MACo Supports Repeal of County Mandate to Repay Comptroller

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, testified in support of House Bill 1433, “Local Income Tax Overpayments – Local Reserve Account Repayment – Forgiveness,” which repeals the requirement that local governments must reimburse the Local Income Tax Reserve Account for overpayments of local income tax revenue distributions made by the Comptroller. This bill allows for funds to be drawn from the Account, rather than local government budgets, to rectify errors for which they are not responsible.

Over this past year, due to an issue concerning misclassified addresses, the Comptroller’s Office has identified $21 million in local income tax revenues which were distributed to counties and municipalities incorrectly for tax years 2010-2014 – resulting in overpayments to some local governments and underpayments to others.

MACo’s testimony states,

MACo supports this bill because it alleviates local governments from bearing the burden for unpredicted liabilities due to no fault of their own. Such liabilities could potentially compromise a local government’s ability to provide funds for needed programs and services.

The cross-file to the bill, SB 397, was heard by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 15, 2017. It passed the Senate unanimously, with an amendment to require the Comptroller to reimburse any local government which has already made a repayment.

Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

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

Counties and Municipalities Oppose Water Shut-Off Bill

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, alongside Bill Jorch representing the Maryland Municipal League; Jim DiPietro, Deputy Director, Bureau of Utility Operations, Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works; and Steve Gerwin, Chief, Bureau of Utilities, Howard County Department of Public Works testified in opposition to House Bill 228, Environment – Water Service – Shutoff Notice Disclosures and Vulnerable Population Protection, before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 15, 2017.

This bill requires water and wastewater system providers to follow a strict and rigorous process before shutting off services for nonpayment, rendering that enforcement unusable in many cases. In addition, it explicitly prevents a provider from shutting off service in a wide range of situations.

MACo advocates that by reducing the consequences for nonpayment, those costs simply get reassigned to others. This may be to those who pay their water bills on time (through higher base rates), or to the general taxpayer base (through higher property taxes). In general, local matters should remain in local hands. The county and municipal officials elected by and accountable to their own communities are in the best position to judge these needs, and to balance these issues of fairness. With this bill, MACo urges state policymakers to refrain from statewide intrusion — both out of respect for local autonomy, but also to avoid creating fundamental new unfairness in local revenue systems.

From MACo testimony:

The ability to discontinue a resident’s water or sewer service, or the potential of discontinuing the service, presents a much-needed device to ensure water users remit payment for their fair share of fees and charges connected to public services. HB 228 removes this leverage and undoubtedly would create many more deficient accounts for water and sewer bills from lack of enforcement – leading to increased rates on citizens who properly pay.

Members of the Committee asked a number of questions concerning existing water shut-off processes across the state, whether tenants can or should be held responsible or have access to information concerning bills for their homes, and whether the bill actually accomplishes its proposed intent, which is only to make those users responsible for paying for water if “they can actually pay.”

Useful Links

Bill Text

MACo Testimony

Video of hearing: at 1:13:00

Delegate Washington’s Homepage

MACo Bill Tracking Tool

 

Counties Seek Flexibility in County Employment Policies

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, testified in support with amendments of House Bill 167, “Counties and Municipalities – At-Will Supervisory Employees – Residency Requirements,”  before the House Appropriations Committee on February 14, 2017.

This bill authorizes a local government to require an at-will supervisory employee to reside in the state, county, or municipality as a condition of employment if the employee reports directly to the head of a unit of local government.  MACo proposed an amendment that would ensure any ordinance enacted by a local jurisdiction would only apply prospectively, so as not to be used as a basis for removing current supervisory employees.

From MACo testimony:

Currently, local governments may only impose residency requirements on department heads and similar managerial positions. This bill will provide local governments with greater autonomy and flexibility in implementing local policies designed to serve and react to community needs. While MACo supports the premise of this bill, counties want to ensure current local government employees are not adversely affected by the implementation of a new residency requirement policy.

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

MACo Concerned about Limits on Local Officials’ Speech

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, testified in opposition to House Bill 507, Community Colleges and Local Governments – Use of Public Funds to Influence Collective Bargaining Rights – Prohibition,”  before the House Appropriations Committee on February 14, 2017.

This bill would prohibit public officials and employees of a local government, as well as of a community college, from using public funds to influence employees in supporting or opposing an employee organization.

From MACo testimony:

Local government officials serve at the pleasure of their constituents. MACo believes that a free and open dialogue between local representatives and the communities they serve is a key cornerstone of good local governance. HB 507, while well intentioned, could undermine this communication structure, and create a cloud of uncertainty over a wide range of actions when public officials discuss labor-related matters.

MACo testified that it had no objections with efforts to prevent the use of public funds for the willful interference into employees’ labor rights, or to coerce employees to make decisions concerning collective bargaining rights. The bill as drafted, however, is overbroad and has unintended consequences. 

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

MACo Urges Repeal of County Mandate to Repay Comptroller

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, testified in support of Senate Bill 397, “Local Income Tax Overpayments – Local Reserve Account Repayment – Forgiveness,” before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 15, 2017.

Over this past year, due to an issue concerning misclassified addresses, the Comptroller’s Office has identified $21 million in local income tax revenues which were distributed to counties and municipalities incorrectly for tax years 2010-2014 – resulting in overpayments to some local governments and underpayments to others.  This bill repeals the requirement that local governments must reimburse the Local Income Tax Reserve Account for overpayments of local income tax revenue distributions made by the Comptroller. This bill allows for funds to be drawn from the Account, rather than local government budgets, to rectify errors for which they are not responsible.

From MACo testimony:

MACo supports this bill because it alleviates local governments from bearing the burden for unpredicted liabilities due to no fault of their own. Such liabilities could potentially compromise a local government’s ability to provide funds for needed programs and services.

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

Tensions High As Howard Debates “Sanctuary” Law

Hundreds of residents turned out for a passionate and emotional public hearing on Tuesday night, as the Howard County Council weighed a pending “Sanctuary” bill, framing the county and law enforcement posture regarding undocumented residents.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun’s “Howard County Times” section:

County Council Chairman Jon Weinstein frequently interrupted testimony to call on the audience to refrain from applause, laughter and overall discord. Back and forth between two council members prompted Weinstein to call for a 10-minute recess in the more than seven-hour-long meeting.

The debate veered between two extremes: opponents said the bill invites undocumented residents to Howard County at the expense of possibly stripping federal funding, while supporters said the bill was a principled stand on behalf of undocumented immigrants in a county that champions and celebrated diversity.

The bill is set for a vote in early February, but faces opposition from the County Executive:

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman pledged to veto the measure if it crosses his desk, citing the bill as political grandstanding that threatens critical federal funding and provides a false sense of security to undocumented residents.

DLS: How Maryland Keeps Counties In (Fiscal) Line

In response to a number of municipalities nationwide falling upon fiscal distress following the Great Recession, The Maryland Department of Legislative Services (DLS) has analyzed the tools and obligations the State has in addressing fiscal challenges faced by local governments in its report, Fiscal Challenges of Local Governments In Maryland, issued this month.

From the report:

Following the Great Recession of 2007 through 2009, several cities across the country experienced financial emergencies or filed for bankruptcy, most notably in Alabama, California, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. One of the issues to emerge as a result of that uptick in municipal fiscal distress is what role, if any, a state should have in helping municipalities recover and regain fiscal stability.

Unlike 20 other states, Maryland law contains no statutory provisions for any State intervention practices, nor does it define local fiscal distress or authorize a local government to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Maryland is one of 22 states, however, with active local fiscal monitoring responsibilities. Under Section 16-306 of the Local Government Article, each county, incorporated city and town, and taxing district is required to conduct an annual audit, and file it with DLS’ Office of Legislative Audits (OLA). OLA must perform desk audits of the annual audits submitted.

In addition to these requirements, Maryland has several laws limiting the amount and type of debt that a local government may incur.  The report’s Appendix 4 summarizes debt limitations on counties and municipalities.

DLS calls attention to a 2010 letter of advice from the Office of the Attorney General which states that the State has “no legal obligation” to assist local governments experiencing fiscal crisis. Further, a local government’s deficit generally may not be considered a State obligation.

The full report is available here. The study largely draws upon work performed nationally on the subject issue by The Pew Charitable Trusts, including the 2013 report, The State Role in Local Government Financial Distressand the 2016 report, State Strategies to Detect Local Fiscal Distress.

Prince George’s County Council Gains Two At-Large Seats

A Washington Post article (2016-11-10) reported that the Prince George’s County Council will gain two additional at-large members in January of 2019 as a result of a ballot initiative that was supported by county voters during the November 8 election. From the article:

The new positions are seen as an opportunity for the council to have a broader, less parochial focus and for district lawmakers who are in the second of their two permitted terms to remain on the council if they run countywide. …

There are currently five second-term council members: Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland), Mary Lehman (D-Laurel), Andrea Harrison (D-Springdale) and Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro).

Harrison and Franklin campaigned in support of the council expansion at polling stations. Democratic Party insiders say both appear to be interested in the new seats.

The article noted that County Executive Rushern Baker III and Council Chair Derrick Davis also supported the expansion. However, support for the measure was not universal:

“Most people who learned about the issue rejected the ballot question,” said Larry Stafford of Progressive Prince George’s, a coalition of labor and community organizations. …

“It was very hard to make an education pitch when someone is walking into a polling place and has just a few minutes,” said Suchitra Balachandran, who was one of a few dozen people campaigning against Question D at polling places across the county.

Impeachment of Howard County Sheriff Being Explored

State and local leaders in Howard County are exploring whether county Sheriff James Fitzgerald can be impeached. The Sheriff has been faced with calls to resign from office following a human rights investigation into discrimination complaints filed against him.

Fitzgerald, a constitutional officer elected by county residents, has declined to resign, despite pressure from a wide range of county leaders. This has pushed county legislative representatives to consult with attorneys to determine the boundaries and procedures for impeaching a constitutional officer under the state constitution and local laws. This recourse has been rarely pursued in Maryland.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman asked the county’s top lawmakers in Annapolis to investigate whether they General Assembly can impeach Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has been accused of using foul and racist language, belittling and threatening employees and creating a hostile work environment for those who did not support his campaign. The accusations were detailed in a report from the county’s Office of Human Rights, which found “reasonable cause” that the sheriff discriminated against a lieutenant who had filed a complaint.

Kittleman, a Republican, said he doesn’t take the allegations lightly.

“I recognize that impeachment of any elected official is an extreme step, one that should not be taken in haste,” Kittleman wrote lawmakers. “But the offensive actions and behavior documented in the OHR report are so grossly contrary to the shared values of inclusion and respect for all that we hold dear in Howard County that I see no other recourse.”

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, chairwoman of the county’s House delegation, said she and her counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Guy Guzzone, have asked the General Assembly’s lawyers for advice on whether they can impeach the sheriff and how the process would work.

Atterbeary said the Maryland Constitution has provisions for impeaching holders of state offices, including county sheriffs.

Atterbeary and Guzzone plan to meet soon with all of Howard County’s delegates and senators to see if they want to proceed with impeachment.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun

Commissioner Rothschild And Carroll Commissioners Commemorate Constitution Week

During a September 22 meeting of the Carroll County Commissioners, the County issues a proclamation in support of national Constitution Week. According to the Daughters of the American revolution website, the Week is dedicated to:

  • Emphasize citizens’ responsibilities for protecting and defending the Constitution.
    Inform people that the Constitution is the basis for America’s great heritage and the foundation for our way of life.
    Encourage the study of the historical events which led to the framing of the Constitution in September 1787.
  • Prior to the Commissioners’ action, Commissioner Richard Rothschild offered his perspectives on the Constitution, which are captured on the following YouTube video produced by Carroll County Government.