Next-Generation 9-1-1: What It Means For County Coffers

Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) issues are of top concern for county governments officials seeking to improve and enhance their handling of emergency calls from cell phone users. New technologies will increase response times, location accuracy, and allow traditional callers to text and send photo and video data directly to first responders.

As Maryland and its counties move toward implementing an NG911 network, one key issue that must be addressed is how to fill the void left by Verizon and its vast communication infrastructure. And, while the technology to implement NG911 is available now, there are many issues that local governments must work through, including uniform specifications, the process of transition, governance, and funding.

Learn about the budgetary and procurement impacts of this important issue  at the MACo Winter Conference special session, Next Gen 911: What It Means For Purchasers, PSAPs & Purse Strings.

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Joint Committee on the Management of Public Funds co-chairs Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez at NG911 hearing July 2017.

Title: Next Gen 911: What It Means For Purchasers, PSAPs & Purse Strings

Description: As counties gear up to join the Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) effort and upgrade their Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to adapt to the digital era and toss analog aside, basic questions abound for the buyers and budgeters. What exactly do we need to do? When do we need to do it? And, of course, how much will it cost? While the technology to implement NG911 exists now, so do many administrative issues, such as identifying uniform specifications, transition processes, governance terms, and funding. The Federal Communications Commission has estimated that it will cost $2.68 billion to implement NG911 nationally. Join this forum discussion with state and local experts to find out what NG911 means for Maryland counties’ purchasers, PSAPs, and purse strings.

Speakers:

Ross Coates, Harford County Government Public Safety Manager

Scott G. Roper, Executive Director, Emergency Number Systems Board, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services

Walt Kaplan, MPH, Enterprise Client Manager, Mission Critical Partners, Inc.

Moderator: The Honorable Cheryl Kagan, Maryland State Senate

Date/Time: Wednesday, December 6, 2017, 2017; 4:15 pm – 5:15 pm

Active Shooter Defense: Why It’s Important

Don’t do what I did and wait until you actually find yourself in an anticipated active shooter situation to attend training on how to handle it.

Fortunately for me and everyone else in the las Vegas Mirage lobby on October 2, the screaming, hysteria, stampeding, and resulting evacuation ensued after a false alarm. The shooter in Las Vegas last month only had one targeted location, despite rumors at the time to the contrary.

It shows, though, as fear of catastrophic events grows, so does the likelihood of other false alarms – and worse, terrifyingly, true alarms. There’s something you can do to prepare: join me for the MACo Winter Conference session, Active Shooter Defense: What You Need to Know.

Title: Active Shooter Defense: What You Need to Know

Description: Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. While an active shooter scenario may unfold in various locations, public and government settings are particular targets. These terrifying events are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, so individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to survive the situation before law enforcement arrives. In this deep-dive session, a public safety expert will share the best way to prepare for the worst-case scenario with take-away lessons in safety for all attendees.

Speaker: Deputy First Class Thomas Wehrle, Harford County Sheriff’s Office

Date/Time: Wednesday, December 6, 2017; 10:00 am – 11:30 am

The MACo Winter Conference will be held December 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “The Power of Partnership.”

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

DLS Releases Report on Local Aid

The Department of Legislative Services has published The Balance Sheet: A County by County Comparison of State Aid And State Tax Revenues Collected. The report provides a county by county breakdown of state aid distributions.

Importantly, the report aggregates all aid to jurisdictions within county borders, and attributes that aid to the county. For example, if aid is provided to municipalities, special taxing districts, or school boards located within a county, that aid is attributed to the county.

From the Executive Summary:

The Balance Sheet is not an analysis of the “fairness” of State aid distributions to local governments. Counties in which taxpayers contribute relatively more State revenues should not necessarily receive more State aid. In fact, several State aid formulas distribute aid inversely to local property and income wealth, whereby local governments with greater capacity to raise revenues from local sources receive less State aid. Such aid programs accounted for about 70% of the State aid to local governments included in this Balance Sheet.

Baltimore County Maintains AAA Bond Ratings

Baltimore County once again has earned the highest possible AAA bond ratings from all three major rating agencies.

The County indicates in its press release that it is one of only 46 counties nationwide that holds AAA ratings from all three bond rating agencies. Charles County announced last week that it also qualifies for this elite status.

The County also saved $5.9 million by refunding $98.6 million in County bonds on November 2.

From the press release:

“Triple-A bond ratings are like a high credit score, ultimately saving Baltimore County citizens millions of dollars in interest when we borrow money through the sale of bonds to pay for things like school construction and parks and infrastructure maintenance,” said [County Executive Kevin] Kamenetz. “We have achieved this important distinction through strong fiscal management that means we invest in strong communities, but in a responsible way with no tax rate increases in more than two decades.”

“These bond ratings are critically important, and it is truly impressive that the County has maintained the triple-triple-A rating while investing in a historic upgrade of our schools,” said County Council Chair Tom Quirk.

What’s Going On With Tax Reform? Part 4

Last week House leadership released H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: America’s first detailed legislative proposal on tax reform. Here’s what counties need to know about it. 

Individual Filers: The Basics

Here’s what the key provisions of H.R. 1 do for individuals:

  • Reduces income tax brackets, from seven to four.
  • Essentially doubles standard deductions: from $6,350 to $12,000 for individuals and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.
  • Eliminates personal exemptions.
  • Eliminates the deduction for personal state and local income and sales taxes, and caps the deduction for property taxes at $10,000.
  • Limits deductible mortgage interest on new mortgages moving forward, to interest paid on mortgage debt of up to $500,000 (currently set at $1 million).
  •  Repeals many other deductions, including but not limited to student loan and alimony payments, and medical and moving expenses.

Impact on the State and Local Tax Deduction 

H.R. 1 eliminates the deduction for personal state and local income and sales taxes, and caps the deduction for property taxes at $10,000. The bill retains all state and local tax (SALT) deductions for corporate filers. As mentioned in What’s Going On With Tax Reform? Part 2, we highlighted concerns that tax reform could include elimination of the SALT deduction, which has been in place since 1913, when the original three-page tax code came to be. Forty-five percent of Marylanders claim the SALT deduction: more than any other state.

In addition, the bill cuts the cap on the mortgage interest deduction in half, to $500,000. Between the cap on the property tax deduction and this tighter mortgage interest deduction cap, American homeowners will experience higher tax bills and also diminished home values, according to Americans Against Double Taxation, a coalition including the National Association of Counties (NACo), Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), National Association of Realtors, and many others. Diminished home values mean lower assessments, and therefore lower property tax revenues.

Impact on Bonds

The bill removes the tax-exempt status for private activity and advanced refunding bonds. After significant bipartisan advocacy to protect the tax exemption for municipal bonds, counties’ infrastructure go-to came out unscathed.  The tax-exempt status of private activity and advanced refunding bonds, however, did not.

Private Activity Bonds

Private activity bonds (PABs) are used when the proceeds fund one or more private entities. Counties might use private activity bonds as part of public-private partnership deals, for solid waste facilities, universities, and affordable housing projects, among others.

From GFOA:

PABs are widely used for airport and seaport projects, affordable housing, nonprofit health, and education facilities, all of which contribute to vibrant local communities. In 2016, over $72 billion in PABs used largely by nonprofit hospitals and universities (the private user in these deals is typically the 501 (c)(3) organization that owns and operates the facility) were issued and in the same year over $12 billion were issued to support airports, housing, and rural public cooperatives.

Supporting private activity bond issuance for public purposes … has been a longstanding GFOA position.  This legislation would strip away the ability of governments to issue this debt and could impact up to a third of the municipal bond market. That in turn would cause pressures on the entire municipal bond market.  Furthermore, concerns remain that Congress could continue to look at other offsets for their tax proposal, which could lead to them eliminating or curbing authority for tax-exempt general obligation and revenue bonds to be issued.

Advance Refunding Bonds

Advance refunding bonds provide counties the opportunity to refinance at lower interest rates before their bonds mature or are callable. Since 1986, governmental bonds have been able to be advance refunded once.

Also from GFOA:

  • Advance refundings currently allow state and local governments to take advantage of lower interest rates by lowering interest rates on outstanding debt. This provision forces issuers to essentially accept market conditions in that 90 day current refunding window and, unlike home mortgages, takes away the ability of issuers to refinance for debt service savings when interest rates are favorable.
  • Advance refundings are limited, occurring only during the first 10 years of a bond issue and then only when interest rates are lower than the interest rate on the bond; eliminating advance refundings would remove an important financial management tool that allows state and local governments to save billions on interest costs.
  • By reducing their debt service expenses through advance refundings, states and localities are able to free up borrowing capacity for new investment in infrastructure and other important facilities, so eliminating advance refundings would likely result in less overall investment in infrastructure.
  • Limiting governments to a single advance refunding was a compromise that recognizes how important advance refundings are for states and localities while respecting the interest of the federal government to limit the number of bonds outstanding.

What’s Next?

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on H.R. 1 this week, and bring the bill to the House floor before Thanksgiving, according to NACo.

The Senate Finance Committee is working on its own version of GOP tax reform. That bill is expected to be released this week, and brought to the Senate floor in early December.

The goal is to get President Trump a tax reform bill to sign by Christmas.

This is part four in an ongoing series on tax reform. Read earlier posts here.

MDOT Unveils New “Scorecard” Draft at #MACoCon Workshop

Following last year’s political firestorm over how the State should prioritize transportation spending, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has new plans for scoring major projects in its Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) – and MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn will unveil that draft plan and solicit input from county officials first at the MACo Winter Conference. 

County elected officials and transportation professionals surely remember the story well. The Maryland General Assembly entertained legislation officially called the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, which requires the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to score its major capital projects according to a predefined set of goals and measures and rate them accordingly in its CTP. MACo opposed the bill, citing concerns that it may marginalize local input, overlook variations in transportation needs, and undervalue safety in project approval. The bill passed, with some amendments offered by MACo. The Governor vetoed it, and the General Assembly overrode the veto.

series of letters sent over the 2016 summer sought to transfer responsibility for the law’s implementation to the counties. The Attorney General’s Office issued a letter advising that the new law does not authorize this. MACo sent MDOT a letter offering support on developing a collaborative approach to implementing the law and drafting the regulations required by it.

MDOT published draft regulations implementing the law in September 2016 – regulations that MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn himself called “bad.” MACo offered detailed recommendations on how the Administration could instead interpret the law in a manner that is fairer to all Maryland counties.

Governor Hogan made it his top legislative priority last session to repeal what he called “The Roadkill Bill.” Reiterating concerns about the original scorecard legislation, MACo supported House Bill 402/Senate Bill 307, the Governor’s “Road Kill Bill Repeal” – advocating for either its full-on repeal, or its refinement. The General Assembly passed the legislation in an amended form that clarifies that the use of scoring from the statutory system will be purely advisory, while a designated work group convenes to consider refinements to its elements and effects. It also loosened requirements for the scoring system.

Since then, MDOT has been working hard to develop a new scoring model, which is due under the new law on January 1, 2018. MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn will unveil the draft model at MACO’s Winter Conference at a special workshop designed to solicit county officials’ input. This not-to-miss session presented by the County Engineers of Maryland offers county personnel the first opportunity to weigh in on the next chapter for Chapter 36.

Title: Workshop: An Overview of the New Transportation Scoring Law

Description: This past session, the General Assembly passed significant changes to the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, aka the “Scorecard Bill,” “Chapter 36,” “Transportation Transparency Bill,” or the “Roadkill Bill.” This law of many names was significantly changed to be non-binding and to give MDOT more flexibility in how it scores major highway and transit projects in its capital program. Since then, MDOT has been working hard to develop a new scoring model and invites conference attendees to actively participate in the process.

Speaker: Pete Rahn, Transportation Secretary

Moderator: John Barr, MACo Past President, Washington County Commissioner

The MACo Winter Conference will be held December 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “The Power of Partnership.”

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

Performance-based Contracting: Coming to a County Near You

Performance-based contracting – where vendor performance factors into procurement decisions, along with price – can provide a local government with better value, reports GoverningWhile larger jurisdictions have used performance-based contracting for years, more and more local governments are incorporating the sophisticated procurement method into their practices – thanks to increased access to data.

From Governing:

With a population of more than 452,000, Virginia Beach is the largest city in the state. But when [Chief Procurement Officer Taylor] Adams took office in September 2015, the city was still handing out contracts the traditional way, by mostly angling for the lowest price. Subsequently his team conducted a top-to-bottom assessment of Virginia Beach’s procurement practices; by December, it was clear that if the city wanted better procurement, it needed better data.

“We had to build a more consistent output before we started addressing the quality issue,” Adams says.

So Virginia Beach has embarked on a $2 million, five-year effort to overhaul its purchasing processes. The city’s new electronic procurement system will allow it to better track transactions and maintain records—something most cities already do with an e-procurement tool. But Adams envisions a program that helps the organization make decisions, too. “There are a lot of cities deploying e-procurement tools now, but most use them for just a tactical function,” he says. “We, on the other hand, want to manage data to help make decisions. It moves procurement from an order-and-payment function to a strategic one.”

Find out about reforms to county procurements here in Maryland during the MACo Winter Conference session, Buying Into Your Buyers: How to Save Money, Stay Out of Trouble, and Keep Your Procurement Officer Happy, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017, from 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm.

The MACo Winter Conference will be held December 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “The Power of Partnership.”

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

Allegany To CSX: We Want Our Street Back

Allegany County residents expressed frustration to the Western Maryland state delegation on Thursday, November 2 about the continued closure of the CSX-owned Washington Street bridge. With the bridge closed “indefinitely,” residents of historic Washington Street turned to their delegation for help in getting their street back.

After the bridge received a poor safety inspection in April 2016, CSX repaired parts of the bridge so that one lane of vehicular traffic could remain open. However, on August 20, a CSX rail car failed to clear the bridge, damaging it and causing its full closure two days later. CSX indicated at that time that the bridge would remain closed “indefinitely.”

Some had hoped to address repairs to the Washington Street and other CSX-owned bridges in Cumberland by adding them to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Howard Street Tunnel grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, MDOT officials cancelled their request of $155 million in federal funds for the Howard Street Tunnel expansion after CSX pulled out of the deal.

Cumberland Times-News reports:

Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim has said the attempts to resolve bridge issues with CSX have resulted in frustration.

“Our bridge is closed,” said Murphy. “It is dangerous. It is an historic area … a heritage area. I realize it is owned by CSX. We have been extremely patient for years. It is a street in this city.

“Why would someone want to move here? You can’t even drive up it. I feel like we’ve been talking about it for years, but it keeps getting worse.”

The Washington Street bridge is one of three bridges on Cumberland’s West Side in disrepair. In addition to Washington Street, bridges at Cumberland and Fayette streets are in poor condition, according to officials with the city and CSX.

Grim said the Cumberland Street bridge will also be closed soon due to safety concerns.

Delegate Jason Buckel suggested that the City of Cumberland sue CSX:

 

“I don’t think the state has any leverage on them (CSX),” said Buckel. “My advice … the shortest time frame to get a human being from CSX to come to Allegany County and look at the bridge is to sue them in Circuit Court for Allegany County, which will require them to retain council within 30 days and show up in Allegany County to deal with it. That is the truth.”

Delegate Mike McKay suggested involving the state’s federal delegation.

 

Caroline Raises Income Tax Rate

The Caroline County Commissioners voted this week to raise their income tax rate by nearly half a percent, to the highest possible rate of 3.2 percent. The move is expected to provide an additional $2 million for public services.

The extra revenue will help the county build a new elementary school and sheriff’s department.

The rate may make the county eligible for state disparity grants, which are provided to certain counties with higher income tax rates but low revenue generation per person.

WBOC reports:

“We had to do this,” said Commissioner Daniel Franklin.
He says they explored all options.
“We are basically out of revenue sources,” Franklin said.

Harford Installs First of Many Bus Shelters

Harford County installed its first county-owned bus shelter in Aberdeen last week, launching a long-term plan to install shelters at key bus stops in the county.

The shelters planned by Harford Transit LINK, the county’s bus transportation system, will protect riders from the elements, enhancing safety and comfort for riders within its network of bus routes. Harford Transit LINK serves commuters and other travelers within Harford County and into Cecil County, with connections to regional rail and bus services, and interstate travel. Harford Transit LINK is a division of the Office of Economic Development under the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman.

 

Harford Transit LINK to Install Shelters at Key Bus Stops
Pictured from left: Karen Holt, Director, Harford County Economic Development; Patrick Vincenti, Councilman, Harford County Council; Richard Slutzky, President, Harford County Council; Billy Boniface, Director, Harford County Administration; James Ports, Deputy Secretary of Operations, Maryland Department of Transportation; Robert Andrews, Administrator, Harford Transit LINK; Patrick McGrady, Aberdeen Mayor; Randy Robertson, Aberdeen City Manager. Photo courtesy Harford County.

The Aberdeen MARC Train Station bus stop serves the highest ridership in Harford’s transit system with an annual passenger count of 45,000; the stop is also a major transfer point for six of the LINK’s eight bus routes.

Harford County Transit LINK operates 43 vehicles Monday through Friday with eight routes countywide and into Cecil County. The LINK also connects with MTA/MARC trains, MTA commuter buses, and regional Greyhound, which then connect with main terminals in Baltimore and interstate travel.