Shortcut image

Legislative Issues: End of Session Wrap-Ups | MACo Initiatives | Bill Tracking | MACo Testimony | Issue Papers |
Committee Schedule

Hot Topics: Local Infrastructure Fast Track (LIFT4MD) | Transportation Scorecard | Justice Reforms | County Budgets | Education | Land Use | Transportation

Important Documents/Links: MD General Assembly
| MACo Testimony Summary | Budgets & Tax Rates
| Salary Survey | Local Finances | Spending Affordability

FY2018 Budget/Fiscal Links: County Effects | Fiscal Briefing | Two Year Charts | Overview of State Aid | County Revenue Outlook | Local Government Finances & Demographics

 

Deadline Set for Administration’s Decision in Federal Overtime Lawsuit

A Federal Court of Appeals grants the Trump Administration until June 30th to determine whether to continue defending a lawsuit that challenges an Obama-era regulatory expansion.

A federal court of appeals has granted the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) its third extension in defending a lawsuit challenging new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime regulations according to the HR Daily Advisor.

tipton
Commissioner Tipton of Mineral County, Nevada testifies in Congress on the new Department of Labor overtime rule.

The National Association of Counties has advocated against the new regulations, with county officials testifying that the costly changes could negatively affect the ability of county governments to provide key services.

As reported by the HR Daily Advisor,

A lower court temporarily enjoined the rule last year and the Obama administration appealed that order. Now, the Trump administration must decide whether to continue with that defense.

Citing lack of leadership—specifically, a secretary of labor—the DOL has now requested and received three delays, giving it until June 30 to make a decision.

 

As described by HR Daily Advisor,

The rule, which was scheduled to take effect December 1, 2016, would have required employers to pay overtime to employees earning less than $913 per week (which amounts to $47,476 annually). The change would have more than doubled the existing threshold.

States and business groups challenged the rule in court and a federal district court judge granted a preliminary injunction, temporarily halting the rules just days before their effective date.

For more information, see 3rd Delay: Trump’s DOL to Address Overtime Rule by June 30 from the HR Daily Advisor.

 

For prior coverage, see these posts on Conduit Street:

Maryland Gets High Scores for Public Health Preparedness

State bests national average in survey ranking preparedness for public health emergencies.

Maryland scored a 7.5 — above the national average of 6.8 — on the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index, a nationwide report designed to “assess preparedness for ‘community health emergencies’.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

On a 10-point scale, Maryland rates 7.5 for its efforts to prepare for and respond to such emergencies, according to the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

The index is compiled annually by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to assess preparedness for “community health emergencies.”

The foundation looks at more than 100 measures, such as monitoring food and water safety, flu vaccination rates, and numbers of paramedics and hospitals. The measures are grouped into six categories that are given a ranking on the 10-point scale.

Maryland came in better than the national average of 6.8.

Maryland also outranked most of its neighbors: West Virginia (6.7), the District of Columbia (7.0), Pennsylvania (7.0) and Delaware (7.2). Virginia also scored 7.5.

Vermont scored highest at 7.8, while Alaska ranked as least-prepared with a score of 5.9.

Maryland scored best for the ability to mobilize resources to deal with a health emergency, where the state earned a 9.3.

For more information read The Baltimore Sun and the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

Rural Maryland Council Announces MAERDAF Call for Proposals – Deadline June 9, 2017

The Rural Maryland Council (RMC) is now accepting proposals for the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF). The deadline to submit a proposal is June 9, 2017. The application process has changed this year. Please see details below.

RMC logoFrom RMC’s announcement:

The Rural Maryland Council is proud to announce for Fiscal Year 2018 the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF) Call for Proposals is now open!

The application process is a little different this year. Phase One of the application process requests a proposal which includes organization information, applicant and project point of contact information, scope of work, and project goals.

Please visit http://rural.maryland.gov/maerdaf_rmpif/ to access instructions, guidelines, and the Call for Proposals form.

Deadline for Call for Proposals is June 9, 2017, 11:59pm.

For Fiscal Year 2018, the RMC is particularly interested in proposals that address the following:  Agriculture, Energy, Rural Broadband, Healthcare, Youth Engagement and Workforce/Economic Development. Regardless, the Grant Review Board will give full consideration to any application that is submitted.

Join them in-person for two in-depth information outreach sessions on our two grant programs, the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF) and the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund (RMPIF), including past recipients, requirements, eligibility and application process.

This is a great opportunity to have your questions answered in a friendly setting prior to embarking on the application process. Plus, lunch will be included! Please be sure to register on their events page here.

If you have any questions, please contact them at 410.841.5772 or rmc.mda@maryland.gov.

Anne Arundel School Board, Unions, Agree to Increase in Drug Copays

As part of an effort to curb health care cost for the Anne Arundel County Public School System, three of the schools’ unions agreed to increases in copays for some prescriptions drugs to save the school system about $400,000. The three-year agreement starts in 2018.

As reported by The Capital Gazette,

The school system’s health care fund has faced about a $20 million deficit in the past two years. Medical costs rose and the school system has been expanding its staff. Earlier this year, the school system transferred $2 million from a surplus fund to pay for health care. County Executive Steve Schuh also transferred $5 million from the county budget to help pay for health care for school employees and avoid drastic actions, such as furloughs and layoffs.

Schuh and school officials have said they need to shift some costs of the health insurance to employees to make the fund sustainable.

The agreement between the school board, Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, the Association of Educational Leaders, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees increases copays for preferred prescription drugs to $20 and non-preferred brand prescriptions to $35. Those unions represent teachers, administrators and maintenance workers respectively. Generic drugs will continue to cost $5.

School staff that belong to those three unions now have copays of $15 for preferred brands and $25 for non-preferred brand.

Under the plan, a new tier called specialty prescriptions, which are defined as injectables with the exception of insulin, would have a copay of $50 in 2018, $65 in 2019 and $75 in 2020.

The agreement also allows specialty prescriptions to be redefined after Jan. 1, 2019.

School officials’ effort to curb costs include an agreement with CareFirst that saves the school system $16.9 million over a three-year period, starting in 2018.

County officials are also asking the State Board of Education to allow the county government to make a one-time allocation of $22.5 million for school health care costs for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This would exempt the school system from the state law that requires the level of per-pupil funding in one year to be matched in all subsequent years.

The state agency is expected to respond by the end of the month.

Read the full article for more information.

Wicomico County’s Budget Proposal Benefits from Real Property Base

Wicomico County Executive Culver has presented his proposed operating budget to the County Council.

download
Wicomico County’s proposed operating budget total is a 6.2% increase over the current year’s budget. 

As described in the Wicomico County Budget proposal, a continued increase in the County’s net assessable real property base and a positive trend in employment support county investments in services, while allowing the county to maintain current tax rates.

Here are a few highlights from the budget as described in the budget summary and as reported by the Salisbury Independent:

Total Operating Budget

  • “The budget formally presented Tuesday to the County Council totals $143.7 million, a 6.2 percent increase over the current year’s budget of $135.2 million,” according to the Independent.

Education Funding

  • The budget satistifies the maintenance of effort requirement for the county, including an increaseof more than $1 million required by the maintenance of effort escalator.

Taxes

  • Tax rates remain unchanged in the proposed budget.

Government Employee Salaries

  • Eligible employees will receive a 2% COLA and Communications Operators will receive a salary increase.

For more information, see Culver unveils $143.7 million spending plan from the Salisbury Independent and the proposed operating budget for Wicomico County.

Howard County’s Proposed Budget ‘Holds the Line’ on Taxes

Howard County Executive Kittleman has presented his proposed operating budget to the County Council.

Here are a few highlights of the budget from the budget summary document.

Screenshot 2017-04-21 08.52.04
Howard County’s $1.58 billion proposed budget maintains tax rates while providing extra funding for education.

Total Operating Budget

  • “$1.58 billion, a 5.6 percent growth from last year’s budget. . . Excluding one-time resources (use of prior fund balance for one-time expenses), the proposed General Fund budget represents an increase of $39.3 million, or 3.7 percent over FY 2017.”

 

Education Funding

  • “This proposed budget includes a $572.2 million direct appropriation for HCPSS, $10 million higher than prior year and $2.3 million above the required Maintenance of Effort (MOE) level.”

Taxes

  • “As with the Capital Budget, this budget was carefully prepared to address our residents’ priorities and our county’s challenges while holding the line on taxes and incorporating a fiscally prudent approach.”

Government Employee Salaries

  • “This budget provides funding for a well-deserved cost of living increase and step increments for general county employees and for negotiated salary increases for employees covered by collective bargaining agreements. The budget also continues our effort to convert contingent employees who work full-time hours to full-time positions with full benefits. To date, we have converted 49 positions and the FY 2018 budget will continue that effort.”

For more information, see the entire proposed operating budget for Howard County.

St. Mary’s Parks Director Brian Loewe Resigns

 

 

 

 

 

St. Mary’s County news release (2017-04-19) announced the immediate resignation of the County’s Recreation and Parks Director, Brian Loewe. From the release:

Brian Loewe, Director of St. Mary’s County Recreation and Parks, has resigned his position effective immediately.

Loewe headed the department since April 23, 2012 after arriving from Charles County, where he served in various positions, including Sports Program Coordinator and Parks Manager.

“I would like to thank St. Mary’s County Government for the opportunities that were provided to me over the past five years as director of Recreation and Parks,” said Loewe. “I’d like to thank the Recreation and Parks staff for their hard work and dedication during our time together.”

“I’m saddened to learn of Brian’s decision to resign as head of our Recreation and Parks department,” said Commissioner President Randy Guy. “Brian brought a number of innovative programs to the department and was a champion of recreation programs throughout the county. I join my fellow commissioners in thanking him for his service to St. Mary’s County and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Former Recreation and Parks Manager Arthur Sheppard has agreed to serve as interim Recreation and Parks director effective April 24.

 

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:

For more news and information:

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

Conduit Street Q&A with 2016 MACo President John Barr


The Conduit Street Q&A is our opportunity to get closer to the policymakers and public leaders who affect Maryland and its counties. We’ll ask questions about the person, the policy, and the politics – and let their answers bring you valuable insights on the biggest issues of today and tomorrow.

This week, we catch up with Washington County Commissioner & 2016 MACo President John Barr.


MACo: Commissioner Barr, this exchange feels a little formal for someone who has become such a part of the MACo “family,” but we thought it would be good for readers – including those who don’t know you – to hear a bit about the role as MACo President and what you brought to it. Thanks for joining us.

So, we’d like to start before your time with MACo. You’ve been in private business for years, but pretty engaged in the community. What got you interested in civic life, and giving back to the local community?

Barr: I became active in civic life at a young age. I can still remember delivering vegetables and sweet corn alongside my Grandfather in the east side of Hagerstown when I was a teenager. Later, when I joined the family business, serving the community and giving back to others was a key component of our work to be a good corporate citizen.

MACo: And you found that type of engagement rewarding?

Yes. In fact, when I look back, many of my greatest and fondest memories are serving on the Boards of the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Habitat for Humanity, and numerous charitable organizations that benefit our community.

John and Grandkids
Commissioner Barr and his wife pose for a family portrait with their grandchildren.

MACo: Years ago, you also decided to run for office. What made you step over the line from community involvement to politics?

Barr: Well, having been involved in the community, I was appointed to the Washington County Election Board of Examiners and Supervisors in the early 2000’s. On the Election Board, I especially enjoyed helping enfranchise senior citizens through absentee and provisional ballots. Once I visited a gentlemen that was over 100 years of age and had voted in every election since 1920.

MACo: So, it was through your participation in the Election Board that your were tempted to run for election yourself?

In a way, yes. After serving four and a half years on the Election Board, I was bit by the political bug and I decided to enter the race for County Commissioner. My campaign netted the most votes in the race, meaning I also became the President of the Board of County Commissioners in my first year in office.

Ellsworth Electric - John F. Barr and son Jonathan Barr
Barr, pictured here with his son Jonny, is the President of Ellsworth Electric, a family-owned business with a long history in Washington County.

MACo: Your first run for office was a bit tumultuous. Care to share?

Barr: By the time I ran for public office, I had served on many Boards and participated in several community-interest projects. The time I’d spent in the public eye led my opponents to say I was using money, power, and influence to run my campaign. This was difficult, but then in the height of campaign season, I had another challenge to surmount, this time a physical one: I hit a deer while riding my motorcycle and sustained multiple injuries.

MACo: That must have been a shock. . . How did you manage your campaign following the accident?

Well, I kept going. Less than a week following the accident, which had me in the hospital for five days, I was sitting on a stage of potential candidates with a head full of staples and stitches, two black eyes, and a broken shoulder. I will never forget one of the incumbent candidates asking me what I was doing there. I replied that serving the people and representing our community was not a job for the faint of heart.

John F. Barr, far left, served for more than ten years on the Washington County Board of County Commissioners.

MACo: That was quite a start to your political career!…So now that you’ve been in office for ten years plus, worked with three Board of County Commissioners, and have seen lots of things come and go in Washington County. What are some things you are most proud of back home?

Barr: Looking back over more than 10 years as a Commissioner, there are highs and lows, joys and disappointments. The biggest reward has been working with the many fine, talented individuals Washington County government. I have also developed rewarding relationships, and found opportunities for growth and personal development on each Board of County Commissioners that I have served.

MACo: Any particular projects that standout?

Yes, I see bringing major employers, such as Potomac Edison, back to Hagerstown and Washington County as achievement. Enhancing relationships with the City of Hagerstown, eight other municipalities, the school board, the sheriff’s office and others is another tremendous accomplishment. These advances make Washington County a better place to work, live, and play.

MACo: Okay, now a bit selfishly we’d like to turn to MACo. After serving a while in county government, you started coming to MACo Legislative Committee meetings, and soon after that got elected to the Board of Directors. What did you find in MACo that was worthwhile?

Barr: Through MACo, I met new colleagues from across the State of Maryland. I found the diversity of county elected officials exciting, and I began to see MACo as a way to serve in a new, broader capacity.

MACo: Tell us more about your first impressions, what was it like to start attending MACo meetings as a newcomer?

I will never forget arriving at MACo for my first meeting: everyone asked me where I spent the night because in their opinion it was impossible to travel from Hagerstown to Annapolis for a 10 a.m. meeting without coming the day before. Truth be told, prior to even leaving Hagerstown that morning I spent an hour at my private business and an hour at county offices, and I was still in Annapolis with time to spare!

job
Cutting the ribbon to the exhibitor hall at MACo’s Summer Conference. Commissioner Barr’s tenure as President was a period of growth for MACo’s corporate partnerships.

MACo: Little did you know how often you’d be making the trip in the future…You took the reins as MACo President in 2016, and on top of the many trips to Annapolis during that year, one of your first goals was to get out to visit every county before the Summer Conference. Why was that important to you?

Barr: Coming from a county on the westernmost corner of the State, I was eager to reach out to all county governments, and Baltimore City. Prioritizing the visits allowed me to continue MACo’s role in developing relationships between county elected officials statewide. Accomplishing all of the visits before the MACo Summer Conference set the stage for a productive and successful Summer Conference and I think may have had a connection to our record turnout, too.

MACo: What was your impression of your colleagues from across the State? 

Commissioner Barr speaks with Delegate Wilson of Washington County. Photo courtesy of The Herald-Mail.

Barr: The county visits impressed on me the extent to which local elected officials all serve with heart. They all have a passion for doing good, and a willingness to improve the quality of life in their local communities to allow Maryland to be the best that it can be.

MACo: Any key policy takeaways from the county visits?

Yes, definitely. Across the state, I heard a common message: counties simply cannot keep up with proper road maintenance at the current, historically low, funding levels.

MACo: That’s certainly been a front-and-center topic for MACo over the past few years; but it must’ve been different to hear it directly from your colleagues, and to observe road maintenance issues while travelling statewide, too. Any other topics of common concern?

I also realized the extent to which our State’s geography affects not only my home county, but many others. In Washington County, we are very aware of cross-border pressures on our businesses and services. At its narrow point, the county spans less than two miles from the West Virginia and Pennsylvania borders. But over the course of my visits, I saw that these border issues arise in every part of Maryland. Many of us compete for residents and businesses with surrounding states who offer a dramatically different mix of taxes, regulations, labor standards, and quality-of-life offerings.

MACo: What did you do with the feedback you received?

Throughout my travels, myself and MACo staff documented what we heard in our meetings. After all twenty-four visits were complete, I wrote a three and a half page letter to the Governor describing the points of universal concern among county governments that had emerged. While visiting the State House around Christmas, Governor Hogan acknowledged the year that MACo had in 2016.

barr walker pickrum.jpg
Commissioner Barr shares a laugh with MACo Board Members, Commissioner Pickrum of Kent County and Council Member Walker of Anne Arundel County.

MACo: Sometimes we hear that MACo’s membership is so diverse – with big and small counties, with suburban and rural settings – that it must be hard for us to agree on anything. What did you sense from talking with elected officials from every corner of the state?

Barr: MACo’s diverse membership means that there will be some challenges, however there are more opportunities for agreement than one may think. In my experience, local government officials generally share three common goals: public safety, public education, and public infrastructure.

MACo: In the year that you were President of MACo, what did you find was the best way to bridge gaps?

When it comes down to it, we are all passionate about serving others and do so with great enthusiasm, energy, and heart. In most of our visits I found that my colleagues wanted to chat, ask questions and have dialogue well beyond the allotted scheduled visit time frame. Many followed-up in phone calls and writing. Sometimes just lending an ear can bridge what may perceive to be potential differences.

barr hogan.jpg
Commissioner Barr developed a strong working relationship with Governor Hogan during his time as MACo President.

MACo: You also developed quite a relationship with Governor Hogan. How did you two “click” so well?

Barr: As the incoming President of MACo, I had the opportunity to spend nearly three hours speaking with Governor and Mrs. Hogan at my inaugural banquet at MACo’s Winter Conference in Dorchester County, Maryland. With that evening as a starting point, we had an open dialogue on many topics throughout my year as MACo President.

MACo: Sometimes MACo’s position align with the Governor’s Office, and other times not. How did you maintain that initial connection throughout the year’s policy developments?

I think that being open-minded, available, hardworking, and respectful of his time helped to sustain our working relationship. Also, the ability to discuss policy matters from the standpoint of being a businessman and an electrician, in addition to being an elected official, helped our connection. For example, on the topic of school construction, I was able to speak with the Governor about costly contracting practices I had observed firsthand, and share how these costly practices pressure county budgets.

MACo: So, with your year in MACo’s top job behind you…how would you describe what MACo has to offer to newly elected officials or those who have not been as involved as you have?

Barr: MACo’s position in Annapolis and its commitment to representing the interests of all twenty-four local jurisdictions in Maryland is superb. MACo is blessed with tremendously talented and hardworking staff and concerned and dedicated elected officials.

MACo: Any advice for elected officials looking to become more active in MACo?

I would urge all county elected officials to participate in the MACo Legislative Committee as a member or an alternate while in office. Serving on the MACo Legislative Committee, I have seen respect and comradery develop across both sides of the aisle, and between representatives of urban and rural interests. It has been a life-changing educational opportunity.

Also, through attending Summer and Winter Conferences and taking advantage of other educational offerings, county elected officials become better government servants and better stewards of the public.

MACo: Thank you for your kind words and everything you have done and continue to do for Maryland counties and our association. We look forward to continuing our relationship with you!

LGAC Calls For Maintaining Federal Bay Funding

The Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) added its voice to the chorus of advocates calling for at least maintaining the current level of federal funding ($73 million) for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts. Under President Donald Trump’s proposed FY 2018 budget, Bay funding is zeroed out.

From a letter (2017-04-04) LGAC sent to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council:

We are writing to request your support in advocating for maintaining EPA Chesapeake Bay Program funding at the current level of $73 million. …

The elimination of funding for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, as proposed in the President’s 2018 Budget Blueprint, will limit our ability to protect healthy waters, put a halt to many local water protection and restoration initiatives, and threaten the scientific integrity of the restoration effort.

Local governments throughout the watershed are investing millions of dollars to protect and restore local waters. Bay Program funding and other federal programs such as the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, along with state funding, are vital to our success.

We know you share our understanding that a healthy Chesapeake Bay is an economic engine for our region and a critical resource for our nation and hope that we can count on your support of our efforts.

LGAC is an advisory body created in 1993 that provides input the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on building relationships with and providing assistance to local governments regarding environmental services and programs, including Bay restoration activities. LGAC’s membership includes local elected and appointed officials, state representatives, environmental interest groups, and labor interests.

Useful Links

LGAC Letter to Chesapeake Bay Executive Council

EPA’s LGAC Webpage