Counties Showcase Their Cutting Edge Programs at 2014 MACo Summer Conference

Maryland counties showcased some of their innovative and cutting edge programs at the 2014 MACo Summer Conference.

Counties on Cutting Edge

Dr. Emilia Istrate, Director of Research and Outreach for the National Association of Counties (NACo), introduced the discussion by highlighting some of the recent funding and economic development challenges counties have been facing nationwide.  She also introduced NACo’s new online County Intelligence Connection 2.0 interactive tool, which allows counties to access a variety of demographic and programmatic data and see how they compare with other counties.  Istrate provided a brief demonstration of the tool by tracking federal funding levels to counties.

Washington County’s Division of Environmental Management Director Julie Pippel presented the County’s public/private partnership with Green Kinetics Gateway LLC to create a prototype gassification plant that can create diesel and transportation fuel from solid waste.  The process can handle newly generated waste or “mine” existing landfill waste to generate the fuel.  The County is seeking to have the byproduct char classified as an inert substance that can be used as a filler.

Montgomery County Chief Innovation Officer Daniel Hoffman provided an overview of the County’s innovation program and focused on its recent award-winning SCALE project that provides Internet connected devices such as smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and motion sensors (to detect when a person falls) to vulnerable adults.  The connected devices can provide alerts to county public safety and health officials even if the individual home lacks Internet or WiFi.  He noted that the County built the program in 4 months for less than $15,000.

Queen Anne’s County Administrator Greg Todd discussed the County’s Economic Development Incentive Fund.  In order to spur economic development the County Commissioners proposed a slight increase to their recordation and transfer tax and dedicated the increase to economic development and protection of rural lands.  The economic development portion goes into the Fund, which dispenses grants and loans to businesses seeking to establish or expand in Queen Anne’s County.  The first round of 7 grants and 1 loan totaled  $754,000.  The County put the program together in less than one year.

Baltimore City Housing Department Deputy Commissioner of Land Resources Julia Day showcased the City’s blight elimination initiative – Vacants to Value.  The City has approximately 16,000 vacant residences and plans on demolishing about 10,000 unit and rehabbing the rest.  She explained how the City has done a block by block assessment of its vacants and developed a plan to address them.  The Vacants to Value program is data driven and focuses on addressing entire blocks and not individual houses.  The program helps relocate families trapped in blocks scheduled for demolition and sells the remaining vacants for private redevelopment.  Demolished properties are repurposed to provide other benefits, such as the creation of parks that also generate stormwater management credits.

Allegany County Coordinator of Information Technology Beth Thomas presented the County’s local broadband service, ALLCONET.  The County started the network  in 1996 for schools and government uses but was later expanded to businesses and many residents after private providers declined to offer services.  ALLCONET uses fixed wireless technology that can be easily expanded and remain operational in the face of a disaster or emergency.  Thomas estimated that ALLCONET saves the County over $160,000 annually.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger  moderated the panel.

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