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Hundreds Of New Jobs Come To Carroll County

If you are looking for work, you might consider checking out Carroll County. At least 350 new jobs will come to the county in the not-too-distant future, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. 

The latest in a series of business expansions includes Knorr Brake Co., a Carroll County rail transit systems manufacturer, which is adding 30,000 square feet to its corporate headquarters in Westminster and 200 new jobs over the next six years. It is investing $2.2 million in the expansion. Company President Rich Bowie said the company has nearly doubled in size since it moved to its current location four years ago, and he hopes to see it double again in the next five years. 

The expansion will receive a $700,000 conditional loan through the Maryland Department of Commerce Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund to assist with project costs.

The Business Journal reports that Knorr is just the latest of a number of expansions. CoastTec LLC, a power supplies remanufacturing firm, recently started new production in a 62,500-square-foot office, warehouse and plant operations space in Eldersburg. Strouse Corp., a manufacturer that has contracts with U.S. military and defense agencies, is expanding to a new 60,000-square-foot plant in Westminster and adding 25 new jobs, with the help of a $100,000 conditional loan from the state. Evapco Inc., a designer and producer of industrial cooling and refrigeration products, will expand its Taneytown headquarters with new $15 million, 160,000-square-foot building and 125 new jobs over the next five years. The state provided Evapco a $625,000 conditional loan and a $75,000 job training grant.

Baltimore County Passes $3.5B Budget Package That Holds Tax Rates Steady

The Baltimore County Council approved the county government’s $3.5 billion budget on Thursday, but the vote exposed a rare rift among council members.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Councilman Wade Kach voted against the budget after criticizing portions of the package and county policies. He cited what he described as the poor state of Dulaney and Towson high schools, declining SAT scores, spending on student laptops and staffing concerns at the county’s jail and 911 center.

“Budgets are all about priorities,” the Cockeysville Republican said. “As well as priorities, we need to look at the tax burden that’s placed on our Baltimore County residents.”

Kach estimated that each year, county residents pay about $185 more due to increased water and sewer rates and increased tax bills caused by rising property values.

Other council members disagreed with Kach’s comments. Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, praised the county’s steady tax rates and quality services provided to residents. Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, chimed in: “Amen.”

Afterward, Council Chairman Tom Quirk said it was “disingenuous” for Kach to criticize the final budget when he had not suggested any changes during the council’s budget deliberations.

“Not once did he motion for any cuts,” said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the main budget bill, with Kach as the lone dissenter. Two companion budget bills were approved 7-0.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and outgoing schools Superintendent Dallas Dance issued statements praising the council for passing the budget with no cuts.

“We continue to operate a government that is innovative, responsible and efficient,” said Kamenetz, a Democrat considering a run for governor next year.

Dance, who is leaving his post at the end of June, highlighted the “exemplary support” of the county council.

The budget will guide the county government’s spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Read the full article for more information.

Wicomico County Generates Big $$$ With Youth Sports Facilities

A Delmarva Now article (2017-05-24) reported that Wicomico County will host the Athletx organization in 2018 for the Youth Baseball Nationals. This new week-long tournament is expected to generate $5 million in revenues and joins several existing high-profile events that the County hosts, such as the Governor’s Challenge basketball tournament and the USSSA Softball tournament. The article noted that that County and State are investing $3 million to expand the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex which will host the tournament. From the article:

“We are now going to take that facility to the next level, and we’re very, very excited about that,” Director of Wicomico County Recreation, Parks & Tourism Steve Miller said. …

Jim Haddaway, CEO of Athletx said he was blown away by the new fields at Parker Complex and is committed to making it  a long-term home of these tournaments. …

With the new upgrades to the Parker Complex, paired with the general location and scenery of the surrounding area, Haddaway felt signing a contract with Wicomico County was a no-brainer.

“When I walked up this morning on this, I was blown away,” Haddaway said, standing on the turf field. “This turf looks beautiful, the surrounding area is gorgeous, you’re close to the beach – it has everything that we look for in a destination and we can’t be more than thrilled to bring our event here.”

The article discussed how the County has worked to attract several national events and the economic benefits they have brought. For example, the article noted that the USSA softball tournament has been in Wicomico County for the past 10 years and has annually averaged $17 million in benefits to the County economy. From the article:

“It’s important we retain the events we have, but we also want to expand. You look at the economic impact of those things and the numbers don’t lie. These events are on a national stage, we’re a small community on the Eastern Shore, but we’re attracting and retaining national caliber events, and that’s huge for our community,” Miller said. …

“We’re blessed in the state of Maryland that Wicomico County is the leader in the youth and amateur sports markets,” [Maryland Sports Executive Director Terry] Hasseltine said. “They are stalwarts in the community of Maryland; they’re also well-known and well-respected and appreciated on the national scene.”

While having the opportunity to play on a brand new field could be reason enough for some organizations to come to Wicomico, County Executive Bob Culver made sure Haddaway and other Athletx officials had the full “Eastern Shore experience” when pitching the idea to come to the Shore.

“We try to show them as much hospitality as we possibly can and give them the Wicomico hospitality treatment,” Culver said. “It’s showing that we are a player in a much larger scale in the state of Maryland.”

Caroline County Tackles Solar Siting and Tax Issues

Two work groups formed at the behest of the Caroline County Board of County Commissioners to study solar siting and tax issues held a joint inaugural meeting on May 25. The Work Groups heard information presentations from MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp and Open Renewables President Cyrus Tashakkori.

The Commissioners formed the work groups in response to several utility scale solar projects that have been proposed in the county and want to make sure that land use and tax structures are in place to properly manage such projects going forward. The membership of the work groups is drawn from different stakeholder groups and includes county, agricultural, utility, and energy developer representatives.

Tashakkori provided an overview of: (1) how solar panels work; (2) the construction processes for installing and decommissioning utility scale solar sites; (3) operational impacts of solar sites; (4) taxation issues; (5) the status of utility scale solar in Caroline County; and (6) best practices for utility scale solar. Knapp discussed: (1) how the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) application process works; (2) CPCN process changes due to the passage of the 2017 MACo legislative initiative on solar siting (HB 1350); and (3) factors and issues the work groups may wish to consider in their deliberations.

The work groups are expected to issue recommendations and options to the Commissioners at the conclusion of their work in several months.

Useful Links

MACo Presentation to Caroline County Solar Work Groups

Open Road Renewables Presentation to Caroline County Solar Work Groups

HB 1350 of 2017

 

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

Howard County Council Approves FY 2018 Budget

As reported by Howard County, Maryland,

County Executive Allan H. Kittleman today thanked the Howard County Council for passing the FY 2018 capital and operating budgets.

“This is the third year in a row that the Howard County Council has passed the budget 5-0 and I am particularly gratified by the collaboration and cooperation demonstrated during each process,” Kittleman said. “I want to thank Council Chair Weinstein for his leadership in ensuring a smooth budget review process over the last several weeks.

Kittleman said that despite modest revenue growth, this balanced budget holds the line on taxes while increasing funding for targeted priority areas and reflects “our shared priorities as a community, investing in new efforts and building on our progress” during the last two years to improve the quality of life for Howard County families.

“As we have in each of my previous two budgets, we have again provided more money to the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) than the mandated Maintenance of Effort level,” Kittleman added. “The budget fully funds teacher salary increases, special education needs, and restores 87 paraeducator positions and the new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position. Thanks to the efforts of the school board and Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano, we were able to work with HCPSS to advance the replacement of Talbott Springs Elementary and keep the 13th high school project on track.”

Other critical projects and initiatives included in this budget:

  • Launch of the 24/7 Education Initiative for programs tackling achievement disparities. Initiatives will help provide mental health services for children; provide summer food access in targeted areas; address critical performance gaps; and add a human services specialist to support the initiative, grants management and program development.
  • Support for mental health initiatives and substance abuse services, including $150,000 for coordinated efforts in fighting the opioid crisis and funding for site selection and design for a detox and outpatient treatment center.
  • Funding for a new human trafficking prevention manager to coordinate with county agencies involved in this effort.
  • Creation of the Community Resources Campus, bringing together county departments, the state Department of Social Services and many nonprofits at one central, conveniently accessible location.
  • Creation of the Howard County Innovation Center in Columbia Gateway to serve as a catalyst to attract private investments and expand the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship.
  • Funding to replace the aging Circuit Courthouse.
  • $4.5 million in PAYGO to continue progress on the 10-year backlog of road resurfacing projects.
  • Developing an implementation plan to revitalize the U.S. Route 1 corridor and expanding the Route 1 Tax Credit.
  • $1.8 million for flood remediation projects for Main Street Ellicott City and Valley Mede and $200,000 for planning, design and implementation of parking improvements for the Main Street area.
  • $1.7 million for Phase 3 of Blandair Regional Park, providing a playground designed for children of all abilities, a dog park, a picnic shelter and an area for backyard games and planning and design funds for a pool at the North Laurel Community Center
  • Funding for improvements to the U.S. Route 29 Pedestrian Bridge.

The approved budget also continues the Aging-in-Place tax credit and the expansion of the Senior Tax Credit to help residents stay in their homes. So far, more than 1,500 people have taken advantage of these credits.

Read the county press release for more information.

Council Approves “Surprise” Tax Cut In Wicomico

During its Thursday evening work session, the Wicomico County Council approved a series of spending cuts to enable a 1.1 cent reduction in the county property tax rate – the first such reduction in many years.

From coverage in the Salisbury Independent:

The County Charter allows the Wicomico Council to cut a County Executive’s proposed spending plan, and the seven members did just that on Thursday night, removing $684,783 from the fiscal 2018 budget.

Their unanimous actions mean county property owners will receive their first tax cut in recent memory, lowering the property tax rate by slightly more than a penny, down from the current 0.9516 cents per $100 to 0.9398 cents.

In a budget session unlike any since the creation of the County Executive form of government, council members appeared to arrive for Thursday’s session determined to cut some spending, reduce the amount of dollars the county places each year in its contingency fund and give cash to several priority school projects that were left out of the Board of Education budget.

The Council is scheduled to meet on May 30 and formally adopt its revised budget plan.

Fun Fact: Did You Know that Allegany County is Home to One of the Country’s Premier Music Festivals?

Del McCoury stands in front of the “Del McCoury Special”

Question: Did you know that Allegany County is home to one of the country’s premier music festivals? It’s true! DelFest, a world-class, family-friendly music festival, is celebrating its tenth anniversary in Allegany County. The music festival has become a major economic engine for the county – attracting 30,000 fans annually, all the while propelling Allegany County into the national spotlight.

Allegany County Commissioners William Valentine and Jacob Shade present the McCoury family with an official citation making them honorary residents of Allegany County

The festival’s founder, bluegrass legend, Grand Ole Opry member, and Grammy-award winning recording artist, Del McCoury, has made it a point to give back to the community. The DelFest Academy provides premier musical education to individuals of all ages and levels of musical ability. And, over the past ten years, The DelFest Foundation has contributed nearly half a million dollars to non-profit organizations in Allegany County.

In recognition of McCoury’s dedication to the county, the Allegany County Commissioners Thursday unveiled “The Del McCoury Special,” a newly restored passenger car on the Western Maryland Railway, named in honor of McCoury, his family, and fans of DelFest. The McCoury family was also presented with an official citation making them honorary citizens of Allegany County.

DelFest 2017 kicks off today and concludes on Sunday at the Allegany County Fairgrounds. For more information, visit www.delfest.com.

Do you have a fun fact to share about your county? If so, please send it to Kevin Kinnally to be featured in MACo’s weekly Fun Fact on Conduit Street.

Governor Hogan Vetoes Sick Leave Bill

Governor Hogan today announced he will veto HB 1 / SB 230, Labor and Employment – Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, a bill that would have required employers with 15 or more full-time employees to provide workers with at least five days of sick and safe leave per year.

Hogan had proposed a rival bill that would require paid sick and safe leave for businesses with 50 or more employees and provide tax incentives to smaller businesses that provide leave. Democrats rejected that approach, noting that large businesses typically already provide employees with paid sick leave.

The bill was passed by veto-proof margins in both the Senate and House of Delegates. But unless the vetoed bill is taken up in a special session of the legislature, sick and safe leave advocates will have to wait until the Assembly reconvenes in January for a potential veto override vote.

Governor Hogan announced that his administration will submit a “common sense paid sick leave proposal” as emergency legislation on the first day of the next session. He also said he will issue three executive orders. The first will create a study to examine all aspects of sick leave in Maryland, the second will extend paid sick leave to all contractual employees of the executive branch of state government, and the third will give employers that offer paid sick leave a preference in seeking state government contracts.

The legislation would have also required county governments to provide sick leave to all employees. While county governments generally provide generous benefits, at a much higher rate than the legislation would require, MACo opposed the legislation, raising concerns about the bill’s potential effects on provision of emergency and essential services and with the bill’s broad requirements for providing leave to part-time, seasonal, and contractual employees in the same manner as full-time employees.

Useful Links

MACo Testimony on HB 1

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Maryland General Assembly Gives Final OK to Democrats’ Sick Leave Bill

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Right-sized Sick Leave, a Goldilocks Debate

A New Way of Procuring Radios? Roger That.

It may sound quaint and old-fashioned to some, but for state procurement officials, purchasing radios is a current and vexing problem. State entities use radios and radio networks today for many reasons, including critical emergency services, expending millions of taxpayer dollars annually to procure radio technologies.

In a guest article featured in Route Fifty, the executive director of the National Association of State Procurement Officers shares how one state’s contracting improvements brought significant savings that materialized in multiple ways.

Route Fifty reports,

Even in the modern age of cell phones and social networks, you wouldn’t want a firefighter texting the stationhouse if you were involved in some type of emergency.

However, buying radios and the associated equipment is a challenge for procurement departments, who must balance the needs and wants of the users—police, fire and transportation, to name a few—and the complexity of the products against the ever-present need to keep costs as low as possible.

This is exactly the situation the state of Tennessee’s Central Procurement Office found itself in several years ago, when it had multiple, short-term contracts for various types of radios and maintenance agreements at fixed, and potentially non-competitive prices. Making matters worse, the contracts were limited and generally unable to keep pace with the dynamic radio market.

So, Tennessee officials created a new procurement process for radios that included several areas of innovation:

  • Three basic radios and maintenance contracts were consolidated into a single comprehensive contract covering all radio equipment, associated services, maintenance, infrastructure and test equipment;
  • Both manufacturers and dealers were allowed to offer product lines, thereby improving pricing through competition, while also ensuring end-user needs were met through  -expanding the product lines offered;
  • A second-tier bidding process allowed contracted vendors to compete on specific orders as needs were identified;
  • A flexible contract vehicle meant that new technologies or innovation in the radio market need not result in contract amendments;
  • Contract management issues were improved through the development of new key performance indicators (KPIs);
  • Asset management issues were improved through a new vendor-supported asset tagging program; and
  • Significant contract savings were achieved, including an 11 percent discount over previous pricing, and additional discounts through continual pricing negotiations.

These changes were accomplished due to the procurement staff’s recognition that more vendor engagement was needed if this contract was to maintain its utility over multiple years. The central procurement office established a broad-based stakeholder committee and ensured vendor input in the development of the specifications. The meetings that ensued with the vendor community were crucial in avoiding too-narrow specifications, maximizing vendor participation and competition, while still allowing agencies to meet their needs.

Broad vendor participation helped isolate true sole-source needs—something not uncommon in the radio space—from simple end-user preference.  The second-tier bidding process helps ensure that the detailed requirements inherent in each unique purchasing event are viewed by the entire vendor community, driving competition and lowering prices.

As a result of this process, many key service issues were resolved, as well. For example, one of the most important KPIs is the Warranty Expiration Report, which gives contract users a quarterly status update on when warranties, whether basic or extended, expire.

Through these contract improvements, significant savings materialized in multiple ways. Tennessee has saved nearly $2.4 million to date due to additional negotiations on large dollar purchases allowed by the contract. Similarly, among “apples to apples” product comparisons, the contract has yielded an 11 percent reduction on historical prices and contract structural improvements have resulted in dramatic time reductions associated with contract use.

Read the full article for more information.