On Thursday afternoon, January 19, MACo’s President Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Board Member Allegany County Commissioner William Valentine, Associate Director Barbara Zektick and Executive Director Michael Sanderson spoke to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on MACo’s 2017 legislative initiatives.
County Executive Kamenetz started the briefing by emphasizing the importance of strong and smart state funding for school construction, noting that counties budgeted well over $1 billion for K through 12 capital projects, while state funding totaled about $338 million. He testified:
Counties have pursued many different avenues to deliver high-quality updated schools on deadline, but the State school construction process sometimes provides unnecessary hurdles. Updating the approval process could take advantage of local expertise while reducing costly time delays. For example, shifting focus of the IAC away from review could save time and expense without sacrificing quality. School constructions projects could still be required to adhere to IAC policies and subject to compliance audits, without having to undergo timely, redundant reviews.
Commissioner Valentine asked for support for a Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland, calling attention to Maryland counties’ many infrastructure needs:
Every level of government hears the call for infrastructure investment. It creates jobs, attracts businesses, and improves quality of life for every Marylander.
Yet, Recession-driven cost shifts have left local roads and bridges in a state of serious disrepair. Water and sewer systems throughout our state require millions of dollars of improvements. You’ve already heard about the important and rapidly growing needs of our school buildings. With technology rapidly changing, many parts of the state still lack reliable broadband access.
In addition, it is unclear how our local call centers will successfully implement Next Generation 9-1-1, the important initiative aimed at updating our traditional 9-1-1 phone networks to address the fact that 70 percent of emergency calls are now made from wireless phones that cannot be accurately routed with existing technology.
Responding to a question from Senator Bill Ferguson, Commissioner Valentine drove home how important deploying high speed broadband access is for residents and students in his rural county.
Barbara Zektick discussed MACo’s other two initiatives, Energy Facility Siting and Balancing Release of Police Body Camera Video.
Michael Sanderson rounded out the briefing by highlighting that the Governor’s budget, while light on service cuts, does shift significant State agency operating costs onto counties – an issue which the Committee has seen tried before, and which warrants close attention.