Unemployment Falls Nationwide

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment has fallen to 3.7%.

From the Bureau Commissioner’s statement:

The unemployment rate declined to 3.7 percent in September, and total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 134,000, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, in health care, and in transportation and warehousing.

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Unemployment rates are at a long-time low according to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As reported by The Hill,

The U.S. economy added 134,000 jobs in September, well below expectations, as the labor market still shows strength heading into the fall.

The unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent for the lowest level since December 1969, the Labor Department reported on Friday.

National unemployment averages may hide local economic realities. NACo’s County Explorer depicts a clickable map with varying unemployment rates in counties throughout the U.S. This data is not updated to tie-in with the current release, but reveals the uneven nature of employment for 2017.

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NACo’s County Explorer unemployment map for 2017 shows some counties with up to 19.1% unemployment.

For more information see the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment hits 49-year low, economy adds 134K jobs in September from The Hill, and the NACo County Explorer.

Registered Voters, County-by-County

Data provided by the National Association of Counties shows registered voters in each county in the US, by affiliation, current as of August 1, 2018.

The National Association of Counties has released data on voter registrations from county governments across the country.

A clickable map (click 2018 Midterm Elections) displays total registrations, and a break-down of registered voters by party affiliations. For Maryland counties, the data was last updated on August 1, 2018, as of the writing of this post.

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A snapshot of voter registrations in Baltimore County from the National Association of Counties.

Maryland counties support local boards of election. MACo has facilitated communications between the State Board of Elections and county government IT departments on cybersecurity preparedness for the 2018 mid-term elections.

“More than 177 million people in 42 states and the District of Columbia are registered to vote as of September 2018.” — National Association of Counties

For more information, and the clickable map of voter registrations, see the National Association of Counties County Explorer (click 2018 Midterm Elections).

Space Limited for Free Drone Symposium

A free all-day symposium for state and local government representatives will share ideas and solutions for local transportation and public works unmanned aerial systems (UAS) applications.

UAS have potential utility for county transportation and public works departments in Maryland.

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An upcoming symposium on UAS is aimed at a county government audience.

MACo and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council are coordinating a symposium to further explore this topic.

This event will bring together GIS, public works, transportation, and procurement staff from all sectors to discuss UAS and the way they can enhance local and state government operations. Topics will include how to set up a UAS program, local and state government projects utilizing UAS, and transportation applications.

This event is being hosted by Baltimore Metropolitan Council in collaboration with the Maryland Association of Counties, with generous funding support from sponsors Maryland State GIS Committee (MSGIC) and KCI.

Registration for the UAS Information Exchange Forum is now open.

Details about the symposium:

  • EVENT: Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Information Exchange Forum
  • DATE: December 4, 2018
  • PLACE: The Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD
  • TIME: 9 am – 4:30 pm

If you have any questions, contact Robin Eilenberg at MACo.

It’s Not Apples-to-Apples in School Construction Funding

In Maryland, the State shares school construction costs with counties, but the State only considers some construction costs eligible for funding.

The State of Maryland contributes to school construction funding. The contribution varies from a minimum of 50% to 100%. Those percentages, however, belie the fact that the State does not consider all school construction costs as eligible for its funding. Many costs of construction are excluded from the formula before the percentage is even applied.

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State shares of school construction only apply to certain costs.

The aim of the State’s contributions are to equalize the amount of funding spent on school construction statewide. The varying percentages the state contributes on school construction projects are calculated based on the wealth of the local school district.

You might look at the state-local cost share and think that the State is splitting of school construction costs in Anne Arundel County 50/50. That is not true — the comparison is not apples-to-apples: the State is only paying 50% of certain school construction costs. . . those that it deems eligible.

The State only considers certain construction costs as eligible for its funding. The State will help fund the construction of a school building, but it wont help with the equipment, furnishings, and artwork that goes inside. So, if your district cannot afford the same equipment as another location, your school will not be furnished the same.

The idea of wealth equalization — the effort to make sure that all students have equity in access to educational facilities — breaks down with the State’s actual funding formula.

But it’s not just the equipment and furnishings that are left out. There are a slew construction costs excluded by the State in its school construction funding formula, many of which are essential elements of a school construction project. Those include: architecture and engineering work, permits, test borings, soil analysis, water and sewer connection charges, topographical surveys, and construction inspection services.

See the full list of school construction costs excluded from State funding.

Unfortunately, some of the costs of construction that are not eligible, are becoming increasingly expensive. Those include classroom equipment that is more technologically advanced, such as projectors or smart boards. They also include the engineering fees associated with stormwater projects and other effort to make schools more environmentally friendly.

As reported previously on Conduit Street, the eligible costs rules can push the state’s actual share down 25% or more.

According to the 21st Century School Facilities Act of 2018, the Interagency Commission on School Construction is the body that determines the State’s cost share and it will be updated every two years. Previously, an updated cost share was recommended by the Interagency Committee on School Construction every three years and finalized by the Board of Public Works.

The IAC will meet on October 9 and November 15, and the Commission will likely take up the revision to the cost shares on November 15. More information about IAC meetings.

Home High-Cost Home

Based on national data, Maryland county residents have relatively high median mortgage owner costs, with 19 counties in the highest bracket.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) has released data compiling county-by-county statistics on 2016 housing costs. As NACo reports, 64% of all counties nationally have median monthly homeowner costs of more than $1000.

NACo’s data shows the median monthly owner costs for mortgaged housing for all counties in the nation. Housing costs are an important factor in county governance. While high housing costs may help support needed revenues for roads, schools, and other social services, they also may create challenges for maintaining inclusive communities and economic development opportunities.

Maryland appears all blue in NACo’s mapping tool – indicating that all Maryland counties are the the top three highest brackets for housing costs, with median monthly homeowner costs of more than $1,022.

20 of 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City are dark blue in the map, because they are in the top 20% nationally, with median monthly homeowner costs between $1,303 and $3,294.

For more information, see the National Association of Counties’ County Explorer.

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The coloration of Maryland counties in this capture indicates a relatively high cost of mortgages compared to other counties in the nation.

A Drone To Solve a Traffic Jam

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County governments may benefit from joint procurement of unmanned aerial systems as their transportation and public works applications increase.

State and local transportation departments across the country are finding utility from unmanned aerial systems.

As reported by GCN, a site dedicated to reporting technology, tools and tactics for public sector IT, 35 of 44 state transportation departments that responded to a recent survey report that they are using drone technology. From GCN,

State transportation departments are adopting drone technology largely for infrastructure inspection, but the technology can also be used to get an aerial view of traffic or analyze car accidents.

For more information, see Drones make inroads with transportation departments.

UAS also have potential utility for county transportation and public works departments in Maryland. MACo and the Baltimore Metropolitan Council are coordinating a symposium to further explore this topic.

Registration for the UAS Information Exchange Forum is now open.

Details about the symposium:

  • EVENT: Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Information Exchange Forum
  • DATE: December 4, 2018
  • PLACE: The Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD
  • TIME: 9 am – 4:30 pm

The event will be a dialogue for public works/transportation, geographic information systems, and procurement staff. It will feature speakers and panels covering various aspects of municipal UAS use, including representatives of county governments with UAS programs.

If you have any questions, contact Robin Eilenberg at MACo.

Keep a Lid on Debt, Committee Advises

The Capital Debt Affordability Committee continues its commitment to a flat capital program with a recommendation to the Governor and General Assembly to cap new debt at $995 million for the fiscal year 2020.

The final meeting of the Capital Debt Affordability Committee (CDAC) included discussion of revenues, infrastructure costs, and debt service amounts and a vote to recommend no more than 995 million in new debt for the 2020 fiscal year.

The Treasurer also shared at this meeting that next year, the CDAC will also be looking at the GASB lease standard and private-public partnerships with regard to the State’s debt program.

Here are some of the items that were discussed before the vote on the Committee’s debt recommendation for fiscal year 2020:

  • The cost of construction is growing at a rate faster than 2% and infrastructure costs continue to increase
  • Personal incomes are predicted to increase in Maryland over the next 10 years
  • Debt service is the fastest growing element of the State’s budget, with annual debt service greater than the State’s school construction budget
  • A recession is anticipated and revenues may drop

The Committee ultimately recommended a limit to new debt of $995 million for the fiscal 2020 year. The motion was made by Budget Secretary Brinkley, who spoke about the size of the State’s annual debt service. Treasurer Kopp voted against the motion, following comments regarding the school construction needs across the State.

The recommendation is the same as last year’s and follows the Governor’s capital program. However, it diverges from the traditional approach employed by CDAC of limiting debt growth to 3% (2% to account for inflation and 1% for increased demand for capital funding).

As portrayed in the charts below, both options (and a third middle-road not pictured here), would leave additional debt capacity for the State, based on the benchmark that tax-supported debt outstanding should be no more than 4.0% of total personal income. This is in part because of the projections for increasing personal income in Maryland.

 

 

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for coverage of this year’s General Assembly’s Spending Affordability Committee. The first meeting of that Committee is scheduled for November 15, 3 P.M. in the Joint Hearing Room.

For more meeting background, see September 26, 2018 Meeting Materials of the Capital Debt Affordability Committee.

 

From Sunny to Swamped

Aerial imagery of areas affected by Hurricane Florence captures the extent of flooding and helps disaster damage assessors.

In the aftermath of a major disaster, aerial imagery provides a cost-effective way to quickly assess damage. The National Geodetic Survey is currently gathering imagery from Hurricane Florence.

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Aerial imagery of Topsail Beach North Carolina from NOAA.

The use of aerial imagery in a non-emergency application has been considered in Maryland, too. Legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly in 2016 to authorize the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to use aerial photography to perform property assessments. While the bill did not advance to final passage, as technology develops, the idea may surface again.

As reported by Homeland Security Today, with regard to emergency applications,

Aerial imagery is a crucial tool to determine the extent of the damage inflicted by flooding, and to compare baseline coastal areas to assess the damage to major ports and waterways, coastlines, critical infrastructure, and coastal communities. This imagery provides a cost-effective way to better understand the damage sustained to both property and the environment.

For more information, see Hurricane Florence Damage Assessment Imagery Now Available Online from Homeland Security Today and see the Hurricane Florence Imagery Tool from NOAA.

The Mottled Landscape of Unemployment

A dataset shows 51% of counties with unemployment rates below the national average in 2017, while individual rates portray the varied experience of labor successes.

The National Association of Counties County Explorer released a analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics from 2017. They found that on average, county unemployment rates were below the national unemployment rate.

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2017 labor statistics showing varying rates of unemployment across America’s counties.

Much reporting on the recovery from the Recession has described how pockets of the country have recovered more quickly than others – a picture often hidden by national statistics. County-level data helps to reveal economic realities that relate more closely to the experiences of many Americans.

The national average unemployment for 2017 was 4.4%.

For Maryland, the picture is varied.

  • Lower 2017 Unemployment Than the National Average (1.6% – 4.0%)
    • Howard, Anne Arundel, Talbot, Calvert, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Charles, Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll, Harford.
  • 2017 Unemployment Near the National Average (4.0% – 4.7%)
    • Washington, Baltimore County, Kent, Caroline, Prince George’s.
  • Greater 2017 Unemployment Than the National Average (4.7%-19.1%)
    • Garrett, Wicomico, Cecil, Allegany, Baltimore City, Dorchester, Worcester and Somerset counties.

Allegany, Baltimore City, Dorchester, Worcester and Somerset counties had the highest unemployment levels in the State in 2017, 5.7% or higher, according to the data.

The statistics use the following definitions (abridged):
  • Unemployment Rate: Number of persons unemployed as a percent of the labor force.
  • Population: All persons in the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and older classified as either employed or unemployed.
  • Number Employed: Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job. Someone is considered employed if they:
    • did any work as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or
    • had jobs from which they were temporarily absent, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs.
  • Number Unemployed: Included are all persons who had no employment, and had made specific efforts to find employment.

For more information, visit NACo’s County Explorer.

County Retirement Executive Shortlisted for National Innovation Award

Montgomery County’s Retirement Executive Director Linda Herman is recognized as one of the brightest and most forward-looking asset owners in the US.

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Linda Herman is selected by her peers for national recognition.

Linda Herman, Executive Director of Montgomery County Employee Retirement Plans was nominated for an innovation award from the online publication CIO, in the category of Public Defined Benefit Plan Below $15 Billion.

From Chief Investment Officer (CIO),

For the ninth consecutive year, CIO is announcing its short list of the most innovative asset owners and asset managers. Nominated by a network of their peers who represent more than $1.8 trillion in assets under management, the brightest and most forward-looking asset owners have made it onto our 2018 short list for CIO’s Innovation Awards.

Ms. Herman was appointed Executive Director in Montgomery County in April 2004. From 1999 to her appointment as Executive Director, Ms. Herman served as Senior Investment Officer for the Board.

Herman also currently represents Maryland Counties on the Maryland State Pension  Board of Trustees where she serves on the Investment Committee. She is the first person to serve as the county representative to the State Pension Board, a seat created by the General Assembly in 2013.

For more information, see CIO Announces Innovation Awards Finalists for Dec. 13 Gala.