“Last Day” Issues Wrap Up

April 12, 2011

As reported yesterday by MACo, a number of issues with county effect remained in play prior to the midnight deadline for the General Assembly session.  Below is an overview of how each of those bills ultimately played out:

Maintenance of Effort – As reported yesterday, three bills were awaiting  final action. MACo supported HB 44 and SB 53 as a legislative initiative, to expand and balance the process for considering county MOE waiver requests —and both bills stalled in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Status:  The bill that passed, HB 869,  delays the “penalty” for any county missing MOE but denied its waiver – withholding funds in the subsequent year, rather than the immediate year. The bill will become effective June 1, 2011.

Semiannual Payment Schedule for Business PropertyHB 463, was amended by the Senate to apply to businesses with property taxes that do not exceed $100,000.  The House concurred with the amendments and the bill passed and will become effective October 1 and will apply to all taxable years beginning June 30, 2012.

Ambulance Service Providers and Assignment of Benefits SB 154, which would require health insurers to reimburse an ambulance provider (must be owned, operated, or under the jurisdiction of a political subdivision or a volunteer fire company or rescue squad) directly for covered services passed both chambers.

Public Access to Electronic Records:  HB 37 / SB 740 alters the State’s Public Information Act (PIA) to address the release of public documents in electronic format.  The bill will require the State and local governments to provide records in a searchable and analyzable electronic format where possible.  Governments have the authority to remove “metadata” before providing an electronic document.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  SB 740 passed with a 2013 sunset that was added by the Senate.  The House initially rejected the addition of a termination date but later receded from its demand.  HB 37 did not pass.

Open Meetings Act Complaints:   HB 48, which was requested by the Open Meetings Compliance Board, sets a 1-year time limit for a person to bring an open meetings complaint before the Board.  It also requires local governments to post their meeting notices online and also physically post them at a publicly accessible location.  Finally, it repeals the requirement of a written notice.  MACo supported the bill.  Status: The Senate altered the 1-year time limit to 5 years but the House has rejected the Senate change.  The two sides were unable to resolve their differences and the bill failed.

Waste-To-Energy as Preferred Renewable EnergyHB 1121 / SB 690 would move waste-to-energy from a Tier 2 source to a Tier 1 source (a more favorable position) within the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  The House amended the both HB 1121 and SB 690 to also include refuse-derived fuel as a Tier 1 source.  The Senate accepted the amendment and passed SB 690.  HB 1121 did not pass.

Funding for School Aid, School Construction and DDA Wait List - SB 994/HB 1213 increase the tax on the sale of alcohol from 6% to 9 %.  The bills are in slightly different posture.  SB 994 provides $15 million to fund the Developmental Disabilities Administration waiting list, while HB 1231 provides $47.5 million for school construction projects across the State.   As specified in the budget, funds from this revenue increase are also being used for additional school aid in Baltimore City and Allegany, Garrett, and Prince George’s Counties.

Uses of Local Program Open Space Funds SB 421 extends the recently expired practice of allowing a local government that has attained its POS land acquisition goals to use all of its POS funds on recreational facilities and projects.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  The bill passed the Senate and encountered difficulties in the House.  MACo drafted amendments that specified that 25 percent of the funds could only be used for the following purposes:  (1) land acquisition; (2) repair or renovation of existing recreational facilities or structures; and (3) capital renewal projects (projects necessary to preserve the physical integrity of a facility or structure or to integrate two different phases of a phased-development project).  Both the House and the Senate passed the bill with the MACo amendments.

Unauthorized Signs on Highway Rights-of-WayHB 289/SB 410 would authorize removal of improperly placed signs on highway rights-of-way by state or local authorities, and authorize a civil action to recover costs of their removal or disposal.  MACo supported the bill because it would assist in the beautification of public roadways and provide reasonable authority for state and local governments to remove improperly placed signs.  Status: Both bills passed and will become effective October 1.

Towing Task Force Legislation: HB 356/SB 570 would implement the recommendations of the Task Force to Study Motor Vehicle Towing Practices. MACo raised concerns with language that stated that a motor vehicle towing and storage lienor may not sell the motor vehicle to which the lien is attached unless the lienor is licensed by the local jurisdiction.  MACo suggested that this language be amended to clarify that it only applies to those local jurisdictions that currently license towers, retaining the bill’s intended incentives, without a local mandate.  This amendment was not adopted.  Status: both bills died in conference committee on the last day of the session.

Motor Carrier Permits for Local Public Transportation Systems: HB 431/SB 402 would exempt a public transportation system established under the public laws of a county government or municipal corporation from the motor carrier permit required for a passenger motor vehicle used in the transportation of persons for hire.  Currently, local transportation systems are regulated by local government, the PSC, the MTA, and the Federal government depending upon the sources of funding used for operations.  MACo supported this bill to streamline and create efficiencies in the process.  MACo did however,  seek an amendment so the bill would also apply to local governments that entered into contractual arrangements with non-profit entities to manage and operate transportation systems on their behalf.  Status: SB 402 passed with MACo’s amendment and will become effective October 1.

Direct Deposit of Wages HB 233/SB 484 would authorize counties and municipal corporations to pay employees’ wages by direct deposit.  Status: The final version of the bill that passed (HB 233) would require direct deposit as a condition of employment and provide an opt-out for those individuals who do not have a bank account.  In addition, the bill was amended to grandfather those jurisdictions that currently may require direct deposit through a collective bargaining agreement, personnel regulation or local law.

Concussion Education and Treatment: HB 858 and SB 771 require school systems and youth sports programs to provide information about concussions to athletes, their parents or guardians, and coaches.  An athlete suspected of having a concussion or other head injury must be pulled from practice or play until cleared by a licensed health care provider.  MACo supported the bills with amendments that would clarify the bill’s notice and education requirements for local parks and recreation departments.  The amendments also clarify information that must be provided by youth sports programs when using school or local government-owned recreational facilities.  Status:  HB 858 and SB 771 were amended to become identical bills.  Both bills passed with the MACo amendments.


House and Senate Conferees Complete Work on the FY 2012 Budget

April 6, 2011

House and Senate budget conferees have completed their work to resolve the differences in each chamber’s respective FY 2012 budget plan (HB 70/ HB 72).  It is anticipated that both chambers will pass the revised budget by Friday.

As reported by the Washington Post, both sides have resolved differences over State employee and teacher pensions and retiree health care.

Under that compromise, state retirees will see their maximum out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs more than double, as well as other health-care costs rise, but not as much as they would have under a plan proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and largely endorsed by the state Senate. In 2020, the costs will more than double again when retirees are shifted to federal Medicare coverage. The course-correction on the state’s underfunded pension, meanwhile, will result in state workers paying a combined $200 million more annually through higher payroll deductions, and the state kicking in an extra $300 million. If the state realizes its projected annual rate of return of 7.75 percent, Maryland’s pension system will return to a federally recommended 80 percent solvency rate in 12 years, or 2023. Next year, Maryland’s state retirement system is projected to be funded at 59 percent.

A few items in the budget are contingent upon the 3% increase in the alcohol sales tax, which is in a separate bill, SB 994.  As reported by the Gazette.Net, the House will consider whether to support with the Senate’s plan to phase in the alcohol sales tax in over three years or to implement it all at once.

If delegates go along with the Senate alcohol tax plan, it would provide $21 million for additional education aid for Prince George’s County and Baltimore city, $5 million to reduce the developmental disabilities waiting list and about $3 million would go to the general fund. The Senate dedicated more money to developmental disabilities with the remainder going to the general fund. However if the House opts to raise the levy all at once, it could bring roughly $60 million more into the general fund.

Below is a summary of the major budgetary decisions with respect to local governments:

  • Rejected a transfer of 50 percent of teacher retirement expenses to local employers, but did approve a substantial (approximately $17m annual) cost shift for the administration of the system to schools and community colleges
  • Provided a one-time payment to counties (totaling $5 million) and municipalities ($8.2 million) for local roadways (county and municipality allocations)
  • Restored $58.5 million in education funding by increasing the per pupil foundation amount for each county’s distribution
  • Shifted 90 percent of costs associated with the assessment function (approximately a $35 million impact), but reduced the shift to 50 percent after two years
  • Rejected language that would authorize the Governor to flat fund programs on the FY 2012 level through FY 2016
  • Rejected significant proposed changes to the funding of Program Open Space and other programs currently supported by transfer taxes
  • Rejected proposal to permanently repeal the statutory requirement for “payment in lieu of taxes” for State forest and reserves, but discontinued the payments for two years
  • Adopted language to clarify that the calculation of withheld funds for a county missing MOE is based on the total increase in foundation funds regardless of the source of the funding
  • Adopted language to clarify the nature of the MOE funding mandate, specifying that MOE is a condition of receiving annual school funding increases
  • Adopted language to require local school systems to pay a share of costs of children in State custody who are placed in a nonpublic placement
  • Adopted language to authorize all county boards of health to establish fees for food service facilities based on actual cost of licensing and conducting related food safety inspections

A complete summary of all budget actions affecting local governments will be available soon.


Session Update: Parks and Recreation Legislation

April 5, 2011

This post summarizes the status of various parks and recreation bills that MACo either considered or took a position on.

Concussion Education and TreatmentHB 1HB 858, and SB 771 are similar bills that require school systems and youth sports programs to provide information about concussions to athletes, their parents or guardians, and coaches.  An athlete suspected of having a concussion or other head injury must be pulled from practice or play until cleared by a licensed health care provider.  Based on concerns raised by county parks and recreation departments, MACo supported all three bills with amendments that would clarify the bill’s notice and education requirements for local parks and recreation departments.  The amendments also clarify information that must be provided by youth sports programs when using school or local government-owned recreational facilities.  Status:  HB 858 and SB 771 were amended to become identical bills and both include the MACo amendments.  Both bills have passed their respective house and  are awaiting action by the opposite house.  HB 1 remains in the House and it is unlikely the bill will move as it would be duplicative of the two other bills.

MACo Testimony-House Bill 858

Land Preservation, Parks, and Recreation Plan (LPPRP) Shift to DNRHB 1025 / SB 849 is an administration bill that transfers authority to negotiate State Program Open Space (POS) acquisitions from the Department of General Services to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and consolidates State land use purchases for open space, recreation,  and other purposes under DNR.  The bill also transfers the responsibility of  preparing the LPPRP from the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) to DNR.  MACo took no position on the bill but became involved when the county parks and recreation departments sought to codify the existing practice of local consultation for the LPPRP.  Status:  MACo and the local departments met with DNR Secretary John Griffin, who agreed in a letter to sponsor a departmental bill next Session that would at a minimum require DNR to consult with the local departments on the LPPRP.  He also promised that a workgroup of State and local parks and recreation officials would review the provisions of HB 1025/SB 849 over the interim and make other suggestions or clarifications as needed.  MACo and the local departments accepted the Secretary’s proposal and dropped their request for amendments to this year’s bill.  HB 1025 and SB 849 have each passed their respective houses with identical amendments and are awaiting action by the opposite house.

Local Use of POS Funds: SB 421 would extend the recently expired practice of allowing a local government that has attained its POS land acquisition goals to use all of its POS funds on recreational facilities and projects.  DNR and MDP must certify that a county has attained its acreage acquisition goal.  The bill also removes a 5-year cap on the period of time during which the POS funds may be used for such projects.  Citing the added flexibility the bill would offer for a county that has met its POS land acquisition goals, MACo supported the bill.  Status:  The bill passed the Senate with an amendment adding a 2014 sunset (prior versions of the bill also contained a sunset).  The House has not yet taken action on the bill.   MACo Testimony


Senate Budget Committee Approves Budget Plan: Rejects Pension Shift, Agrees To One-Time Funding for Local Roads

March 25, 2011

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved its plan to modify the Governor’s 2012 proposed budget, concurring with a large number of the actions taken by the House.  As a part of their plan, the Senate Committee concurred with the House to restore funding for education, rejected a Department of Legislative Services (DLS) recommendation to transfer 50 percent of teacher retirement expenses to the local boards of education, and concurred with a one-time payment of $13.2 million to counties and municipalities, $5 million and $8.2 million respectively, for local roadways. The Senate Committee also concurred with the House to rejected a DLS recommendation to direct all transfer tax revenue, which funds Program Open Space (POS) and other land preservation programs, to the General Fund and establish a statutory minimum funding level for all programs of $50 million.

For county governments, one major difference in the House and Senate plan is the shifting of costs for property assessments.  The House reduced the shift to 50 percent of the costs, whereas the Senate committee adopted the full 90 percent shift as proposed in the Governor’s budget.  The Senate proposal would cost county governments roughly $35 million annually, while the House’s lesser version would cost counties only about $20 million a year. Like the substantial range of issues where the House and Senate have different approaches, this item will be sent to a conference committee to develop a final fiscal plan for both the operating budget (HB 70) and Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (HB 72). The Senate is likely to debate the budget plan on the floor next week, and the conference committee will begin work soon thereafter.

The Budget and Taxation Committee also included revenue from an increase in the alcohol tax.  After approving its budget plan, the Committee voted on a 3 percent increase on alcohol sales that would be phased-in over three years.  Revenue generated in FY 2012 would be used to fund developmental disabilities, a restoration of the disparity grant, and targeted education funding.

Other differences are in the areas of retiree health benefits and pensions, as well as a wide range of modest differences in state agency funding levels or restrictions.

Information outlining the difference in the House and Senate plans, as well issues remaining to be resolved, will be made available on the MACo blog in the coming days.  Press coverage of budget discussions can found at the links below.

MarylandReporter.com
The Daily Record
Associated Press


Appropriations Committee Approves Budget Plan: Rejects Pension Shift, Finds One-Time Funding for Local Roads, Reduces Assessment Shift

March 19, 2011

After a marathon 9 hour decision meeting, the House Appropriations Committee approved its plan to modify Governor O’ Malley’s proposed FY 2012 budget.  As a part of their plan the House Committee restored funding for education, raised motor vehicle titling and vanity plate fees to generate revenue for transportation, and modified other program reductions and transfers. The Committee also took actions to change retiree health benefits and modify the employee and teacher pension systems.

The Committee took the following actions affecting local governments.

Teacher Pensions – Rejected a Department of Legislative Services (DLS) recommendation to transfer 50 percent of teacher retirement expenses to the local boards of education. However, the Committee did approve charging an administrative fee to local employers (local boards of education, libraries, and community colleges) on whose behalf the State makes retirement payments.  The cost per employee is $163 and it generates $17 million in revenue.

Transportation Trust Fund and Local Roadways – Adopted a proposal to provide a one-time payment of $13.2 million to counties and municipalities, $5 million and $8.2 million respectively, for local roadways.  Motor vehicle titling and vanity tag fees are being increased to provide the funding.  The Committee also adopted a statutory provision to require a five year repayment plan for any future transfers of Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) revenues to the General Fund instead of a constitutional firewall.  Lastly, the Committee adopted DLS’s recommendation to “true up” or reconcile special fund and general funds within the TTF.

Flat Funding at the FY 2012 Level – Rejected a provision in the proposed budget that would have authorized the Governor to flat fund nearly all programs (with the limited exceptions of education, employee retirement, MARBIDCO, and the Rainy Day Fund) at the FY 2012 level for FY 2013 through 2016. MACo had objected to this provision as being overbroad and too long-term.

Assessment Function Shift – Modified the proposal in the Governor’s budget to transfer assessment costs to the counties to shift 50 percent of costs instead of the 90 percent as originally proposed.

Shift of Parole Cost – Rejected a DLS recommendation to require counties to reimburse the Parole Commission for the costs of conducting parole hearings and instead adopted language to implement a pilot program using a video conferencing system to hold local inmate parole hearings.  The following counties have been identified for the pilot: Allegany, Baltimore, Frederick, Prince George’s, and Washington.

Education, K-12 – Restored $58.5 million in education funding by setting the per pupil amount used in the education formulas, including GCEI, at $6,694.  In the Governor’s proposed budget, the per pupil amount was reduced by $150 from $6,749 to $6,599, but GCEI was funded at the full amount.

Education, Children in Nonpublic Residential Placements – Adopted a proposal in the Governor’s budget to require local school systems to pay for a share of costs of children in State custody who are placed in a nonpublic residential placement that provides education for the child.  Local cost is defined as the average amount spent by a county from county and State dollars for the education of a nondisabled child

Community Colleges – Adopted a DLS recommendation to reduce funding for community colleges by freezing the formula percentage at 18.5% of the per student funding amount for FY 2012 and 2013 and pushing out the full phase-in with a formula percentage of 29% until FY 2023.

Maryland Mined Coal – Restored the Maryland Mined Coal Tax Credit

Program Open Space – Rejected a DLS recommendation to direct all transfer tax revenue, which funds Program Open Space (POS) and other land preservation programs, to the General Fund and establish a statutory minimum funding level for all programs of $50 million.  Local governments would receive significantly less POS funding in FY 2013 through FY 2016.

State Forest and Park Reserves – Modified the proposal in the Governor’s budget to repeal the statutory requirement for payment in lieu of taxes for State forest and park reserves and Deep Creek Lake revenues to discontinue the payments only in FY 2012 and 2013 and restore the timber and Deep Creek Lake revenues.

Horse Racing Impact Aid – Adopted a DLS recommendation to delete horse racing impact aid to local jurisdictions, $1.2 million.

Food Service Facility Fees – House adopted language to authorize all county boards of health to establish fees for food service facilities based on actual cost of licensing and conducting related food safety inspections.


MACo-Supported Bill Giving Local Governments More Flexibility for Use of POS Funds Passes Senate

March 11, 2011

The Senate passed Senate Bill 421, a bill MACo supported which would give added flexibility to uses of Program Open Space (POS) funding for jurisdictions reaching approved land acquisition targets. Under the current POS law and practice, counties submit a local Land Preservation and Recreation Plan (LPRP), including land acquisition targets. If a jurisdiction is certified by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Planning, that it has achieved the goals set forth in its approved LPRP, it gains additional flexibility to use POS funds for capital improvement needs on POS-acquired lands.

The bill’s sponsors, Senator George Edwards and Senator Thomas McLain Middleton , are advocates of Program Open Space.

 


MACo Seeks Amendments to Student Athlete Concussion Prevention bill

March 11, 2011

On March 9, MACo supported with amendmentsSenate Bill 771 sponsored by Senator Joan Carter Conway, before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.  MACo’s Parks and Recreation Affiliate Chair and Talbot County Parks and Recreation Director, Rick Towle,  Howard County Recreation and Parks  Director John Byrd and Allan Harden, Superintendent of Sports, Howard County Recreation and Parks, suggested amendments to each bill to address problematic implementation issues for volunteer-run athletic programs, in terms of compliance with the bills’ requirements.

Senate Bill 771 would require the State Department of Education in collaboration with the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, county boards of education and certain athletic and brain injury associations to establish guidelines for the evaluation and management of concussion and head injury. The bill states that student athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion during play must be removed from play until cleared by a licensed health care provider.

MACo and the Parks and Recreation affiliate indicated a willingness to work with the bills’ sponsors on amendments to exempt volunteer-run programs until a verification and compliance framework can be put together that warrants their inclusion.  MACo offered similar testimony for two House concussion bills.


MACo Winter Conference Session-The Economics of Parks and Recreation

December 27, 2010

Local parks, recreational facilities and protected open spaces help make your community a desirable place to live, work and visit.   Your Parks and Recreation departments are a driver for economic development and they offer an exceptional array of services at little to no cost to your citizens.  While state funding for local acquisition and recreation projects has been cut severely and future funding is uncertain, and local departments are being asked to do more with less, the  community demands for recreation must still be met.  How does all this happen and why is it so important, especially in challenging economic times?

An overview of the state’s fiscal realities especially related to funding streams for local programs will be provided and experts from county and municipal departments will show costs and benefits and share best practices.

Moderator:

The Honorable Norman H. Conway
Chair, House Appropriations Committee, Maryland House of Delegates

Speakers:

Gary W. Mackes
Director of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism, Wicomico County

Thomas Shuster, CPRP
Director of Recreation and Parks, Town of Ocean City

David Roose
Director, Bureau of Revenue Estimates, Comptroller of Maryland

We hope to see you at this session.  There is still time to register.  Go to the MACo website.

 


Debate Continues on Safety of Artificial Turf Fields

August 30, 2010

An August 27 Gazette article highlights the ongoing debate about the safety of artificial turf fields for both people and the environment.

Depending on who is talking, synthetic turf fields are either the environmentally sound wave of the future or a yet-to-be-fully known threat to humans and the Earth.  …

As the debate goes on, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, still are measuring the risks that might be posed by direct and environmental exposure to chemicals in grass yarns and in crumbed tire rubber, widely used as infill “dirt” by various brands of synthetic turf fields.

Although most fans and detractors agree man-made turf fields have improved since the debut of “astro turf” in the 1960s — which was widely panned as unforgiving and more likely to cause injuries — concerns about high surface temperatures, abrasions and infections, as well as inhalable and absorbable toxins, persist. 

December 11, 2009 Conduit Street post on EPA study of use of recycled tire material for playgrounds and artificial turf fields

December 2009 EPA Study


County Governments Help Develop Two New Online Interactive Trail Maps – Check them out!

August 3, 2010

The Maryland Department of Transportation has released a new online tool of a comprehensive interactive trails map.  In response to growing interest in trails, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) led a comprehensive interagency planning effort to develop a long-term strategic plan to guide the implementation of a s trail network throughout the State. Many county governments, and in particular, experts from Parks and Recreation departments, worked intensely with the state over the past year to turn the plan into reality.   The beta version of the tool was demonstrated at MACo’s 2010 Winter Conference in January during the Parks and Recreation affiliate session.

The interactive trail map was designed to be a useful planning tool in identifying what transportation trails and connections exist and where some future connections might make sense.  The new program Maryland Trails: A Greener Way to Go. communicates a Statewide vision for Maryland’s trail network and provides a strategic approach to planning for future trail development.

Try the online  tutorial before you explore the map.

Another online interactive map was recently announced by state’s Office of Tourism. This  interactive tour map highlights unique local features, heritage trails, and destinations across Maryland. Take it for a spin and learn something new!


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