shelters and replacement of light rail and bus shelters in the busiest transit corridor in Baltimore City, located along Howard Street.
  • Westport Transit-Oriented Development – The City of Baltimore and the MTA will develop the Kent Street Plaza and Pedestrian Corridor to expand bus ridership and access to the existing light rail system, strengthening the economically distressed community and the Westport Waterfront Project.
  • Hanover Street Bridge Plan – The Hanover Street Bridge Multimodal Corridor Plan will create a corridor plan to identify feasible methods of rehabilitating or replacing the Hanover Street Bridge, a nearly 100-year old bridge that connects the City of Baltimore to the Port of Baltimore.
  • Fort Meade Multimodal Accessibility Project – The MD 175 Fort Meade Multimodal Accessibility Project is a road widening project that would upgrade MD 175 from an existing two-lane undivided arterial to a six-lane divided arterial, complete with a trail, sidewalks, and on-road bicycle facilities.

St. Mary’s Median Household Income Drops 9 Percent

September 22, 2014

As reported by the St. Mary’s County Enterprise, St. Mary’s County’s median household income has declined by 9% in one year, dropping from $86,358 in 2012 to $ 78,233 in 2013.

Four years ago, the median household income in St. Mary’s County was $88,444, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was also the fourth-highest increase in the country from 2007 to 2010.

By 2013, though, that St. Mary’s figure had dropped to $78,233, the lowest in Southern Maryland, according to figures released by the Census Bureau on Thursday.

County officials indicate the economy and sequestration are affecting the median household income.

“This is economic reality now,” said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), a program manager for a defense contractor.

The economic driver in St. Mary’s is Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Its 22,000 jobs are said to account for as much as 85 percent of the local economy.

“2010 was our high-water mark” in median household income, said Robin Finnacom, acting director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development. With the latest figure at $78,233, “I think it’s the earliest indication of the impact of sequestration. It should be expected,” she said.


Gubernatorial Candidates Offer Different Views on Transportation Funding

September 17, 2014

An article in the Baltimore Sun highlights the differences between the two gubernatorial candidates and their approaches to transportation funding. From the article:

Anthony G. Brown brightens as he talks about building large transportation projects — including two light rail lines worth a combined $5 billion. To the Democratic nominee for governor, they are a key to creating jobs and stimulating Maryland’s economy.

His Republican opponent, Larry Hogan, has ice in his voice as he vows to block construction of Baltimore’s Red Line and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs. The GOP candidate sees the mass transit projects as expensive boondoggles that would use money that should be spent on fixing roads.

The article summarizes their differences as follows:

Hogan, Brown on transportation issues

Gas tax

Brown: Keep as is

Hogan: Roll back as much as possible

Purple, Red lines

Brown: Build as planned

Hogan: Halt construction

Priorities

Brown: Balance between transit, roads

Hogan: Shift toward road projects

Local highway aid

Brown: Restore gradually

Hogan: Restore in first budget

Both candidates addressed the restoration of local transportation funding during the Gubernatorial Forum held during the MACo Summer Conference.  As previously posted on Conduit Street:

Mr. Hogan pledged to fully restore local highway user revenues, averaging $350 million a year, to local governments in his first budget. Lt. Governor Anthony Brown commented that he is “committed to take steps to restore and evaluate the formula.”  He stated that his Administration would “sit down with local governments and work out an agreeable approach and timeframe to restore local transportation funding and develop a formula that would withstand good times and bad.”


Comptroller Franchot Calls For a Three-Year Hiatus on Tax and Fee Increases

September 17, 2014

As reported by the Frederick News-Post, Comptroller Peter Franchot has called for a three-year hiatus on increases in taxes and fees to help the state better recover economically.

On a visit to Frederick on Monday, Franchot said he keeps close watch over the state’s economic indicators, and he is not encouraged by what he sees. Last year, Maryland saw zero percent growth in gross domestic product, underperforming all states but Alaska and the District of Columbia. The state’s unemployment rates are still well above pre-recession levels, he said. Maryland also lags in private sector wage growth and has high foreclosure rates compared with other states, Franchot said.

These economic difficulties persist even with Maryland’s top-ranked educational system and proximity to the nation’s capital, the comptroller said Monday to The Frederick News-Post’s editorial board.

He also shared other suggestions to improve the State’s economic outlook.

…county and state officials should work on providing better customer service to businesses, he said. Finally, Franchot said, the state needs to be more vigilant about how it spends taxpayer funds.


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