Broadband Access Brings Rural Areas of the State Online

MACo submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 961, “Department of Housing and Community Development – Rural Broadband Service – Inventory and Mapping of Assets”, to the Senate Finance Committeee on March 28, 2018.

The bill includes rural and underserved areas in a statewide inventory of assets. This map would begin the steps to ensuring that broadband is available in every part of the state, but would be particularly important in rural areas that have little to no service. MACo supports the language in this bill, as it includes these areas in a comprehensive view of service in the State.

From MACo Testimony:

As amended, HB 961 would authorize the Department of Housing and Community Development to complete an inventory of state and local government assets by June 1, 2020. The inventory would then be used to create a map that includes all assets. Initially, this inventory and assessment only included population density and business density for unserved and underserved areas in specified areas of the state. As amended, the bill appropriately expands the range of geographic areas to be inventoried and mapped to all unserved or underserved areas of Maryland instead of areas in specified regions of the state.”

The bill has already passed the House by a 136-0 vote. For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Legislation Corrects a Gap in Tax Law

MACo submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 925, “Property Tax – Liability for Payment of Tax on Leased Property”, to the House Ways and Means Committee on March 27, 2018.

This bill allows for the attachment of tax liens in very specialized circumstances where the government leases property for private development, and tax increment financing (TIF) bonds or special taxing districts are used to finance that development.

MACo supports this bill because it corrects a very specific gap in tax law which could prevent a county from issuing a TIF bond and using the proceeds to support needed economic development. Counties use TIFs as an economic development tool to spur growth where it otherwise would not occur, by pledging new tax revenues they otherwise would not receive to pay back bonds used to finance supporting infrastructure.

From MACo Testimony:

For traditional transit-oriented development projects and other economic development public-private partnership development projects, a government entity will frequently make its property available under a long-term ground lease to a developer, who will build taxable development on the property. The local government creates a TIF district, pledging the new property tax revenues from the development to repay TIF bonds issued to pay for roads, water and sewer pipes, and other needed public infrastructure.

This bond is usually guaranteed by revenues from a special taxing district, created on the same property as the TIF district. However, if the county cannot establish a tax lien on the property if those new property taxes go unpaid – as is the case under current law – the TIF bond is less valuable, because it is less assured it will get repaid.

This bill closes that loophole. It ensures that in specific cases where a government owns the land and ground leases it for economic development, the county can create tax liens on the development in order to collect the property taxes owed – ensuring that the TIF bond has the value it is intended to have.”

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

Funding for Behavioral Health Services is Overdue

MACo submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 703, “Behavioral Health Crisis Response Grant Program – Establishment”, to the House Health and Government Operations and Appropriations Committee on March 27, 2018.

The proposed program allows local behavioral health authorities to apply for a competitive grant to expand or establish crisis response programs. Local jurisdictions would be afforded more funds to meet the behavioral health needs of the community through mobile crisis teams, on-demand walk-in services, and residential beds. These programs allow counties to begin to address long-term public health issues in the community, instead of just responding to needs as they arise.

The bill looks likely to pass in some form, as this version has already passed the Senate 45-0 and its cross-file passed through the Health and Government Operations Committee and 133-5 on the House floor.

From MACo Testimony:

Each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions has a local behavioral health authority that is responsible for planning, managing, and monitoring behavioral health services in their county. These authorities may be county government agencies, quasi-governmental, private or non-profits entities that oversee mental health, substance abuse, or overall behavioral health services locally.

SB 703 would significantly support and advance those efforts. This grant program affords these authorities the opportunity to build upon progress made both at the local and state levels to provide comprehensive behavioral crisis services that can meet their community needs on demand. It is vitally important to connect individuals to services when they reach out for help and not a moment later. The budget appropriations for the program ensure that the authorities can invest in and build long-term programs instead of stop-gap fixes.

Additionally, the terms of the grant incentivize local authorities to capitalize on existing resources without fear of the funding supplanting their current sources. Establishing and expanding behavioral crisis services is important to local governments and critical for the health and welfare of their communities.”

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


Staving Off Tax Sale Keeps Options Open

House Bill 1465 allows counties to withhold properties from tax sale that have less than $750 in fees and taxes due on the property. This would be an increase in that figure from $250 for most jurisdictions. Tax sale is an effective last resort to collect overdue bills, but it is also a lengthy and arduous process for all involved. Counties have a vested interest in seeking to maintain continuity with properties that they often find frequently in tax sale. For property owners that owe a relatively small amount of fees on the property, it is best for all parties to work together to rectify the situation in a timely manner and avoid tax sale.

MACo submitted written testimony in support of HB 1465 to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 27, 2018. The bill passed the House 136-0.

From MACo Testimony:

Counties find tax sale as an effective means of last resort to collect overdue tax bills and other fees owed local governments. Of course, no county wants to send any property to tax sale if it can be avoided. All parties involved would strongly prefer that homeowners receive all counseling, education, information, and support which may be available to them, and more time when appropriate, to help them pay on time and avoid going through tax sale. To that end, MACo supports this bill as a wise approach to facilitating access to support services at the time when it is most helpful.”

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

Tidying Up Tax Credits: Counties Usually Administer Their Own

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick testified in support of House Bill 89, “Property Tax Credit – Public Safety Officers – Administration”, before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 27, 2018. The bill shifts administrative responsibilities from the State Department of Assessment and Taxation (SDAT) to the counties.

Counties usually handle the administration of property tax credits that they are responsible for offering. This legislation simply places the administrative nature of this tax credit in line with others and gives this responsibility back to the counties.

The House passed the bill 135-0.

From MACo Testimony:

SDAT does not generally perform administrative duties for tax credit programs like this, and does not administer the public safety officer tax credit for Baltimore City. Counties prefer to exercise control over administrative functions pertaining to their own tax credits – particularly ones like this, where credit duration, amount, and eligibility requirements may vary from county to county. This is especially true considering that counties must reimburse SDAT for expenses incurred for performing these administrative functions. Counties prefer to manage these administrative functions, and their respective costs, themselves. SDAT’s involvement in this particular case merely adds intergovernmental bureaucracy where it is not necessary.”

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

Violence Prevention Grant Funding is on the Move

House Bill 432 established a violence prevention advisory fund and grant program. The establishment of this fund and advisory council will significantly aid local governments, county health officers, and their partners, in their violence prevention efforts. This bill creates a $5 million fund to support evidence-based, public health-centered attempts to develop community-based anti-violence strategies.

MACo submitted written testimony in support of HB 432 to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 27, 2018. The bill passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, 130-5.

From MACo Testimony:

The dedicated, structured, and collective effort the bill provides is key to finding solutions to the violence that is unfortunately plaguing some county neighborhoods. Inadequate funding hinders local governments’ efforts. Funding awarded through this program covers a minimum of three consecutive years and allows local government grantees to make valuable headway without fear of having to end a program prematurely due to inadequate funding or support.

Additionally, the scientific research and data required to obtain funding through this program will help provide insight into the root causes of violence in a community and guidance on how the problem can be tackled. Independent third-party evaluation of the programs that receive funding helps ensure that resources are not squandered, programs are kept accountable, and goals are met.

HB 432 provides local governments with funding and support to confront the public health impacts of violence on their communities.”

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

Senate Bill Allows More Wiggle Room For Giving Businesses a Boost

Senate Bill 67 provides the Department of Commerce more flexibility in providing economic development assistance to local governments and businesses. It renames the economic development assistance fund as the, “Advantage Maryland Fund Authority and Advantage Maryland Fund.” Along with the name change, the legislation allows for more grant and loan funding for enterprises that seek to expand employment in the State.

The bill is now being considered in the House, and has already passed the Senate 45-0. MACo submitted written testimony in support of SB 67 to the House Economic Matters Committee on March 21, 2018.

From MACo Testimony:

Counties and local economic development leaders appreciate the economic development benefits that this program provides. This program funds grants, loans, and investments to support economic development initiatives, including business attraction and retention, infrastructure support, brownfield redevelopment, and local strategic planning.

Last year, the program provided a $1.2 million loan for a new Amazon distribution center in Cecil County. Harford County partnered with the Department of Commerce to provide a package to Maines Paper & Food Service Inc. This program also contributed to the incentive package which led to Marriott International’s decision to remain in Maryland – which Montgomery County anticipates will produce $1.8 billion in economic activity over 20 years.

Economic development projects such as these promote vibrant business communities within counties. This in turn creates jobs, contributes to enhancing quality of life, and expands the local tax base – enabling counties to better provide core services for Maryland families and businesses.”

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

Counties Welcome Assistance in Maintaining Burial Sites

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified in support with amendments of Senate Bill 1242, “Burial Sites – Access, Disinterment, Criminal Penalties, and Tax Credit”, before the Senate Finance Committee on March 22, 2018.

The bill generally provides local governments with assistance in preserving blighted cemeteries. It also allows the local authorities to recoup costs from the owner of the property for any maintenance work done on the burial site property. Additionally, it authorizes a county to offer a tax credit on an “improvement of real property that substantiates, demarcates, commemorates, or celebrates a burial

From MACo Testimony:

Local governments share interest in maintaining the integrity of burial sites within their communities, many of which have historical or cultural significance. This bill helps provide a means for local governments to afford this upkeep when merited.”

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


Internship Incentives Promote Economic Development

House Bill 527 enables counties to participate in the Maryland Technology Internship program.

HB 527 would authorize local governments to participate in the program in the same way as technology-based businesses. The Maryland Technology Internship Program connects college students and recent graduates with small innovative businesses in the technology sector through internships. The Program incentivizes businesses to participate by offering a stipend of up to 50% for each paid intern.

MACo submitted written testimony in support of HB 527 to the Education and Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 21, 2018.

From MACo Testimony:

The bill properly leaves the decision for establishing a program in the hands of local
governments, who are best situated to determine whether a program is in their best interest. If a program is established, it requires both the county and the State to split the costs for paid interns, disbursing financial burdens and ensuring that the State is equally invested in the advancement of its students and workforce.

Counties support and encourage efforts to incentivize and strengthen internship programs that promote a strong and competent workforce.”

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


Rural Broadband Task Force Needs More Time to Develop Recommendations

MACo submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 243, “Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless, and Cellular Service – Study and Extension”,to the Senate Finance Committee on March 22, 2018.

This task force has studying access to service in specified unserved and underserved areas of the state, and this extension would allow it to ascertain issues in all rural areas of the state and allow recommendations to come to fruition. This access is critical to economic development in counties, and extending the time of the task force is allowing it to effectively put forward recommendations that consider all facets of rural broadband access.

From MACo Testimony:

Addressing gaps in access and availability to these services transcends the specified regions of the bill and impacts residents living in rural areas of urban counties as well. As amended, the bill ensures that the rural areas of all counties are afforded the same review and benefits of the extended study.”

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