Legislation Allows Counties to Tackle Water Affordability

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in support of Senate Bill 709, Environment – Water and Sewer Service”, before the Senate Education & Health & Environmental Affairs Committee on February 20, 2018.

SB 709 grants counties the authority to shut off water to vacant and abandoned properties, while also allowing counties to develop water affordability programs. Alongside payment plans, these actions will help counties and individuals from going to tax sale over unpaid water bills. Altogether, these potential programs can give counties the flexibility to effectively collect water bills, while helping homeowners manage costs and conserve resources.

From MACo Testimony:

This bill helps homeowners avoid going to tax sale over unpaid water bills by addressing the problem long before those bills become overdue. By enabling counties to develop water affordability programs, payment plans and “round up programs” to fund payment assistance services, SB 709 helps counties help those who can least afford their water bills, in a targeted manner that makes the most sense for each local jurisdiction.

In addition, enabling water shut off to vacant and abandoned properties helps keep water bills at bay at properties where the service is not being used or may even cause harm by flooding or otherwise deteriorating a vacant structure. By reducing or eliminating these unneeded services, bills and resulting liens remain lower on the property, and it is easier to bring the property to more fruitful use.”

For more information, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

 

Advertising Mandate on Counties is Too Broad

A broad requirement that entities that receive State aid would have to advertise to different target audiences that represent the racial diversity of the State was introduced in Senate Bill 737. MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in opposition to SB 737 before the Senate Education & Health & Environmental Affairs Committee on February 20, 2018.

MACo’s concerns address the broad language and implementation of the bill. SB 737 does not speak to what media sources accurately represent the diversity of State, and also does not take into account the broad racial disparities across counties located in different geographic regions of the State. The silence on these topics could create concern for county contract procurement and the concurrent requirement to adhere to these standards.

From MACo Testimony:

While no doubt noble in its intent, this bill is too broad to implement effectively without exposing innumerable county procurements to countless bid protests. It is unclear what media sources, if any, accurately reflect the “racial diversity of the State.” It also fails to account for the differing racial diversity in various regions of the state; a county in Western Maryland may advertise in different media outlets than a county in central Maryland, for example. Under this bill, all counties would be obligated to advertise in the same way, regardless of targeted need, geographical region or type of procurement. Finally, it is unclear whether a specific target audience, or ratio thereof, is necessary for compliance with this bill.

MACo supports the implicit goal of this legislation to ensure that State-funded business opportunities reach a diverse audience, but fears that SB 737 falls short of accomplishing that objective, and instead, puts county procurements in jeopardy of constant challenges.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

 

Accurate Census, Effective Government

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 988, “2020 Census Grant Program – Establishment and Funding”, to the House Appropriations Committee on February 20, 2018.

This bill would allow local governments to seek matching grant funds to help conduct a fair and accurate census. Governments at every level use data from the census to allocate appropriate funding and resources. An accurate count affects the local economy and the ability of local governments to effectively provide services for years after the census is taken.

From MACo Testimony:

Census data is used to allocate billions of dollars in federal funding for education, health, transportation, housing, community services, and job training. Moreover, businesses and industries decide where to locate new facilities and services based on census data, creating new jobs and promoting economic growth.

An accurate census count, or lack thereof, has a lasting effect on counties, particularly when it comes to the distribution of federal funds. An under-counted population may lead to a significant decline in federal funding flowing to county governments or to county residents.

HB 988 creates an efficient and effective system for leveraging state and local resources to support a more accurate 2020 Census, paving the way for a fair and equitable flow of resources to the State and its local jurisdictions.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Community College Collective Bargaining: Counties Need a Seat at the Table

A universal approach to collective bargaining at community colleges would create considerable costs for counties that provide a significant amount of funding to community colleges. House Bill 667 would apply a one-size-fits-all approach that limits local decision making and excludes counties from collective bargaining negotiations. This tactic could also result in an increase in tuition rates and could upend already established collective bargaining agreements at certain community colleges throughout the State.

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally testified in opposition to HB 667 seeking to address these concerns. From MACo Testimony:

Current state laws include distinct collective bargaining processes for community colleges in several jurisdictions. Several colleges already have some locally-authorized collective bargaining. This bill allows for collective bargaining contracts at those colleges to continue only until they expire. After that point, the existing systems must be repealed and substituted for the far more detailed and restrictive collective bargaining process required by HB 667.

As partners in the network of community colleges serving the states’ residents, county governments reserve the ability to have input into potentially costly shifts in community college administration.”

 

Counties: Clarify Tax Exemption Authority

MACo submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 964, “Admissions and Amusement Tax – Exemption for School Field Trips”, to the House Ways and Means Committee on February 20, 2018.

HB 964 grants counties clear authority to exempt different public school activities from admission and amusement taxes. This could affect school events outside of the jurisdiction and school field trips to different parts of the State and county.

MACo supports this explicit language that outlines county authority with clarity.

From MACo Testimony:

For more information on HB 964 and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Sponsor Amendments Assure Enforcement of Electric Vehicle Parking Spaces

Legislation was introduced that would prohibit parking or stopping in parking spaces specifically designated for plug-in electric cars, if the car is not electric. The bill included provisions that could have prohibited local governments from enforcing the intended violation.

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 15, 2018 on House Bill 598, “Vehicle Laws – Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicles – Reserved Parking Spaces.” After working with the bill sponsor, counties’ concerns were alleviated through sponsor amendments.

MACo expressed concerns about the use of green paint in these spots because it is not consistent with federal law. Another concern is the provision that would force local jurisdictions into compliance with laws affecting private parking operators towing procedures.

The bill sponsor agreed to offer amendments addressing MACo’s concerns prior to the hearing, allowing MACo to drop its opposition.

From MACo Testimony:

MACo does not contest the effort to make this violation a statewide offense. In fact, many counties already enforce this under local laws. However, terms of the bill requiring local governments to comply with towing provisions applicable to private parking lot owners under Subtitle 10A of Maryland Vehicle Law, Title 21, have the unintended consequence of prohibiting local governments from being able to enforce the terms of this bill in many cases.

Additionally, using green paint markings violates the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), adopted into Federal law under 23 C.F.R 665 and adapted into the Maryland MUTCD pursuant to Maryland Code, Transportation Article, Section 25-104. MUTCD, Section 3A.05 states, “Markings shall be yellow, white, red, blue, or purple.”

MACo respectfully requests that the Committee adopt amendments offered by the sponsor addressing these issues.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Counties: Interest Payments on Refund Claims Should Continue to be Paid by the State

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee with a proposed amendment to Senate Bill 428. The bill would require the Comptroller to pay interest on tax refund claims at the end of a 45-day grace period, or from the date of an overpayment if there was an error on the part of the State.

The fiscal note for this bill indicated that local revenues would decrease significantly despite the fact that the State is responsible for administering income taxes. Therefore, MACo offered an amendment that the bill should continue to exclude counties and county revenues from this process.

From MACo Testimony:

MACo had not previously taken positions on prior introductions of this legislation because it was not believed to have any fiscal effect on counties. Counties understandably believed that any obligation for interest payments would come from state money, as the State is fully responsible for administering income taxes.

However, the fiscal note for SB 428 states, “local income tax revenues may decrease significantly beginning in FY 2019 due to additional interest payments paid on individual income tax refunds.” To the extent that the law allows the Comptroller to pay this interest from local income tax revenues or otherwise hold counties accountable for these costs, MACo respectfully requests an amendment clarifying interest arising from such a circumstance should be paid using state funds. As the Comptroller administers all income taxes and has control for when and how refunds are paid, the State should similarly be the party responsible for paying interest on late and corrective payments.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Streamline Transfer of Estates

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 556, “Estates and Trusts – Administration of Estates – Waiver of Fees”, to the House Health and Government Operations Committee of February 14, 2018.

This bill would allow for the waiver of probate and administration fees in certain circumstances where the heir of an estate is unable to afford the settlement of an estate. Additionally, if the heir continues to live on the property it is possible that they may not be receiving appropriate bills for property taxes or utility usage that would be sent in the owner of the property’s name.

MACo supports this bill in the effort to effectively settle estates to avoid proceeding to tax sale while also ensuring accurate land reports and reduce errant billing.

From MACo Testimony:

This bill helps remove an obstacle to having accurate land records, and could reduce errant billing leading to extraordinary tax collection complications. This is accomplished by authorizing Registers of Wills to waive probate fees in certain circumstances where an heir may not be able to afford to settle an estate and effectuate the transfer of title to property.

Counties support this bill as a “good government,” wise approach to prevent properties from unnecessarily going to tax sale. Tax sale serves as an effective means of collection and one of last resort. However, it benefits everyone to make sure that the record owner of the property is correct, so that counties can provide notice of moneys owed and assistance to their residents effectively.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Tax Benefit Mandate Handcuffs Local Jurisdictions

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally submitted written testimony in opposition to House Bill 540, “Labor and Employment – Pre-Tax Transportation Fringe Benefit – Requirement (Maryland Pre-Tax Commuter Benefit Act), to the House Economic Matters Committee on February 13, 2018.

This legislation would mandate counties to provide a pre-tax benefit for certain workplace transportation costs. While jurisdictions currently have the discretion to administer this benefit, the bill introduced here would force counties to offer the credit without consideration of local budgets or differences in modes of transportation in areas across the state.

From MACo Testimony:

According to the bill’s fiscal note, local income tax revenues would decline by more than $2 million per year. This is exacerbated by the fact that counties do not know yet just how federal tax reform, and the state reaction to it, will affect their revenues.

MACo suggests that consideration be given instead to providing state tax credits, which do not mandate the depletion of resources from all counties for education, public safety, and needed community services. State tax credits also afford a far greater range of effect to encourage employees to avail themselves of the new benefit.

Counties in their dual roles as employers and tax collectors object to proposals that mandate specific employer decisions, and potentially deplete local revenues without input by local elected officials.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Preventative Maintenance Saves County Funds in the Long Haul

MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally testified in support of House Bill 403, “Community Colleges – Facilities Renewal Grant Program – Established”, before the House Appropriations Committee on February 13, 2018.

The bill establishes a grant program that would provide for needed improvements, repairs, and maintenance at community colleges. Counties currently are a part of a state-local cost formula that allows both parties to contribute to the funding responsibility. This investment could promote long-term cost savings through preventative action on smaller maintenance projects.

From MACo Testimony:

The grant program envisioned in this legislation will provide helpful assistance in tackling maintenance projects that will improve the learning environments of community college students and may extend the life of community college facilities, a joint investment of counties and the State of Maryland.

The facility renewal program will fund for small renovations those projects with total estimated costs of less than $1 million. Under this legislation, each year beginning in fiscal 2019, the Governor must appropriate 5% of the annual appropriation for the Community College Construction Grant Program to the new facility renewal program.

The funds would be distributed evenly to community college applicants, with no college generally receiving more than $500,000 grant funding in one fiscal year, and with community colleges alternating years in which they receive grants. In this way, the program assures that all community colleges statewide are provided with some assistance for needed renovations and improvements.”

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.