MACo 2022 County Innovation Award Winners Champion Agriculture and Public Safety

MACo’s County Innovation Award was established to recognize superb and leading-edge county programs that improve overall quality-of-life and service delivery for a county’s residents.

The Honorable Ingrid Turner, Prince George’s County Circuit Court Associate Judge, MACo Past President, and former Prince George’s County Council Member instituted this award during her term as MACo President in 2012. The award is now a collaboration of the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance and MACo, with support from the Local Government Insurance Trust.

The County Innovation Award is issued to an urban county and a rural county each year. All nominees were impressive, addressing issues in their communities and serving the needs of residents in ways that were truly “outside the box.” Contact information is provided below if you would like to learn more about each nominated program.

MACo and the Academy for Excellence in Local Governance are pleased to announce our two award winners and share information on all nominees, as listed below.


Rural – The Upper Shore Agriculture Microgrant Program (Queen Anne’s, Cecil, and Kent Counties)

The Upper Shore Agriculture Microgrant Program is a collaborative effort, spearheaded by the Upper Shore Regional Council, between Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties. Now entering its third year, the program has been successful in improving our regional food system by creating a cohesive relationship between the economic development offices, farmers and agricultural enterprises within the upper shore region. The Ag microgrant program continues to enhance access to fresh food in our rural communities while opening doors to resource sharing and partnerships throughout the upper shore, ultimately helping to create a vibrant and economically sustainable rural community.

The Microgrant program provided an avenue to focus on key economic development objectives as well as address several important community issues within the Upper Eastern Shore. Agriculture and related industries are a key economic development focus in the region and the grant funding allowed for collaborative outreach as well as supported agriculture innovation and growth opportunities. In addition, the program was also successful in improving access to fresh foods in rural areas addressing known food insecurities. Funding also supported several projects focused on sustainable farming practices and innovations that can be shared across the industry.

Urban – Baltimore City Vacant Building Rooftop Collapse Detection

Vacant buildings in Baltimore pose a serious risk to residents’ health and well-being. In January 2022, three firefighters lost their lives when a vacant building collapsed on them. In partnership with the Data Science for Social Good research group at Carnegie Mellon University, the City is using aerial pictometry of the City and artificial intelligence to identify collapsed rooftops. The information from this model will be integrated with our computer-aided dispatch to alert first responders of potentially dangerous structures before they arrive on scene and will support the City’s prioritization of vacant buildings for demolition.

The City of Baltimore has approximately 14,000 vacant buildings. Many of these buildings have deteriorated to the point of having rooftop damage or collapse. These particular vacants represent some of the most dangerous to residents, and among row houses structural issues tend to spread to neighboring row houses. However, for a first responder arriving at a structure or a housing inspector in front of the building, it is not always readily apparent whether there is rooftop collapse given their line of sight. By identifying which buildings have a collapsed rooftop using aerial imagery, the City can now provide the information to first responders through computer-aided dispatch so that safer decisions and approaches can be used at these dangerous structures. Further, the Housing Department can target structures with collapsed roofs for emergency demolition or otherwise prioritize them for remediation or demolition. The outcome for the City will be increased safety for residents and first responders and will contribute to longer-term community development through blight remediation.


Allegany County Department of Emergency Services

At the end of the 1990s, Allegany County’s emergency medical system resembled all the rural counties in Maryland. In that system, Allegany County’s only full-time paid staff operated the local 911 center. Meaning that residents were heavily depending on volunteer rescue squads to respond to an emergency. Over the last two decades, however, state-provided resources have not been enough to solve the challenge of the declining number of qualified local EMS clinicians – and maintaining an acceptable response performance. Allegany County began filling gaps in the local system with paid EMS clinicians, but, like so many small jurisdictions, it was running uphill against declining performance results. To provide quality of life and service to our county’s residents, we have completely rejuvenated Allegany County Department of Emergency Services out of necessity to maintain and improve public safety in Allegany County.

Charles County Business Growth Advantage Program (BGAP)

The COVID-19 pandemic affected small businesses in Charles County – from businesses losing revenue to some even having to close their doors, the pandemic proved to be a lifechanging event for businesses across the globe. Many of our small and micro businesses struggled to even keep their businesses alive. While we all witnessed this worldwide economic loss, the Charles County Economic Development Department was dedicated, determined, and committed to helping Charles County businesses to successfully emerge during and after the crisis. To assist our small business owners access capital to stay alive during the heat of the crisis, the Economic Development Department mobilized a massive outreach initiative – the business development team called small businesses in the County to assess their needs, find a solution and assist them with the necessary documentation needed to apply for grant funding. The business outreach team quickly identified the unreadiness of some of our businesses to apply for and get approved for grant funding (local, state, and federal). Many of the smaller/micro businesses did not have their financial records in order, did not understand the necessary documents needed to be operational, and were not in good standing with the state of Maryland. It was then determined that with the right type of capacity building training, our local businesses will thrive, and be ready to access the necessary funding to stay alive, to grow and expand, and flourish. To address the issues at hand, the Chief of Business Development, Lucretia Freemen-Buster, developed a robust training program – called the “Business Growth Advantage Program” or BGAP – for small business owners specifically, micro, small, minority, women, and veteran owned businesses. BGAP is an eight-week, compressed business management training program. The first cohort started February 2022. The curriculum covers: Business challenges small business owners face. Building a sustainable organization’s infrastructure. Leading people & planning for growth. Marketing & selling B2G, B2B & B2C. Accounting, Legal, Human Resources, Taxes & Insurance. Preparing for capital & essential financial documentation.

Charles County Whole of Government Equity Program

Over the previous three decades, Charles County’s population has consistently been among the fastest growing in Maryland, driven largely by its proximity to the nation’s capital, affordability, and quality of life factors. However, the make-up of its population has not remained consistent, but rather changed considerably over that same period with the African American population increasing from 26% to 50% and the White population decreasing from 68% to 40%. Ideally, a county government work force reflects the diversity of the community it serves. However, with employee policies that have stressed the retention of quality employees with policies that included encouraging hiring from within, a focus on participative decision-making, and attractive pay and retirement benefits, employee turnover has been relatively low and the pace of workforce demographic change has significantly lagged behind that of the citizenry. As such, the Charles County Whole of Government Equity Program was designed and has developed to eliminate unconscious bias, increase the diversity of voices heard, ensure equity is intentionally incorporated in decision-making, increases opportunity for all members of the community, and instills a confidence in local government programs, policies and practices.

Queen Anne’s County Project Bright Future

The issue is students are being directed to college pathway which has caused a shortage in skilled workforce. This program brought the community leaders, business community, public schools, college, and elected officials together to bring awareness to this issue and shared the opportunities available. One of our business owners was able to make a cash donation and create a Marine program by asking Yamaha to donate an engine to the program. To date that program is at capacity with students and Yamaha has continued to donate additional engines. This program is now self-sustaining.

Wicomico County Increasing Trauma Informed Care

In 2021, the Local Management Board conducted a community needs assessment, which found through data collection, that Wicomico County has a death rate due to suicide 25% higher than the state of Maryland and that over half of Wicomico County residents have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), while 64.2% had more than one ACE. In response, the Local Management Board initiated a program using funding from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victims’ Services that provided Trauma Informed Care training and TF-CBT certification. When Jaime Riley began as the Director in the summer of 2022, she reviewed the program and decided there was a better way. Jaime revamped the project and instead of providing the funding to one agency, Jaime began planning a change, the result of which is that Wicomico County LMB has been able to offer Trauma Informed Care training now to 40 behavioral health and substance use clinicians, in one training alone, with trainings planned throughout the remainder of the fiscal year. Additionally, she began working with Kennedy Krieger, and was able to offer TF-CBT certification training to any Wicomico County provider that wanted it. There are currently 5 separate agencies signed up for the TF-CBT training, potentially impacting over 5 times as many children and families in Wicomico County.

Wicomico County Little League Challenger Division

This program allows Lower Shore residents who would not be able to thrive on traditional teams to enjoy playing the game of baseball. Games are typically one to two innings long and last about 45 minutes to an hour. All players bat and play the field. Field 7 ½, which features a small turf field that is wheelchair-accessible, along with accessible dugouts, is the first of its kind on Maryland’s Lower Shore. In its inaugural season, spring 2021, Wicomico County Recreation & Parks’ Challenger program hosted four teams – two in the Little League Challenger Division and two in the Senior League Challenger Division. The Little League Challenger Division is for players ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in school, and the Senior League Challenger Division is for players ages 15 and up. The program was offered at no cost to participants. For the second season, in 2022, participation had increased 51% — there were 59 players, along with 46 volunteer buddies.


Anne Arundel County Youth Government Academy

A collaboration with Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation (AAWDC), the County Executive’s Office, and multiple departments and agencies, the Youth Government Academy is a six-week, paid summer internship that connects youth to county government and offers essential job skills training in their field of choice.The program meets two needs within the county: to provide paid internship experiences for young people who need job skills training and to introduce youth to careers in public service. The goals are to increase knowledge of, and engage more youth with, county government. The academy was designed to teach youth about leadership and government services using multiple learning modalities. In 2021, the program’s first year, 10 participants observed county operations during several site visits, met with department directors, engaged in reflective discussions, and completed a small group project. The content of each activity focused on 3 C’s: community engagement, COVID’s impact on our work, and career opportunities. AAWDC provided professional development activities. Students self-assessed their knowledge and skills prior to and after the program and provided meaningful feedback for program evaluation. As a result, we modified the academy in 2022 based on their request to add an employment experience. Thirteen students participated in a work experience in our inspections and permits, emergency management, fire, detention, and health departments. Additionally, interns were involved in curricular-based activities similar to the previous year. The culminating activity was a participant-led, interactive session with the County Executive’s leadership team that demonstrated what the youth had learned.

Baltimore County Commercial Revitalization Action Grant

The CRAG program filled a large void in local dollars that business and community organizations needed to address locally identified projects and initiatives to encourage more business success and to attract more residents into the commercial districts.

Baltimore County ICARE (Integrated, Community, Assessment, Referral and Evaluation)

EMS clinicians have a unique opportunity to assess, evaluate and initiate referrals for people with unmet social and medical needs. A large percentage of EMS calls are related to quality of life issues or social service needs rather than emergency medical needs. In order to address these issues Baltimore County Fire Department created the Office of Integrated Health with the goal of integrating existing and creating new resources to assist vulnerable populations to thrive in the community. The ICARE program was established to identify community partners with a shared goal of population health to work in collaboration to address health needs in Baltimore County. Agencies met and provided an overview of their individual programs and services. Discussions resulted inan ICARE referral form that accelerated the process and access to care and services to individuals. Training was provided to EMS supervisors and ongoing conversations continue with agencies and private agencies to identify future planning and recognizing needs in the community.

Baltimore County Midge Control Program

Baltimore County with cooperation from Maryland Department of Agriculture implemented a midge control program in the spring of 2022 to suppress the midge larvae in 1,200 acres of tidal water in Back River. Bti is a naturally occurring bacteria that is found in soil, and is only harmful to certain organisms, specifically midge, black fly and mosquito larvae and a few other aquatic flies. It does not harm people, fish, crabs or other aquatic invertebrates. It is a spore-forming bacterium that specifically targets midge larvae at particular times in their life cycles. Once ingested by the midge larvae, it produces endotoxins that cause mortality. Research demonstrates that Bti is non-toxic to other species, people, mammals, birds, fish and most invertebrates, when properly applied. Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS) worked with Valent BioSciences , to provide the Bti and Helicopter Applicators located in Gettysburg Pennsylvania to apply the larvicide. Helicopter Applicators worked out of the Essex Airpark. The cost of the Bti larvacide and the helicopter were split by the two agencies reducing the cost to the County. Baltimore County DEPS conducted pre-treatment and post treatment sampling of midge larvae in both treated and untreated areas.

Baltimore County Digital Inclusion

Engaging with technology can be challenging for older adults. However, when digital literacy skills are neglected or avoided, everyday activities such as online bill paying, shopping, medical appointments, and even social media can be overwhelming. And, since the pandemic, the digital divide between older adults and digital skills has become even more evident. In fact, the divide during the pandemic was proven to be a large source of isolation leading to physical and mental health concerns in the senior population. One Pew study revealed that older adults continue to lag behind younger adults when it comes to technology adoption in that 41% do not use the internet at all, 23% do not use cell phones, and over 75% say they require help when learning how to use new technology.??During the last year, Baltimore County provided over 150 tablets to individuals below the 200% of the poverty limits, offered over 105 classes, both in-person and virtually, ranging from 5-10 week courses to one-time workshops on hot topics, assisted over 200 people with their ACP application and provided regular tech support for people to call to receive assistance with their devices.

Howard County Collaboration to Strengthen Infrastructure Needed to Support Hybrid Learning Model

After a year of remote learning, the tools and techniques of teaching changed. Additionally, to make in-person learning as safe as possible, HCPSS adopted a hybrid approach, with teachers and some students in the physical classroom, and the rest of the students online. This approach necessitated a huge increase in the bandwidth availability to all 77 school buildings in the system. Essentially overnight, school system bandwidth needed to support tens of thousands of simultaneous online meetings and video sharing. Without immediate action, students and teachers would face significant disruption. Working quickly to prevent network performance issues potentially triggered by the return to in-person instruction, starting March 15, 2021, Howard County Government and HCPSS collaborated to make a series of infrastructure enhancements needed to sustain the hybrid learning model. These enhancements significantly increased the bandwidth available in schools, allowing for the continued use of Google Meet video tools to simultaneously provide instruction to students who participate virtually in lessons and students learning in the classroom.

Howard County Transform Howard Broadband Initiative

The pandemic reinforced the need to provide robust, fast, reliable, and affordable internet connections to our entire community and showed us where our gaps are. Internet use became more important than ever, and it needed to be available to everyone. This became one of Howard County’s top priorities as we charted a path forward to post-pandemic recovery. Transform Howard began work on three important projects that, when complete, will provide access to 85 percent of the areas identified as unserved by broadband services in Howard County.

Howard County Transform Howard Innovation Grants

The pandemic exposed Howard County’s gaps in our resources and services for our residents. Howard County Government was challenged to meet these needs equitably and close the gaps within our community. The Transform Howard Innovation grants were a unique solution to create and improve the quality of life for Howard County Residents expressly through innovation.

Howard County Native Plant Pollinator Garden Templates

The Pollinator Garden templates were developed by Howard County Bee City in 2020 to assist residents in installing pollinator habitat using native plants that are suitable for various site conditions. One of the main goals of the Templates is to address habitat loss which is a major cause of pollinator decline across the Country. Since many residents have expressed the need for guidance in selecting appropriate native plants to use and how to arrange them, Howard County Bee City’s Native Plant Subcommittee decided to create the Templates to facilitate the installation of pollinator habitat in various site conditions. Providing design guidance and focusing on site appropriate native plant species helps ensure these habitats are successful in the long term. In 2021 specialty cul-de-sac templates were developed to assist residents in plant selection and design of larger, community-maintained cul-de-sacs.

Howard County Roving Radish Marketplace

The Roving Radish Marketplace with more liberal qualifications for subsidized pricing helps those families that do not qualify for some federal programs but are still in need. The Marketplace also provides several items at cost for everyone and free to those who qualify for a subsidy. By providing subsidized and free fresh local produce and proteins we assist families that don’t qualify for federal nutrition programs but are financially burdened due to the cost of living in Howard County and rising food costs. The pandemic also increased the demand for local farm products creating a need for more retail outlets for our local farms. The Roving Radish Marketplace is centrally located in Columbia, MD in the Long Reach Village Center and provides an opportune location for local farms to sell their produce. The Marketplace is open to all local farms, and they can sell their produce and proteins at a retail price of their choosing. The Marketplace pays the farms the retail price they have set for their products, less a 20% fee creating a viable market for our local farms. The convenient location and subsidizing of products provide greater food access to the community and allows our local Howard County farms to sell more products in a retail market that they previously did not serve.

Howard County Innovative Solar Power Expansion

The high cost of solar projects, especially rooftop and parking canopy projects that make use of already developed land, made Howard County’s goal to obtain 20 percent of the electricity for government operations seem unattainable. Howard County also was experiencing tension between communities interested in protecting active farmland to sustain the local food economy and those interested in installing solar panels on farmland to provide clean energy. Howard County wanted to demonstrate that solar projects could co-exist with active agriculture and provide benefits to adjacent farmland, if developed properly. This program has saved the county money and is demonstrating the dual use of agricultural fields for renewable energy generation and sheep grazing. Other benefits include helping achieve LEED Gold status for three new buildings, increasing native pollinator habitat through plantings along solar array perimeters and increasing EV charging infrastructure.

MACo’s Winter Conference, “Hit the Ground Running,” will be held at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, MD from January 4-6, 2023 (with a pre-conference orientation for new county officials on January 3).

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: