Wicomico Schools Continue Push For Pre-K Funding

The Wicomico Board of Education (BOE) is asking Wicomico County for an additional $5.7 million above the $43.7 million already included at maintenance of effort (MOE), to “establish universal pre-K, improve the graduation rate, and attract and retain a strong workforce,” according to The Dispatch.

School Superintendent Donna Hanlin pointed out to the County Council at a work session this week that nearly 76 percent of students in Wicomico County are considered an at-risk population. Universal pre-K would benefit a significantly large part of the community, she argued. From The Dispatch:

“We need to be working with these students as early as we possibly can,” she said.

School officials said they are asking for $1.3 million in the coming fiscal year to launch the first phase of its pre-K initiative within existing facility space. In the future, they said the school system would seek an additional $3.2 million to install modular buildings that will house pre-K classes. ….

Wednesday’s work session with the school board and other departments was just one of many scheduled in the coming week. The fiscal year 2019 budget will be adopted in June.

In County Executive Bob Culver’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget introduction, he states:

The recurring BOE request of $5,704,383 is over MOE and can only be funded through a property mil rate increase of 8.46 cents or by cutting other core services by that amount which isn’t feasible.

The $3,200,000 request for Pre K modular buildings should not be financed because of the likely short term use (certainly less than a 20‐year amortization period). Therefore, it requires use of fund balance or additional property taxes (another 5.35 cents). Increasing the use of fund balance isn’t a recommended course of action.

Funding the entire BOE request through property taxes would require a 13.81 cent increase (14.7%) in our mil rate elevating it to $1.078. That would result in the fifth highest mil rate in the State levied on the 18th lowest property base.

The proposed budget of $151.4 million focuses on “Wicomico County’s core service needs: Public safety and health, education and infrastructure.” It proposes no property tax rate increases, but does tap into fund balance. General Fund debt service for fiscal 2019 is $14.7 million, or 10.4% of new General Fund revenue.  General Fund proposed appropriations include 41 percent for education, 36 percent for public safety and health, and 11 percent for general government services. The budget proposes that eligible employees receive a 2 percent salary increase.

Frederick Adopts Balanced Budget, Delivers on Strategic Priorities

The Frederick County Council approved the County’s budget on Tuesday, days before the County experienced severely compromising floodingFrederick

County Executive Jan Gardner’s proposed budget aligns with the jurisdiction’s “Strategic Priorities,” focusing on “good government, exceptional public schools, a vibrant economy with a diversity of jobs,” and meeting “community needs through public safety, health, transportation and general well-being.” As proposed and as approved, the budget includes no tax rate increases. The General Fund budget increases by 4.58 percent.

With Frederick County Public Schools teaching nearly 800 additional students this past year, the County is providing $5 million in mandated maintenance of effort, as well as an additional $7.2 million above that for raises for teachers and staff. The capital budget reflects a nearly $225 million investment in school construction over four years.

County employees receive a step increase.

The budget also accommodates for a number of new initiatives. These include dedication of 1.5 percent of recordation tax revenue to the Housing Initiative Fund, which leverages federal tax credit programs to support workforce and affordable housing; start-up funds to implement a public private partnership to address the opioid epidemic through treatment and a new detox center; and the development of a new business innovation center, ROOT, which opened its doors about a month ago.

 

Outdated Infrastructure Costs Americans $9 a Day!

Can you believe that the average American household spends an additional $9 a day due to under-maintained and outdated infrastructure?

Infrastructure Week isn’t only seven days in May.  It’s also a non-partisan infrastructure education non-profit and 501c4 – and it crunched data from ASCE to discover that overwhelming statistic.

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If also provides a calendar of events taking place this month to educate local officials and others on how to help get infrastructure out of “life in the slow lane.”  And, it has a podcast! Something to listen to if, like the average American, you spend 52 hours a year sitting in traffic.

See the latest from Infrastructure Week in today’s email bulletin and on their website.

Minimizing Infrastructure’s Risk to Individuals: Planning Matters

It’s often our infrastructure’s most extreme failures, like the Minneapolis bridge collapse or the Amtrak crash outside Philadelphia, that tend to put infrastructure in the news.

In a series “exploring infrastructure from an individual’s perspective,” Brookings calls attention to the importance of sound proactive focus through planning and design in developing infrastructure that minimizes risk to users, as opposed to focusing primarily upon the structural engineering phase.

Much analysis on safety improvements in infrastructure focuses on engineering. For one example, see my blog post from yesterday about engineering to reduce pedestrian fatalities.

That focus oriented around planning and civil and traffic engineering, as opposed to structural engineering. Brookings’ point appears to be that at the structural engineering phase, it’s too late to only start thinking about risk minimization. Of course, for county planners, budget officers, and many civil and traffic engineers, this is not likely new news. It may, however, serve as an important reminder for policymakers as they determine where to prioritize public investment.

[I]t isn’t about America’s failing infrastructure systems—it’s about how America’s infrastructure systems are failing its people, placing them at risk, and ultimately hindering their ability to benefit from economic opportunity.

Like in the Route Fifty article, Brookings also calls attention to the rising numbers of pedestrian and traffic fatalities in America, but instead of focusing on engineering our way out of this madness, it places focus on commuters’ behavior and design’s role in perpetuating it. Cars account for more than 85 percent of trips to work, street designs encourage high speeds, and increased distractions like smartphones make driving more dangerous.

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Many analysts attribute declines in fatalities during the Great Recession to the reduction in vehicle miles traveled. Largely for this reason, it is important to hone in on the uptick in fatalities per billion miles traveled in the graph above, beginning in 2014 (the red dotted line). 

Brookings also factors into its analysis the roles poor design and deferred maintenance play on counties’ financial risk, as well as costs to motorists.

Finally, Brookings calls attention to risks inherent in water infrastructure and from climate change. Water infrastructure places our residents at particularly significant risk – and not just in Flint. The number of annual health-based violations to the Safe Drinking Water Act rose by 47.8 percent from 1982 to 2015.

Read the article here.

Bike To Work Day Rain Delayed

Bike To Work Day in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties was supposed to be this Friday, May 18 – but it is getting rain delayed until Friday, June 1.

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Bike to Work Day is a national campaign that celebrates bicycling as a healthy commuting option, while promoting public awareness of its safety and environmental factors. Bike to Work Day helps raise awareness of the rules of the road for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, and highlights the need to improve bicycle facilities to improve safety. Many of the Bike to Work Day partners are an integral part of the year-round transportation planning process across the region to improve the roads for everyone.

From the Baltimore Metropolitan Council’s press release:

Bike To Work Day in the Baltimore region is postponed until Friday, June 1, because of forecasted severe weather on Friday, May 18. The spirit of Bike to Work Day is to promote bicycling as a safe and healthy commuting option. While many cyclists regularly commute in an array of weather, the threat of flooding and lightening storms, present very real concerns for participants’ safety from the Bike to Work Day committee and local public safety agencies.

More than 1,300 cyclists have registered to meet up at 48 pit stop locations around the Baltimore region for the 21st annual Bike to Work Day. Registration will remain open until Wednesday, May 30. Those who registered for May 18 pit stops do not need to re-register.

 

Pedestrian Fatalities Reach Pinnacle, Engineers Can Help

Pedestrian fatalities on our roads have hit a 25-year high, reports Route Fifty – and the solution may be in more targeted engineering.

For the last two years, nearly 6,000 pedestrians have been killed on U.S. roadways – up 46 percent since the Great Recession. States like Florida, which have seen record numbers of pedestrian fatalities, are changing the way they examine trouble spots by using mapping software to identify specific risk factors:

“Engineering is a proven way to improve safety outcomes,” said Richard Retting, general manager of the firm Sam Schwartz Engineering and author of the pedestrian fatality report released by the Governors Highway Safety Administration. “Florida has some of the best professional planners and engineers working on solving these pedestrian safety problems.”

Read the article here.

Yesterday, Governor Larry Hogan signed into law SB 407/HB 535, which creates a grant program within the Transportation Trust Fund for local governments to receive funds, in addition to their highway user revenues, to design and engineer “Complete Streets.”

“Complete Streets” embodies the principle that roads should be designed to accommodate not only single-occupancy vehicles, but also pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, and other modes of transportation. When implemented well and correctly, they can keep all road users safer, alleviate congestion, provide better access for businesses, and improve air quality. MACo worked closely with the bill sponsors to ensure that this grant program can serve counties’ needs.

Baltimore City Commissioner Resigns Amidst Tax Charges

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has resigned, following the announcement that federal prosecutors have charged him with failure to file federal income tax returns from 2013 to 2015. Mayor Pugh has announced a national search for his replacement, while Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle will serve as acting commissioner.

It has not been reported whether De Sousa also failed to file his state income tax returns, but it seems a logical assumption – meaning he also failed to pay income taxes to Baltimore City.

Reports the Baltimore Sun

Despite De Sousa’s admitting to not filing his tax returns, his attorneys have pushed back against prosecutors, saying De Sousa was not given the opportunity other taxpayers receive to explain or file missing returns before being charged criminally.

“Criminal charges are usually a last resort by the government after the tax payer has ignored the government’s warning,” attorney Steven Silverman wrote in a statement.

Reporters and government officials took to Twitter with responses.

Sun Reporter Scott Dance pointed out the irony that the Governor signed SB 1099/HB 561, Baltimore City Police Department – Commission to Restore Trust in Policing and Audit Review, essentially at the same time that De Sousa announced his resignation. The bill establishes the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which is tasked with reviewing, investigating, and making recommendations relating to the Baltimore Police Department:

 

Next Week’s Infrastructure Week!

Next week is Infrastructure Week! Celebrating its sixth year, Infrastructure Week is a national week of events, public education and advocacy to elevate infrastructure as a critical issue impacting America’s economy, society, security and future.

NACo is getting involved with a number of interesting advocacy events throughout the week. Highlights include:

BROOKINGS FORUM: THE INCLUSION CHALLENGE

The three-part forum, hosted by Brookings Institute, will be to investigate how infrastructure policy can help address broader societal challenges, especially economic inclusion.

NACCED CONGRESSIONAL BRIEFING: HOUSING AS INFRASTRUCTURE

A panel of experts will discuss their various perspectives of housing as infrastructure, featuring topics including the economic impact of a housing shortage, the backlog of public housing maintenance, private activity bonds as a tool for a wide range of infrastructure needs—including housing—and the importance of enhancing affordable housing resources.

NACO/NLC/US WATER ALLIANCE PANEL: C-SUITE PERSPECTIVES ON THE VALUE OF WATER

Businesses are reliant on access to safe, reliable water and wastewater. Water is also a main ingredient in our products and the processes we use to build them. Businesses rank water as a top corporate concern and a priority investment for a secure supply chain. As our water infrastructure ages, businesses are finding creative ways to use, reuse, and manage water safely and sustainably. Join the Value of Water Campaign and senior private sector executives for a discussion on how companies are driving innovative water management practices and navigating the challenges of today’s complex water landscape.

COLLABORATE TO BUILD: MODERNIZING INFRASTRUCTURE POLICIES TO ADVANCE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS

A changing economy, society, and natural environment are placing new stresses on the country’s infrastructure systems. The rise of a digital economy, continued population growth, and a changing climate combine to introduce new demands for real estate, where essential infrastructure services should operate, and how to protect both our built and natural environment.

Governments carry an enormous burden to modernize infrastructure systems to promote shared and sustainable prosperity. Central to that effort is to develop deeper partnerships with the private sector around the design, construction, operation, and financing of infrastructure projects. However, doing so is often easier said than done. Many of the country’s public policies are woefully outdated relative to private sector innovation, ranging from procurement around new business models to more flexible financing arrangements.

See NACo’s full calendar here.

Learn about counties’ numerous roles in infrastructure development here.

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Economic Development Progress in Garrett

Garrett County has released an update on its economic development efforts.

Garrett is home to 910 businesses and a workforce of 15,566. The County has averaged 68 new businesses a year from 2014-2017. Interestingly, most jobs are in the trade, transportation & utilities sector (22.1 percent). Leisure and hospitality jobs make up 15.1 percent of the workforce, education and health services make up 14.96 percent, and local government, 10.7 percent.

One of the County’s greatest challenges to growth is lack of broadband access. In 2017, broadband expansion efforts reached nearly 3,000 customers, 93 percent of whom were previously unserved.

See the County’s presentation for more information, including a wealth of demographic data.

 

Omnibus Federal Infrastructure Bill On Ice

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed trepidation about the pending arrival of an omnibus federal infrastructure bill anytime soon. She said during the White House Briefing:

I don’t know that there will be one by the end of the year.

President Trump had said himself earlier this year that any infrastructure overhaul would likely come after the November midterms. Additionally, President Trump’s infrastructure policy advisor, DJ Gibbin, resigned last month.

NACo Executive Director Matt Chase said the following:

It doesn’t look like Congress is going to pass an omnibus bill, but keep an eye on some of its various pieces. We are seeing parts of this getting attention in smaller, more targeted, legislation.

Specifically, he highlighted potential focus on aviation and water resources. This is significant to Maryland counties. According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland has 469 community water systems of varying sizes, many maintained by counties. In addition, there are a surprising number of local government-operated airports in Maryland.

The Hill reports similarly:

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in early March also cut short hopes for a large package, saying the president’s infrastructure plan would likely come to fruition in five or six different pieces of legislation. In his explanation, Ryan pointed to two must-pass bills: the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which Congress passed last month, and the omnibus spending package. He also referenced the Water Resources Development Act, a water infrastructure bill Congress re-ups every two years.

NACo’s analysis of President Trump’s infrastructure framework, released last February, is available here.

Information about NACo engagement in Infrastructure Week – which is next week – is available here.