Carroll Earns Three AAA Bond Ratings

Carroll County recently received the highly coveted AAA bond rating from all three of the major credit rating agencies. Moody’s granted the county the highest possible rating, following the lead of FitchRatings and Standard & Poor’s (S&P). The rating upgrade translates into a lower interest rate and reduced fees, saving valuable taxpayer dollars.

According to a press release:

The county will immediately feel the improved rating as it readies to finance a new $25M bond sale this week.

The Moody’s ratings rationale “is based on the ongoing expansion of the county’s large tax base and growing revenue streams, resulting in a consistently healthy and stable financial position. The Aaa rating also incorporates the county’s beneficial location near the Baltimore-Washington metro area, above-average resident wealth levels, comprehensive fiscal polies and planning and manageable debt and pension burdens.”

In early October, County Commissioners Dennis Frazier and Stephen Wantz, County Administrator Roberta Windham, Comptroller Robert Burk and Economic Development Director Jack Lyburn travelled to New York City’s financial district to present the county’s case for top ratings to the three rating agencies.

Commissioner Frazier, District 3, said, “This is very exciting as for the first time in history, Carroll County receives the highest rating across the board. This is a win for the county as the ratings will lower our cost of borrowing in the future. This is a great compliment to the county and the reward for its healthy financial position and consistent, conservative fiscal management.”

Read the full press release for more information.

Conduit Street Podcast: Split the Check for School Construction? Not So Fast…

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally is joined by MACo’s Research Director, Robin Eilenberg, to discuss school construction in Maryland. For many years the State-county partnership on school construction has been strong, with the Department of Legislative Services reporting that from fiscal 2006 through 2013, the State provided $2.4 billion in new funds for school construction while Counties provided $2.1 billion for school construction.

Increases in school construction costs in recent years, however, threaten to strain that relationship and offset the balance of the shared commitment to building and renovating facilities for Maryland’s K-12 students. Eligible cost definitions and state environmental and labor mandates are at the heart of the division.

Listen here:

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play Music by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

You can listen to previous episodes of the Conduit Street Podcast on our website.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: It’s Not Apples-to-Apples in School Construction Funding

21st Century School Facilities Act

Interagency Commission on School Construction

State Cost Share Percentages

Feds Announce Grants to Strengthen School Safety

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) today announced awarded $3.6 million in federal grants designed to strengthen school safety across Maryland.

According to an MSDE press release:

A five-year, $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow Maryland to implement the Maryland School Emergency Preparedness Program, a partnership between MSDE, local school systems, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and local emergency managers. In addition, a three-year, $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice, will allow MSDE to implement a new violence prevention model in schools across the State.

Dr. Karen Salmon, State Superintendent of Schools, said the grants will allow MSDE to bolster the security of every classroom in Maryland.

“Learning simply cannot take place in a school where students and teachers don’t feel safe,” Dr. Salmon said. “These funds will help Maryland update and modernize emergency operations plans in schools throughout the State, and utilize state-of-the-art techniques to better identify potential threats to student safety.”

The grants are part of an effort to make schools more secure by providing resources for new technology, expanding school safety training, educating faculty and staff, and supporting existing crisis intervention teams.

The funding, authorized by the STOP School Violence Act, is part of more than $70 million in school safety grants that are being dispersed to communities across the United States.

Read the full press release for more information.

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

drone.jpg
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.

Is Maryland Prepared for the Next Recession?

Separate, in-depth reviews released in recent days by two major credit-rating agencies say nearly a quarter of all states are well-positioned to handle the first-year shock of a recession with their reserves — and Maryland is not one of them.

It has been more than nine years since the end of the last recession, the third longest period of expansion in U.S. history, and state and local governments across the country are beginning to look ahead to the next economic downturn. The Great Recession was uniquely devastating for states and localities because it hit all three major tax revenue sources: income, sales, and property. It was a scenario that few, if any governments, were prepared to absorb. As a result, governments were forced to make massive budget cuts.

According to separate analyses conducted by S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Analytics, a typical state would need to have approximately 11% of its general fund revenues put into a reserve fund to weather the next recession without having to raise taxes or cut spending. To weather an even larger downturn, akin to the Great Recession, a typical state would need almost 18%.

According to Governing:

S&P and Moody’s stress-tested state budgets in their analyses. The idea, which was borrowed from the U.S. Federal Reserve, is to essentially throw different economic scenarios at a state budget to see how revenues would be impacted. Analysts found that states with a progressive income tax structure or states that are dependent on a volatile revenue source, such as oil and gas, tend to have more wild revenue swings in the event of a fiscal shock.

A total of 20 states have enough in reserves to get through a downturn comfortably, according to S&P. Moody’s found that 23 states are well-positioned when including other funds available to buffer the budget. That’s up from the 16 states Moody’s found last year when it issued its first stress-test analysis. Both analyses found that roughly a dozen states almost have enough in reserves to weather a moderate downturn.

But both analyses noted that an alarming number of states are still unprepared to get through even a moderate downturn without resorting to cuts. Moody’s found 17 states are in that category, up from 15 states last year. For S&P, 18 states have less than 70 percent of the reserves they need to absorb a fiscal shock.

What does this mean for Maryland?

The (relatively) good news: Maryland is within 2.5% of reserves it would need to weather a moderate recession this fiscal year. The bad news: Maryland would need to either raise taxes or cut spending by 7.9% of its entire budget if a severe recession were to impact the state this fiscal year.

According to Moody’s, Maryland “almost has enough” to weather a moderate downturn, but is “significantly unprepared” to weather a severe recession.

Both firms noted that governments have time to get ready. Economic forecasts predict the economy will continue to grow or be stable over the next year.

Read the full article for more information.

Questions About #NG9-1-1? MACo Has You Covered

Questions about NG9-1-1 and what it means for county governments? The MACo NG9-1-1 White Paper has you covered.

The Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) Across Maryland, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative that will help Maryland prepare for the deployment of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 system that our residents expect and deserve, held its first meeting, September 20, 2018, in the Joint Hearing Room in Annapolis.

In its 2018 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 634/SB 285, a MACo Legislative Initiative to establish Commission to Advance NG9-1-1 Across Maryland. The Governor signed the bill into law on April 24, 2018.

The Commission’s December report must cover seven subjects, the first of which, is the needs, both capital and operating, to bring efficient and effective NG9-1-1 technology and service across Maryland, and estimated costs required to effect this priority outcome.

Because county governments are at the heart of 9-1-1 service delivery, MACo prepared and submitted to the Commission a Next Generation 9-1-1 White Paper. MACo hopes to continue to serve as a resource for additional information from county governments throughout the Commission’s deliberations.

This report is intended as an informational document on Maryland’s 9-1-1 structure and anticipated needs as the State moves to NG9-1-1 service. MACo has gathered this information about Maryland’s county public safety answering points from county governments and other sources. MACo submits this collection of data toward the Commission’s exploration of NG9-1-1 and hopes that these are helpful ingredients for the Commission’s future findings.

Several years ago, Ross Coates, the Manager of Harford County’s Emergency Services Communications Center, approached MACo and the Maryland Association of County Emergency Managers about creating a statewide group of county PSAP Directors. The Emergency Communications Committee of the Maryland Association of County Emergency Managers is now a vibrant and active association that gives an opportunity for PSAP Directors to share information, lessons learned, and to provide information and support on advocacy topics in emergency communications to MACo’s Legislative Committee and Policy Team.

The Emergency Communications Committee, under the leadership of Ross Coates, has been a primary and essential resource for this report.

MACo’s Legislative Committee voted at their September 12, 2018 meeting to adopt the Association’s four priorities for the 2019 Session. Updating state laws, and the 9-1-1 financing system, to provide the flexibility and resources needed for the transition to NG9-1-1, will again be a top priority for county governments.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

MACo NG9-1-1 White Paper

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Commission to Advance #NG9-1-1 Set to Convene

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Hogan Signs MACo’s 9-1-1 Initiative Bill

Got Grants? Learn How to Secure Grants at the Gov’s Grant Conference

hbjThe 14th annual Governor’s Grant Conference is scheduled for Monday, October 29 at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The Event is sponsored by eCivis, Maryland Nonprofits, and SB & Company.

WHAT?

The Governor’s Grant Conference is held each year to provide grant management training and interaction with top federal, state, and private grant makers. Registration includes a hot lunch, free parking, and Continuing Professional Education Credits.

WHO?

This event applies to anyone applying for federal, state or private grants.

WHEN?

The conference will be held on Monday, October 29, 2018, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Early Bird rate of $99 until September 21 at 11:59 pm.

WHERE?

The College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center is hosting this year’s conference.

College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
3501 University Blvd.
East, College Park, MD 20783

WHAT NOW?

Register Button

Commission to Advance #NG9-1-1 Set to Convene

The Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative that will help Maryland prepare for the deployment of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 system that our residents expect and deserve, will hold its first meeting on Thursday, September 20, 2018, at 10 am in the Joint Hearing Room in Annapolis.

Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland bill signing ceremony. (Photo credit: Executive Office of the Governor)

Maryland residents demand and expect 9-1-1 emergency service to be reliable and efficient. Next-generation technology is required to keep up with this increasingly complex public safety function – improving wireless caller location, accommodating incoming text/video, and managing crisis-driven call overflows.

Maryland must accelerate its move toward NG9-1-1, deliver these essential services equitably across the state, and assure effective coordination with communications providers.

The Commission will examine the strategic aspects of NG911 implementation in coordination with the existing efforts of the Emergency Number Systems Board (ENSB), with a particular emphasis on addressing areas outside of the statutory responsibilities of the ENSB. The Commission will study and make recommendations for the implementation, technology, funding, governance, and ongoing statewide development of NG911 to the Governor and Maryland General Assembly.

Counties encourage efforts to enhance emergency communications in Maryland. The Commission exemplifies a statewide effort to guide this critical transition, harnessing public safety industry leadership and expertise to address complex public safety concerns.

MACo’s Legislative Committee voted at their September 12, 2018 meeting to adopt the Association’s four priorities for the 2019 Session. Updating state laws, and the 9-1-1 financing system, to provide the flexibility and resources needed for the transition to NG9-1-1, will again be a top priority for county governments.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Hogan Signs MACo’s 9-1-1 Initiative Bill

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Counties Gather Answers for the Call for Next Generation 9-1-1 Service

HB 634/SB 285 of 2018