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Mayor Pugh Appoints New Police Chief

Citing the need to reduce violence and restore citizen confidence, Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh on Friday announced she is replacing Commissioner Kevin Davis as head of the City’s police force.

Deputy Commissioner Darryl D. DeSousa, the top commander in the police department’s patrol bureau, will take Davis’ place, effectively immediately.

According to a statement from Mayor Pugh:

“The fact is, we are not achieving the pace of progress that our residents have every right to expect in the weeks since we ended what was nearly a record year for homicides in the City of Baltimore. As such, I have concluded that a change in leadership is needed at police headquarters.

I firmly believe that Commissioner-Designate DeSousa has the ideas, approach and demonstrated track record that will enable him to lead an accelerated effort to get criminals off our streets, reduce violence and restore safety – and peace of mind – throughout our neighborhoods.

As one who has come up through the ranks, Commissioner-Designate DeSousa is widely respected by his fellow officers. Moreover, I have come to know him well during this past year given his leadership role in implementing the Violence Reduction Initiative and through our numerous other interactions.

I am grateful to Commissioner Davis for all that he has done to implement the initiatives underway to address violent crime at it root causes. I speak for the entire community in expressing our admiration and gratitude for his service to Baltimore and for his leadership of the women and men who put their lives on the line to serve and protect our citizens.”

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Carroll Commissioners Approve Preliminary Plan to Bolster Public Transportation

The Carroll County Commissioners unanimously approved a preliminary transportation plan that includes expanding the county’s transportation fleet and adding new routes to bolster ridership and streamline services.

According to the Carroll County Times,

Carroll is looking for 10 new vehicles from the Maryland Department of Transportation — six to replace aging buses, two to add as spares and two to expand routes.

If Carroll gets a few more vehicles, it can help to continue replacing buses that are aging with high mileage and help expand services, [Carroll County Public Works Deputy Director David Reese] said.

Carroll is also looking at adding 13 additional stops to reduce wait time, he said.

Carroll Transit System offers four routes called TrailBlazers, that are open to the public. The routes operate in Westminster, Taneytown to Westminster, South Carroll, and Eldersburg to Westminster. Door-to-door service or “Demand Response” is available in areas not currently being serviced by theTrailBlazers.

Through demand response and TrailBlazer routes, Carroll Transit System serves the general public, older adults, individuals with disabilities and students.

Citizens will have an opportunity to weigh-in on the preliminary recommendations before the Commissioners approve and submit the final FY19 transportation plan in March.

Read the full article for more information.

MACo’s Weekly County News & Notes… from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own Twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
Follow NACo
See Tweets on #mdpolitics

MoCo Among 20 Finalists for Amazon HQ2

Montgomery County along with 19 other metropolitan areas, have made the short list for Amazon’s 2nd North American headquarters.

Amazon received 238 proposals from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, but narrowed it down to these 20:

  1. Atlanta, GA
  2. Austin, TX
  3. Boston, MA
  4. Chicago, IL
  5. Columbus, OH
  6. Dallas, TX
  7. Denver, Co
  8. Indianapolis, IN
  9. Los Angles, CA
  10. Miami, FL
  11. Montgomery County, MD
  12. Nashville, TN
  13. Newark, NJ
  14. New York City, NY
  15. Northern Virginia, VA
  16. Philadelphia, PA
  17. Pittsburgh, PA
  18. Raleigh, NC
  19. Toronto, ON
  20. Washington D.C.

Amazon Press Release quoted Holly Sullivan, Amazon Public Policy:

Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity. Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.

Amazon’s final decision is expected this year, after they evaluate the proposals further.

The new Amazon headquarters will be equal to its Seattle office and is expected to create 50,000 “high-paying” jobs.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett released a statement January 18:

I am extremely pleased and proud that Amazon selected Montgomery County, Md. to enter into future discussions regarding locating their second headquarters. I want to thank Governor Hogan and his entire team for their strong support in helping to create a compelling case for the County.

 

State of the Bay Update: A Mixed Bag for the Chesapeake

The House Environment and Transportation Committee held a briefing on the state of the Chesapeake Bay on January 17, 2018. The “State of the Bay” briefing has become an annual fixture in the Committee. Presenters highlighted the positive progress that is resulting from Bay restoration efforts but also stressed ongoing challenges, including further reducing nitrogen run-off and addressing urban/suburban stormwater runoff, the Conowingo Dam, climate change, and Aligning for Growth.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Executive Director Alison Prost and Chesapeake Bay Commission Maryland Director Mark Hoffman were the primary presenters, with CBF Maryland Staff Attorney Elaine Lutz joining in to answer several questions posed by Committee members.

Prost noted that based on data through 2016, Bay grass coverage and dissolved oxygen levels were both up and 40% of the Bay’s segments under the Total Maximum Daily Load were meeting water quality standards – a record level. However, Prost noted that meant 60% of the segments were not meeting their TMDL targets and Bay states needed to collectively remove 50 million pounds more nitrogen by 2025 to meet the TMDL goal.

Prost noted that in Maryland, urban/suburban stormwater runoff is now a significant hurdle that must be addressed. Lutz explained that counties subject to Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) are failing to meet their permit goals. Lutz acknowledged that the time and complexity of completing stormwater remediation projects was playing a significant role in the county shortfall. Lutz noted that CBF was working with both the Maryland Department of the Environment and the affected counties to try to solve the problem before the next round of MS4 permits are issued. Lutz stated that more prescriptive and direct progress goals are needed in the permit while allowing for some local flexibility and that the goals should be based on number of pollutant pounds reduced as opposed to the amount of impervious surface treated. Finally, Lutz said that the new MS4 permits will also include nutrient credit trading.

Regarding septic systems, a chart Prost presented showed that West Virginia was doing better than Maryland in reducing nitrogen pollution from septic systems. Prost explained that in part that was because Maryland set “high and lofty goals” for septic reductions while West Virginia set lower targets and that the portion of West Virginia in the Bay watershed has less population than Maryland. Prost speculated that Maryland may shift some load targets from septic systems to other sectors as the state enters Phase 3 of Bay TMDL. Prost also noted that many counties have focused on hooking groups of failing septics up to public sewer in order to maximize their return on investment.

Hoffman touched on several issues that must be accounted for in the 3rd and final Phase of the Bay TMDL:

  • Conowingo Dam: Hoffman stated that the additional pollution running through the Conowingo Dam from the Susquehanna River will be accounted for in the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets. The pollutants will be addressed through a separate collaborative plan – the additional loads will not just be assigned to Maryland and Pennsylvania.
  • Climate Change: Climate change brings both negatives and positives to Bay restoration efforts. As more research is being conducted, climate change will initially be narrowly incorporated into the Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs). Actual loads based on climate change will be added in 2022-23.
  • Aligning for Growth: The Phase 3 WIPs and Bay Model will incorporate 2025 growth projections based on current zoning. These projections will affect the Phase 3 pollution reduction targets.
  • Funding: Hoffman noted that Bay state funding outstrips federal funding by a 3 to 1 margin but that federal funding remains critical to the success of the Bay TMDL.

Useful Links

Video of E&T Committee State of the Bay Briefing

Maryland Climate Change Commission Highlights Planned 2018 Actions, Local Engagement

The House Environment and Transportation Committee received an update from the Maryland Commission on Climate Change on January 18, 2018. The Commission panel discussed the current and future plans for climate change policies in Maryland. Commission panelists included: (1) Maryland Secretary of the Environment and Commission Chair Benjamin Grumbles; (2) State Treasurer and ex officio Commission member Nancy Kopp; and (3) Town Creek Foundation Executive Director and Commission Co-Chair Stuart Clarke.

Grumbles stated that the Commission is “bi-partisan, collaborative, and science-based.” Grumbles noted that the Commission was in 2007 through executive order and later codified in statute in 2015. The Commission has four working groups: (1) Mitigation; (2) Adaptation and Response; (3) Scientific and Technical; and (4) Education, Communication, and Outreach.

Grumbles stressed the climate change record of the Governor Larry Hogan Administration, including support for the work of the Commission, the recently enhanced power plant emission goals under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and the Governor’s recent announcement that Marylaad will join the US Climate Alliance. Grumbles also noted that Maryland is on track to reach its current goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 25% by 2025.

Grumbles also provided members of the Committee with the Commission’s annual report and highlighted three of the Commission’s proposed activities for 2018: (1) enhancing the greenhouse gas emissions inventory due in 2018; (2) a healthy soils initiative where the Commission would engage with the agricultural sector to adopt better carbon sequestration practices; and (3) remaining active in a multi-state climate initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Grumbles also stated that a new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act plan is due by the end of 2018 that will detail how Maryland can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030. Kopp noted the new plan will include 5-year benchmarks and measurable goals.

Delegate Stephen Lafferty noted that a lot of the Commission’s work requires or involves local governments. Lafferty asked how the Commission was engaging with and assisting local governments. Grumbles responded that the Commission has local government representatives on both the Commission and its working groups, works with local communities on energy and water infrastructure, and regularly presents at MACO and the Maryland Municipal League’s annual conferences.

Lafferty also asked whether any local governments have begun to do climate assessments to gauge climate change impacts on their jurisdictions. Grumbles responded that local leaders are developing strategies for mitigation, adaptation and resiliency, and renewable energy. Some strategies, like the one developed by Ellicott City, involves responding to past or potential future disasters. Kopp added that many counties are addressing the issues through land use and transportation planning. Kopp also suggested that MACo or local government representatives highlight some of the climate planning that local governments are doing.

Committee Chair Kumar Barve stated that utility scale solar is now economically competitive with natural gas and urged the relevant state agencies to consider how to incorporate utility scale solar into land use planning. Barve believed that there is enough space to accommodate large solar facilities without disrupting agriculture, other industries, or forestlands. Grumbles noted that various State agencies are working on this.

Useful Links

Video of E&T Committee Climate Commission Briefing

Maryland Commission on Climate Change Webpage

 

 

Forest Conservation, Renewable Energy Among Key Priorities at 2018 Environmental Summit

Once again it was standing room only at the 24th annual Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit as the environmental community unveiled its key legislative initiatives for the 2018 Session. The initiatives include: (1) reforming the Forest Conservation Act; (2) increasing the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and providing clean energy jobs training; (3) increasing the transparency of the Public Service Commission; (4) ensuring adequate funding in the State budget for environmental enforcement; and (5) enacting a statewide Styrofoam ban. The Summit was held on January 18, 2018, in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis.

Many of Maryland’s top elected and environmental officials made opening remarks. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; Speaker of the House Michael Busch, and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles all praised Maryland’s approach to environmental issues but each also highlighted an issue that remains an ongoing challenge. Miller mentioned environmental policy rollbacks and budget cuts happening at the federal level, Busch argued against offshore drilling, while Grumbles discussed climate change. House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve discussed energy issues and water quality and noted, “Stormwater is the fastest growing form of [water] pollution in Maryland.” Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Joan Carter Conway expressed her support of the environmentalists’ legislative agenda.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh directed his comments towards the federal government, characterizing the Administration of President Donald Trump as an “enormous threat” to the environment and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt as a “lapdog of the fossil fuel industry.” Frosh noted the many lawsuits Maryland has brought against the EPA and also criticized the recent federal offshore drilling proposals.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker made three key points in his comments: (1) Maryland environmentalists well organized; (2) forest conservation in Maryland must be strengthened; and (3) while there has been significant progress made in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, there is still much work that must be done.

Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions President Bob Perciasepe served as the keynote speaker and offered a national and global perspective on energy and climate issues. Perciasepe was followed by speakers from different environmental groups who each discussed one of the five environmental priorities for the 2018 Session. A more detailed description of each priority can be found in the Summit’s agenda (linked below).

Useful Links

2018 Environmental Summit Agenda and Priority Descriptions

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Maryland Environmental Summit

Hawaii’s False Missile Alert: Lessons Learned (Part 1 of 2)

Image result for Hawaii images map

Washington Post article (2018-01-13) reported that the state of Hawaii issued an emergency alert on January 13, 2018, that warned of an incoming ballistic missile attack. The alert turned out to be a false alarm but briefly caused a public panic until the alert was retracted 38 minutes after it was sent. While it was ultimately determined that the alert was caused by human error and failures in Hawaii’s emergency alert procedures, initial speculation raised the possibility that Hawaii’s emergency alert contact lists had been hacked or compromised.

MACo will examine the Hawaii alert situation and discuss how it is relevant to both Maryland and its counties in a two part blog article. Part 1 (this part) will discuss what happened and highlight the importance of protecting the contact information of residents. Part 2 will explore the shortcomings in Hawaii’s emergency alert system and provide lessons learned for Maryland’s local governments.

WHAT HAPPENED

The article noted that at approximately 8:07 am, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent the following cellphone alert: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The alert appeared to have been accidentally activated by an Agency employee during a shift change. While the Agency tweeted that there was no actual missile threat at 8:20 am, a second text alert retracting the previous alert was not sent until 8:45 am. The article stated that the message caused a brief panic in some residents and tourists while others appeared to have no idea what was happening. From the article:

“I literally sent out ‘I love you’ texts to as many family members as I could. It was all kind of surreal at that point,” [Honolulu resident Noah] Tom, 48, told The Washington Post. He made the difficult decision of turning the car toward home, where his two youngest children were. “I figured it was the largest grouping of my family.” …

 

Back on shore, there was no panic, just vacationers and others wondering why there was no immediate coverage on restaurant televisions or local radio.

THE AFTERMATH
Unsurprisingly the false alarm resulted in calls for a thorough investigation from both state and local Hawaii officials. The article indicated that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also plans to conduct an investigation. Both the Agency and other emergency management agencies throughout the United States plan on reviewing their alert procedures and if necessary making changes to avoid a similar situation. Part 2 of this series will examine the procedural and communication lessons the Hawaii incident poses to county emergency management agencies.
PROTECTING EMERGENCY ALERT CONTACT INFORMATION
While the cause in this particular incident was human error, it is also critical for states and local governments to protect their emergency contact information. As part of their 2018 legislative initiatives, both MACo and the Maryland Municipal League are introducing legislation to prohibit the release of an individual’s personal contact information (street address, email address, or telephone number) under the Maryland Public Information Act where that information was solely provided or gathered to create an alert, notice, or news distribution list. This prevents residents from being spammed with unwanted messages,  or worse, false alerts that are made to look like official notices. MACo believes this makes sense from both a security and privacy perspective.

 

MOST Center Videos Help Local Leaders Solve Environmental Challenges

The Municipal Online Stormwater Training (MOST) Center is pleased to release the first in a series of new videos designed to help local governments design innovative solutions for a variety of environmental challenges related to stormwater management and water quality. The MOST Center was created by a partnership between the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center and the Low Impact Development Center, Inc. and funded through a five-year National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant. MOST Center materials are available to local government officials online at no charge.

From an email announcement (2018-01-16):

The MOST Center is pleased to announce the debut of our newest video series “Local Leaders: Innovative Approaches to Solve Environmental Challenges” which showcases examples of local governments forging creative solutions to complex environmental problems. Featuring experts within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, these perspectives highlight ways that municipal leaders can defy long-held assumptions, build relationships with nontraditional partners, and push the envelope to achieve better results for their communities.

The first video “Inclusive Planning: Sharing Power to Build Resilience in Baltimore” features Kristin Baja, sharing her perspective as the (former) Climate Resilience Planner at the Baltimore Office of Sustainability. This conversation explores the city’s pioneering equity-driven approach to proactively engage those most affected by public policies. Discussing the city’s vulnerability to climate impacts along with the importance of power sharing, public accountability, and continuous engagement, Baltimore’s climate action planning process is a model for other jurisdictions seeking to partner in a meaningful way with private citizens to advance shared priorities.

In addition to its new video series, the MOST Center released a prior series on public-private partnerships.

Useful Links

MOST Center Videos for Local Leaders (must setup a free login account)

MOST Center Website

MOST Center Fact Sheet

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the MOST Center

Governor’s Proposed Budget: First Blush County Effects

The Governor’s proposed budget of $44 billion represents a 2 percent increase over the fiscal 2018 budget – and according to him, “responsibly holds the line on spending without raising taxes, cutting services, or raiding special funds.”

Most importantly to counties, the budget shifts nearly all costs of the State Department of Assessment and Taxation onto county governments – raiding county coffers, rather than “special funds.”  It makes counties responsible for 90 percent of all costs associated with assessment functions, information technology services and the Office of the Director.

Counties currently fund 50 percent of costs for assessment and information technology functions.  Nothing provides county governments any additional say in the management or oversight of these state functions – counties merely are invoiced for the costs.

The budget funds K-12 education at $6.5 billion, $100 million more than last year and in accordance with applicable statute. Community colleges receive $261 million through the Cade formula and grant funding. School construction projects total $365 million.

The budget includes $178.1 million in highway user revenues, in addition to $53.7 million in additional local transportation grants. This is approximately 8 percent more than last year, which included $175.5 million in highway user revenues and $38.4 million in additional grants. Last year, 23 counties received $12.8 million in grant money, after the legislature cut counties’ portion from the Governor’s proposed $27.4 million. This year, the Governor is proposing $27.8 million to those counties.

Like last year, this year’s the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) includes language to flat fund local health departments in fiscal 2019 at fiscal 2017 levels, at $49.5 million. Unlike last year, it does not flat fund local police aid.

 

The BRFA includes uncodified language on the last page which states that, beginning in fiscal year 2020 (so, not the upcoming fiscal year, but the year after), funding increases for all programs (other than specific K-12 education programs, Rainy Day Fund deposits, debt service payments and pension fund payments) are capped at 1 percent less than the reported amount of general fund revenue growth.

It also includes this provision to tie the General Assembly’s hands:

[T]he General Assembly may not enact legislation that creates a new required level of funding in the annual budget bill for a future fiscal year for a specific program or item or increases a required level of funding in the annual budget bill for a future fiscal year for a specific program or item unless it also enacts legislation at that same session that reduces or repeals an equivalent amount of required funding for the same fiscal year.