Montgomery Department of Liquor Control Wins National Award

The Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) has received the 2017 National StateWays Best Practices Award for its Legislative Outreach Program. The award specifically recognizes the DLC for its efforts in reaching out to local and state leaders at last year’s Maryland Alcohol Forum.

According to a press release,

“We are very excited to have won this national award,” said Robert Dorfman, director of the DLC. “We are a national model for public safety and it remains one of our highest priorities.”

The forum, “Innovative Solutions to Keeping Communities Safe,” was geared to alcohol licensing administrators from counties around the state. The event highlighted alcohol licensing needs, which require legislative changes at the state level, and it educated attendees about the public safety benefits of alcohol regulation. The forum was funded by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA).

“Participants were involved in open discussions about the importance of alcohol regulation as it pertains to public health,” said Emily DeTitta, outreach manager for the DLC. “It was very positive. The event revealed common goals such as supporting the health and welfare of our residents and creating a safe and vibrant nightlife.”

Over the past few years, the number of alcohol-licensed businesses in Montgomery County has been the highest in County history, at nearly 1,100, which is second in the state behind Baltimore City.

Read the full press release for more information.

MACo Exploring County Workers’ Comp Pool

MACo mark color
MACo continues the process of exploring workers’ compensation options for Maryland county governments.

The Maryland Association of Counties speaks with entities interested in performing a feasibility of a county self-insurance group.

Additional workers’ compensation insurance options, including a county government self-funded workers’ compensation group, could provide alternatives to Maryland counties that purchase insurance and re-insurance on the open market. MACo is exploring the viability of creating such a group through a feasibility study RFP process.

For more information, click here for the Feasibility Study Request for Proposals or contact Robin Eilenberg at MACo.

Double Tax Amendment Fails, Maryland Checkbooks, Counties Could Take Hit

Maryland’s recently elected U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen is leading the charge to protect a tax deduction popular in Maryland. So far, efforts have failed to preserve the state and local tax deduction, however.

The National Association of Counties urges Counties to advocate to preserve the state and local tax deduction (SALT) to protect against double taxation. NACo portrays eliminating the exemption a shift of revenues from local and state governments. The Honorable Roy Charles Brooks, President of NACo states,

 

Eliminating SALT to pay for tax reform efforts would reverse more than 150 years of national tax policy and constitute a $1.3 trillion federal revenue grab. That’s $1.3 trillion less in our residents’ pockets to support local services our communities need.

Roy Charles Brooks, NACo President and Commissioner, Tarrant County, Texas advocates for preserving the state and local tax deduction.

About 45 percent of all Maryland taxpayers utilize that state and local income deduction – that’s the highest percentage in the country. Nearly 1.3 million Marylanders took advantage of the SALT deductions in 2015, reducing their taxable income by an average of $9,010 per individual, according to IRS data.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, the first attempt to preserve the deduction failed,

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul.

For more information, see Van Hollen leads unsuccessful first effort to preserve tax deduction popular in Maryland from the Baltimore Sun.

From Senator Van Hollen’s newsroom, the Senator states the issue is not a partisan one,

“This deduction helps millions of people in Maryland and across the country – and getting rid of it will hit the pocketbooks the middle class families the hardest. It also would tie the hands of state and local governments, which provide critical services in every community across America. This is not a partisan issue, and I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.”

For more information see Van Hollen, Cantwell Introduce Amendment to Ensure Tax Fairness, Protect Middle Class from Being Taxed Twice on Their Paychecks

Calvert County Creates Two New Departments in Government Organization Restructure

The Board of County Commissioners in Calvert County recently announced that it will restructure the government organization to improve overall government operations and services to the public. The plan will create two new departments: Parks & Recreation and Communications and Media Relations. The plan does not call for staff reductions. Changes in the county’s organizational structure will take effect July 1, 2017.

According to the county press release,

The BOCC reviewed and approved the proposed organizational structure in open session during its regular meeting. To better meet the needs of the citizens, changes in the departments of Economic Development, Finance & Budget, General Services, Personnel and Public Safety are planned. The reorganization is a response to guidance established by the BOCC to ensure the effective and efficient use of county resources by determining alternative approaches to the way government is run.

“These changes set the foundation for a more effective county government now and in the years to come,” said BOCC President Tom Hejl. “More effective management of operations will help us provide improved service to Calvert County residents and also help identify talents and skills in the organization that can be grown and better utilized. The reorganization accomplishes a board goal for restructuring and efficiency and its implementation will have long-term benefits to Calvert County.”

“Restructuring has been a personal goal of mine since being selected for office in 2010,” said Board Vice President Evan Slaughenhoupt Jr. “It allows an organization to review and apply efficiencies and processes that make for better government operations. Today’s decision will lead to a better-aligned government that will ultimately better serve the public and our employees.”

As part of the reorganization, two new departments will be created: Parks & Recreation (formerly under the Department of General Services) and Communications and Media Relations (formerly under the Department of Economic Development). In addition, two departments will be renamed. The Office of Personnel will become the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Community Planning & Building will return to its designation as the Department of Planning and Zoning.

The departmental reporting structure will also be realigned along two primary functions. Departments responsible for operations and public services – Planning and Zoning, Community Resources, Economic Development, Parks & Recreation, Public Safety and Public Works – will report to County Administrator Terry Shannon. Departments providing internal support and administrative services – Communications & Media Relations, Finance & Budget, General Services, Human Resources and Technology Services – will report to Deputy County Administrator Wilson Parran.

Click here to view the specific organizational changes.

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.