MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in support of Senate Bill 273, which addresses a longstanding funding shortfall to counties for their acreage of State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas.
MACo’s testimony states,
As amended, the bill would establish a Revenue Equity Program which would provide counties with at least 40,000 acres of State forests, State parks and wildlife management areas with State funding, allocated through an analog to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, in fairly wide use across Maryland. Beginning in Fiscal 2019, the State would pay the qualifying counties the amount they would receive in property taxes if the land were not government-owned. Five counties currently have at least 40,000 acres of applicable land and qualify for the benefits provided by the bill: Allegany, Dorchester, Garrett, Somerset, and Worcester.
SB 273 will serve as an appropriate incentive to counties to preserve their State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas. As State lands or designated wildlife areas, these properties are exempt from the local property tax, which is the counties’ top revenue source. These State lands comprise as much as 20% of the total land mass in some counties. Property revenues fund a large portion of county expenditures from which these lands benefit, including law enforcement, emergency management services, stormwater infrastructure, and roadways. Providing services to these areas without revenues for this specific purpose draws funds away from other parts of the county budget.
The following county members joined Zektick to testify in favor of this bill:
- Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine
- Somerset County Commissioner Charlie Fisher
- Executive Assistant to the Dorchester County Manager, Rebecca White
After a detailed introduction from bill sponsors Senators George Edwards and James Mathias, Governor Hogan’s Chief Legislative Officer and former Senator Chris Shank stressed the Governor’s support for the bill. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources also testified in support of the bill, clarifying that its passage would relieve any tension between the State and local governments concerning the purchase and development of additional State forest and park land.
Delegate Stephen Lafferty asked White about the income potential of State land primarily covered in marsh, where housing could not be developed. White and Commissioner Valentine testified that just because it could not house development did not mean that counties did not have to pay for services supporting the land. Delegate Andrew Cassilly followed up with a friendly question concerning the land value, and Delegate William Wivell drove home the point that any concerns about the value of the land would be addressed through the property assessment process.