MACo Advocates for Revenue Equity for State Forests & Parks

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in support of Senate Bill 273, which addresses a longstanding funding shortfall to counties for their acreage of State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas.

MACo’s testimony states,

As amended, the bill would establish a Revenue Equity Program which would provide counties with at least 40,000 acres of State forests, State parks and wildlife management areas with State funding, allocated through an analog to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, in fairly wide use across Maryland. Beginning in Fiscal 2019, the State would pay the qualifying counties the amount they would receive in property taxes if the land were not government-owned. Five counties currently have at least 40,000 acres of applicable land and qualify for the benefits provided by the bill: Allegany, Dorchester, Garrett, Somerset, and Worcester.

SB 273 will serve as an appropriate incentive to counties to preserve their State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas. As State lands or designated wildlife areas, these properties are exempt from the local property tax, which is the counties’ top revenue source. These State lands comprise as much as 20% of the total land mass in some counties. Property revenues fund a large portion of county expenditures from which these lands benefit, including law enforcement, emergency management services, stormwater infrastructure, and roadways. Providing services to these areas without revenues for this specific purpose draws funds away from other parts of the county budget.

The following county members joined Zektick to testify in favor of this bill:

  • Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine
  • Somerset County Commissioner Charlie Fisher
  • Executive Assistant to the Dorchester County Manager, Rebecca White

After a detailed introduction from bill sponsors Senators George Edwards and James Mathias, Governor Hogan’s Chief Legislative Officer and former Senator Chris Shank stressed the Governor’s support for the bill. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources also testified in support of the bill, clarifying that its passage would relieve any tension between the State and local governments concerning the purchase and development of additional State forest and park land.

Delegate Stephen Lafferty asked White about the income potential of State land primarily covered in marsh, where housing could not be developed. White and Commissioner Valentine testified that just because it could not house development did not mean that counties did not have to pay for services supporting the land. Delegate Andrew Cassilly followed up with a friendly question concerning the land value, and Delegate William Wivell drove home the point that any concerns about the value of the land would be addressed through the property assessment process.

Previous Conduit Street coverage can be found here. Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Supports Expansion of Substance Abuse Treatment Outcome Partnership Grant Program

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu testified in favor of legislation (SB 1194) which would provide greater flexibility and increased resources to local governments for substance abuse treatment and related prevention, outreach, and maintenance efforts. Drug-related deaths and crises continue to rise in epidemic proportions. Counties need support to bridge remaining gaps.

MACo’s testimony states,

The grant program supports targeted substance abuse treatment services and populations, as proposed by county governments in response to local needs. SB 1194 expands the eligible populations and uses for grant funds to address remaining challenges in addressing substance abuse to include individuals in recovery and recovery support services. It also establishes an $8.4 million annual appropriation for the fund. The program has been level-funded at $6.4 million for over a decade. In FY 16, STOP was revitalized to address changing demographics and challenges, but no new funding was appropriated.

Supporting sobriety is a key component in the opioid addiction battle. As counties continue efforts to prevent individuals from falling into addiction and to treat those who have already succumbed to it, it is essential to also provide adequate support to individuals in recovery and at risk for relapse. SB 1194 helps to provide additional resources and support to programs targeting those vulnerable individuals.

This bill was heard by the Senate Finance committee on March 29. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman joined Ms. Mehu in support of the bill.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Backs Compromise on Transportation Scorecard

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson testified in favor of the amended Administration bill (SB 307) which would repeal the controversial transportation scorecard law passed last year. This bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and was heard by the House Appropriations and Environment and Transportation committees on March 23.

Governor Hogan’s Administration introduced and supported the bill.

MACo’s testimony states,

This amended bill substantially reframes the 2016 legislation creating a “scorecard” for major transportation projects. The amended bill clarifies that the use of scoring from the statutory system will be purely advisory for a two-year period, while a designated work group convenes to consider refinements to its elements and effects. By eliminating the uncertainty regarding the potential immediate effect on project funding, SB 307 addresses the chief county concerns with the current law. Counties welcome an opportunity to help inform the ongoing work group efforts proposed in the amended bill.

Useful Links

Senate Bill 307

MACo’s testimony

Transportation Scorecard Compromise Passes Senate Unanimously

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Community College Collective Bargaining Bill Remains in Committee

Neither the Senate Finance Committee nor the House Appropriations Committee has taken action on a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all collective bargaining bill that would affect all Maryland community colleges. HB 871 / SB 652 failed to move prior to yesterday’s “crossover” deadline, and bills passed out from now on go to the Rules Committee of the second chamber, a procedural hurdle impeding their chances of final passage.

Counties oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 871 / SB 652, which limits local decision-making. The move to collective bargaining outlined in this bill could create potentially unsustainable costs for counties, who provide substantial funding for community colleges throughout Maryland – especially since the legislation does not envision any added State support.

From the MACo testimony,

Despite counties’ role in supporting community colleges, this legislation would not provide any opportunity for county governments to participate in collective bargaining negotiations. The combination of these effects – State-imposed system and costs, no county participation in bargaining, and no additional State funding – is simply not affordable as a statewide county mandate and could present substantial budget difficulties.

MACo opposed identical legislation in past sessions of the General Assembly. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

Local Collective Bargaining Mandate Misses “Crossover” Deadline

A bill that would require all counties to extend collective bargaining rights to all of their employees – except for supervisory, managerial, or confidential employees, or elected or appointed officials, has not moved out of the House Appropriations Committee. HB 1370 failed to move prior to yesterday’s “crossover” deadline, and bills passed out from now on go to the Rules Committee of the second chamber, a procedural hurdle impeding their chances of final passage.

MACo opposed the bill, as it mandates a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all design that would expand collective bargaining rights in a third of Maryland’s counties.

From the MACo testimony,

Maryland county governments vary in many ways. They come in different forms of government, including charter, commission, and code home rule. They are different sizes, ranging from less than two hundred employees to more than ten thousand. And, they have different levels of collective bargaining rights. Some authorize collective bargaining for all the employees described in HB 1370, some have it for public safety employees, and others do not currently have collective bargaining agreements.

Requiring even Maryland’s smallest county governments and any municipal governments in Maryland that have more than 20 employees to authorize collective bargaining to almost all their employees will create a new administrative burden, and could also create additional personnel costs. The low threshold and broad application of HB 1370 puts pressure on some of the state’s smallest jurisdictions, which may be least able to accommodate additional administration and costs.

Useful Links

2016 Bill: HB 736

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo: Give Counties Greater Role in Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified in favor of Senate Bill 851, “Public Service Commission – Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity – Consistency With Comprehensive Plan” on March 14, 2017. The bill was heard before the Senate Finance Committee and was sponsored by Senator Justin Ready.

This bill would require the Public Service Commission (PSC), upon receipt of an application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a generation station or high voltage overhead transmission line, to send the application materials to each local government where the project will be located so that the local government could determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan. Each local government must review the application materials and determine whether the application is consistent with its comprehensive plan per § 1-303 of the Land Use Article. If the local government determines that the application is not consistent, then the PSC may not hold a public hearing or move forward on the application.

MACo’s testimony states,

Maryland is nationally recognized as a state that embraces robust long-term comprehensive planning and Smart Growth. Counties set development plans; agriculture, open space, and historic preservation goals; and environmental protection targets within their comprehensive plans and related planning tools. These plans and goals are all designed to properly manage long-term growth and preserve the unique identities of Maryland’s diverse communities. However, energy generation facilities are not subject to the same land use planning requirements.

Instead, energy facility siting is based on decades-old law that envisions small and relatively compact facilities like coal, oil, and nuclear plants as primary energy generators. But increasingly, energy generation is becoming more “dispersed” as technologies like solar, wind, biomass, and gasification are now poised to be primary generators. These technologies bring many advantages but also some drawbacks – including a need for significant amounts of open space.

According to the Nature Conservancy, energy development now consumes more open space in the United States than residential, commercial, and industrial development. Maryland is seeing a “gold rush” as energy companies are optioning thousands of acres, regardless of local government plans and needs. Over 3,000 acres are already in the development pipeline for large-scale solar facilities alone. SB 851 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops.

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1350, sponsored by Delegate April Rose, was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 9, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Advocates for Local Zoning Authority of Large Energy Generation Facilities

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in favor of Senate Bill 931, “Local Jurisdictions – Zoning Authority – Generating Stations” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Finance Committee. Senators John Astle and Stephen Hershey sponsored the bill.

SB 931 would give a voice to the communities and local governments in the zoning process for properly siting large-scale energy generation facilities and would strike a reasonable balance between long-term land use planning and the need for utility-scale energy generation facilities.

MACo’s testimony states,

SB 931 would allow counties and municipalities with zoning authority to enact binding zoning for utility-scale energy generation facilities that need to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission (PSC) or have a generation capacity of at least 2 megawatts. Community or small-scale projects are unaffected.

In order for a local government’s zoning to be binding, the local government must engage in an “enhanced” zoning process for each energy generation technology it wishes to zone for – including meeting with appropriate energy developer representatives and incorporating factors identified by the PSC as important to that energy generation technology. For the zoning to be binding, a local government must generate viable project sites and cannot simply ban a particular technology.

Currently, there is a disconnect between laws governing the siting of energy facilities and laws governing land use planning.

SB 931 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops. Despite several recent decisions by the PSC that found in favor of local governments over proposed energy sites in Kent and Allegany Counties, the decisions made it very clear that the PSC retains its preemption authority over local zoning and that the decisions were based on the specific facts of the case. The finding could be different in the next case. A systemic solution is still needed.

SB 931 attempts to provide a solution by requiring local governments that wish to enact binding zoning to ensure they generate viable project sites while still giving the PSC the authority to override local zoning for grid integrity issues. The bill also moves local participation toward the start of the siting process, which will help provide more certainty both to citizens and energy developers. Otherwise, it is likely that contentious siting battles and costly litigation will continue.

Joining Mr. Knapp in testifying on SB 931 were:

  • Mary Kay Verdery (Talbot County)
  • Mike Pullen (Talbot County)
  • Bill Jorch (Maryland Municipal League)
  • Candace Donoho (Maryland Municipal League)

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1592, is currently in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Opposes Prevailing Wages on Public Construction TIF Bond Projects

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in opposition of legislation (SB 870) which would require payment of prevailing wages on construction contracts receiving any funds from tax increment financing (TIF) bond proceeds. Counties are concerned that this bill will drive up costs of public infrastructure projects, stifle use of a demonstrably successful economic development tool, and squeeze out small businesses from participating in infrastructure construction projects.

MACo’s testimony states that the bill,

unfairly applies prevailing wage requirements to certain projects receiving TIF bond proceeds when those projects would not otherwise have to comply even if financed with other public funds.

…this bill will significantly raise costs for development projects funded with TIF bonds. If costs are raised over and above what the development will return in future tax revenues, the county will not issue the TIF because it is not economically viable. This generally prevents the development from occurring, sacrificing blight elimination, job creation, targeted economic development, and growth to the taxable base.

Under existing law, prevailing wages are required on public works contracts valued at $500,000 or more. However, the only threshold in SB 870 is the amount of the TIF bond, applying the wage requirements to any contract funded with a TIF bond valued at $500,000 or higher. It is extremely unlikely that a local government would issue a TIF bond of less than this amount. Therefore, the bill would require payment of prevailing wages for virtually any construction project receiving TIF funds, regardless of the size of the contract or scope of the project. This extremely broad scope unfairly applies higher-than-market wage requirements to projects in TIF districts where these terms would not apply to public works contracts in any other situations.

At the hearing, Senator Stephen Hershey asked why the state would establish a mandate for how TIF money must be spent, if counties created the TIF districts, constructed the deals, issued the bonds and financed the projects with county property tax revenues. MACo further emphasized that counties already have the ability to require prevailing wages in TIF projects on a case by case basis  – and it should remain this way.

This bill was heard by the Senate Finance committee on March 16.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Advocates for Amended Expedited Foreclosure Process

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu sought to support legislation (SB 1033) with consensus amendments intended to establish an expedited foreclosure process for homes that are vacant and abandoned. These properties are often a source of blight and nuisance for the communities surrounding them.

Over the interim MACo participated in the workgroup that studied foreclosures as well as vacant and abandoned properties with the goal of providing local governments additional tools for addressing problem properties. Recently stakeholders came to a consensus on amendments to establish a framework for an expedited foreclosure process without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits.

MACo’s testimony raised a number of concerns that are addressed with the consensus amendments:

The bill requires that the appropriate county official verify to the court that the property is vacant and abandoned before the expedited foreclosure process may move forward.

The county would be vulnerable to constitutional claims and other costly and time-consuming lawsuits from an aggrieved party should the property turn out not to be vacant and abandoned.

Counties are also concerned about the staff time and resources that would need to be dedicated to inspecting the properties in order to verify that they are vacant and abandoned.

The mandatory inspections and verifications for the expedited foreclosure process would add a new layer of responsibly to their workloads without additional compensation, stretching already limited resources even thinner. The responsibility for verifying the properties are vacant and abandoned should fall on the foreclosing party.

Finally, while the community will benefit from a property that is no longer vacant and unmaintained, the bill should include stronger and clearer protections for the property owner on record. This could include adding notice provisions, as well as opportunities for an owner to object and appeal. The criteria used to determine “vacant and abandoned” should also be reinforced by appropriate documentation.

This bill was heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee on March 16. The cross-file to the bill (HB 702) was heard by the House Environment & Transportation committee on February 14, 2017. The house committee issued a favorable report on the house bill with the consensus amendments. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Supports Strengthening Drug Overdose Prevention Programs

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu submitted written testimony in favor of legislation (HB 1549) that enhances state and local tools and helps improve the effectiveness of existing programs that help reduce overdose deaths and address addiction.

MACo’s testimony states,

The bill authorizes DHMH to revoke licenses for Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers that fail to properly register. This strengthens the Department’s ability to enforce compliance and catch rogue businesses that handle highly addictive drugs that are subject to abuse.

The bill also authorizes local overdose fatality review teams to collect and analyze information related to near overdoses. These teams perform confidential reviews of drug and alcohol overdose deaths in order to identify ways to improve system level operations. However, they are currently only able to review fatal overdose data. The information that can be gleaned from an individual that has experienced an overdose, but survived, is valuable for preventing and responding to future overdose events.

This bill was heard by the House Health and Government Operations committee on March 16.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.