Tackling Complex Public Works Projects at #MACoCon

During the 2017 MACo Summer Conference panel “Flushing Your Troubles Down the Drain, the South Kent Island Solution” attendees learned how Queen Anne’s County and the Maryland Departments of Planning and the Environment were able to address public health and environmental concerns by connecting 1,518 existing homes and eight commercial properties to a safe and effective public sewer system.

Todd Mohn, Director, Department of Public Works, Queen Anne’s County, began the session by providing an overview of the South Kent Island sewer project. Mr. Mohn discussed why the project is necessary and identified the numerous stakeholders involved with the planning and implementation of the project.

Steve Cohoon, Public Facilities Planner, Queen Anne’s County, discussed the areas impacted by the project. Mr. Mohn also described how the county was faced with an alarming septic system failure rate on South Kent Island (70-90%), and how environmental and health concerns made the project a top priority for Queen Anne’s County.

Julie Barown, P.E., Northeast Regional Municipal Systems, Orenco Systems, Inc. talked about the technical specifications of the South Kent Island sewer system, including why the STEP (Septic Tank Effluent Pumping) system is far superior to OSDS (On-Site Sewage Disposal Systems) systems. According to Mrs. Barown, in addition to reducing costs, the STEP system will greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen being discharged into the Chesapeake Bay from the South Kent Island service area.

Queen Anne’s County Commissioner At-Large Jim Moran concluded the panel by discussing how limited funding, Smart Growth requirements, and anti-growth concerns—among many other concerns and challenges—made it necessary to create a unique solution. Commissioner Moran also talked about the potential political consequences that can result from controversial public works projects, and how the county sought to mitigate concerns by seeking citizen input throughout the planning process.

The session was moderated by Delegate Shane Robinson and was held on Friday, August 18. The MACo Summer Conference was August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD. This year the conference’s theme was “You’re Hired!”.

Harford County Receives $570K State Grant to Assist Families in Need

The state of Maryland has awarded a total of $570,994 to Harford County’s Local Management Board to fund child and family focused programs in fiscal year 2018.

According to a press release,

The Local Management Board (LMB) is a grant-funded organization within the county’s Office of Children, Youth and Families, under the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman. This year’s total includes a competitive grant award of $88,000, which the LMB will use for new programs to reduce childhood hunger, empower families to escape poverty and diminish the impact of parental incarceration on children in Harford County. The funding was announced on May 31, 2017 by the Maryland’s Children’s Cabinet, through the Governor’s Office for Children as part of $18 million in statewide grant awards to Maryland’s Local Management Boards.

Specifically, this year’s total grant funding will allow the LMB to offer the following new programs in Harford County:

“Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World” is an educational program for low income families that addresses the causes of poverty.

“Parenting Inside Out (PIO)” is an evidence-based parenting skills training program for families affected by parental incarceration.

“Project S.E.E.K. (Services to Empower and Enable Kids)” is a program aimed at reducing intergenerational incarceration. The program addresses the risk and protective factors associated with delinquency and criminal behavior at both the individual and family levels.

“Reducing Childhood Hunger” helps families become more self-sufficient, food-secure, and economically stable. Rather than offering pre-packaged/pre-weighed food, the program creates a food pantry where clients can shop for their own groceries using a point system.

Formed in 1994, Harford County’s Local Management Board brings together local child-serving agencies; local child providers; clients of services; families, and other community representatives to address the critical needs of and recommends priorities for the County.

Read the full Harford County press release for more information.

Mayor Pugh: Hogan Will Invest Millions to Curb Violence in Baltimore City

Baltimore City Mayor, Catherine Pugh on Thursday said that Governor Larry Hogan plans to allocate millions of dollars to help curb violence in Baltimore City. Governor Hogan plans to spend $9 million to fund new police department positions, advanced technology, and programs for at-risk youth.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said that the “administration is committed to working with the city on additional state support, which is a process that is still ongoing and has not yet been finalized.”

“The governor, the mayor, and Baltimore City officials have had ongoing, productive conversations — including a meeting among top state and city law enforcement officials this past Monday — that have resulted in immediate state investment in targeted programs, including $2 million in funding for technology in patrol cars and 16 state parole and probation officers to assist Baltimore City Police,” Chasse said.

Mayor Pugh is committed to reducing crime in the City. The Mayor has written a crime plan, but it has not yet been released to the public.

According to Mayor Pugh, the city must develop a multi-pronged approach, which will include de-escalation tactics and the implementation of crime fighting programs that are practical, efficient, and affordable.

Governor Hogan and Mayor Pugh met last month, discussing a wide-range of topics, including curbing violence in the City. Both Hogan and Pugh said the talks were informative, frank, and productive.

Read the full article for more information.

How To Buy A Drone

Brent Klavon, ASEC program manager and drone expert, shares possibile county applications for drone use on the MACo Summer Conference panel, “Will Your Next County Employee Be… A Robot?” Photo credit Bonnie Zerr, WJCT News 

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones, increase in popularity and utility every day. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects the number of commercial drones to increase tenfold by 2021 – and two and a half million of them were sold last year alone, reports Governing.

Their uses for county work can range from traffic monitoring and security surveillance to defibrillator delivery and tracking animals. They can conduct safety inspections, and can aid in weather research for emergency management purposes.

But, how should county procurement officers start with procuring drones? Fortunately, the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) is to the rescue.

From Governing:

For government, UAVs present not only an opportunity but also a procurement challenge. Given the rapid evolution of both the technology and the regulatory environment, purchasing a drone is a far cry from buying police cruisers, desktop computers or office furniture. With these complexities in mind, the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) recently published guidance for its members as they move into the new world of UAV procurement.

Learn about how drones, self-driving cars and robots can transform county work at the MACo Summer Conference session, Will Your Next County Employee be…a Robot?

The MACo summer conference is August 16-19, 2017 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City Maryland. This year’s theme is “You’re Hired!”

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

Frustrated U.S. Senators Press Feds On FBI Headquarters Plan

A month after federal decision-makers scrapped the government’s decade-long plan to close the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deteriorating headquarters in downtown Washington and replace it with a new building in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs, U.S. Senators from both parties yesterday expressed frustration at officials from the General Services Administration. Senators lamented that millions of dollars had been wasted on the failed effort, and complained that they were blindsided by the decision.

The General Services Administration, the government’s landlord, has been working with the FBI for more than a decade on a plan to trade away the J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington, D.C. to a developer. In return, the developer would be responsible for the majority of the costs to develop a new headquarters on a modern site.

After spending more than $20 million on its plan, which would have relocated the FBI to Landover, Md., Greenbelt, Md., or Springfield, Va., the General Services Administration said it was canceling the project because Congress had not appropriated enough funds.

According to The Washington Post,

No senator appeared more frustrated by the process than Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the state that would be home to two of the proposed sites. Cardin said the GSA had received seven viable development plans from three developers and pointed out that Congress had granted the agency approval to pick a new headquarters location. Congress has already appropriated more than $800 million toward construction and approved the selling of the Hoover Building.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to move this quicker than saying it’s another four, five or six years to get this done,” Cardin said, “because the FBI can’t wait and the taxpayers demand that we be more efficient than this.”

Officials from Maryland and Virginia have competed for years to land the new headquarters. But the rest of Congress had repeatedly expressed concern with the huge price tag.

The project would have had a significant economic impact on Maryland and, more specifically, Prince George’s County, where two potential sites were being considered. The FBI has about 11,000 employees, which would have made it one of Maryland’s largest employers.

State and Prince George’s County officials had spent years trying to convince the FBI to relocate. The University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore planned to launch a joint national security academy. Gov. Larry Hogan pledged $317 million in infrastructure and traffic improvements to accommodate a new headquarters in Greenbelt and $255 million for a Landover site.

Read the full article for more information.

Marylanders Educated, Prosperous, and Paying High Healthcare Premiums

dflurymw0aamnqrMaryland residents are very educated and fairly prosperous when compared to other states, according to a study by Washington-based national nonprofit Prosperity Now – but we have a ways to go in terms of business and employment equity, and are last on the list in terms of high employee shares for health insurance premiums.

Maryland ranked fourth in the nation for education, out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Almost 39 percent of adults aged 25 and older hold at least a four-year college degree, compared to 30.6 percent nationally. Nearly nine out of ten Maryland students entering high school in the 2011-12 school year graduated in four years – 87 percent. More than half of Maryland college students graduate with student loan debt, and 9.9 percent of Maryland borrowers entering repayment on their student loans in 2013 defaulted within three years.

Maryland ranks 17th on the “prosperity of its residents,” according to the nonprofit. Maryland ranked third for its low percentage of households with income below the federal poverty threshold (9.2 percent, compared to 13.8 percent nationwide). While 36.8 percent of households nationwide could not subsist at the poverty level for three months if they lost their major source of income (the “liquid asset poverty rate”), in Maryland, that number is less than 24 percent. One-fifth of Maryland jobs are in low-wage occupations. Maryland scored squarely in the middle for income volatility: 21.4 percent of Marylanders indicated that their incomes varied somewhat or a lot from month to month in the previous year, compared to 20.9 percent nationally.

Maryland ranked 23rd out of all states in the businesses and jobs category, but scored significantly poorly in business and employment equity categories. Our state ranked 43rd for its ratio of unemployment of its white, non-Hispanic labor force compared to its labor force of color. We ranked 43rd in small business ownership, 46th for business value by race, and 45th for business value by gender. (“Business value by race” is defined as “the ratio of the average business value, in terms of sales, receipts or revenue, of White, non-Hispanic-owned businesses to businesses owned by workers of color”; “business value by gender” is defined similarly as the “ratio of average business value, in terms of sales and receipts, of women-owned businesses to men-owned businesses.”)

Similar disparities exist in the healthcare category. Maryland ranked 17th for healthcare, with high rankings for percentage of non-elderly with health insurance, employer-provided insurance coverage, and few adults reporting poor or fair health status. However, Maryland actually ranked 51 out of 51 for high employee shares of premiums, or the “percentage of the average employee contribution to family premiums for employer-based health insurance.” The average employee contribution in Maryland is 35.4 percent, compared to 27.2 percent nationally. Maryland ranked 47th in the “uninsured by race” category: the uninsured rate is 3.2 times as high for people of color than the white, non-Hispanic population (compared to 2.1 times nationally).

Maryland ranked 37th out of all states for homeownership and housing. We ranked 25th for homeownership, but half of all renters are “cost burdened,” meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent and utilities – placing Maryland 39th in this category. Maryland ranked 43rd for delinquent mortgage loans, with 1.8 percent of loans with payments 90 or more days overdue.

Prosperity Now describes its scorecard:

The Prosperity Now Scorecard is a comprehensive resource featuring data on family financial health and policy recommendations to help put all U.S. households on a path to prosperity. The Scorecard equips advocates, policymakers and practitioners with national, state, county and city data to jump-start a conversation about solutions and policies that put households on stronger financial footing across five issue areas: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Homeownership & Housing, Health Care and Education.

Useful Links

Prosperity Now’s Maryland data

Baltimore data (March 2016)

Herald-Mail Media coverage, with Washington County data

Economic Development Aid Recipient To Repay State, County

Direct Energy, a solar company which received a conditional loan from the Maryland Department of Commerce and a workforce training grant from the Howard County Economic Development Authority, will have to repay the grant and loan because it failed to meet job creation goals. In fact, the company announced this week that it will lay off 108 employees in September.

Direct Energy received a $500,000 conditional loan from the state and $50,000 workforce training grant from the county when it opened its new headquarters in Columbia two years ago.

The Baltimore Business Journal reports:

Lawrence Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said the state and county working are working with the firm on repayment of $550,000 since it did not meet job creation goals. …

Direct Energy’s announcement of layoffs did not surprise Twele. He said the economic development authority stays in contact with companies when they receive funding.

Changes to business models happen, Twele said, and the economic development authority and the state have been working with Direct Energy for the past several months on creating a repayment plan.

Right now the main priority is helping those who are getting laid off find new jobs, Twele said. A rapid-response team will go in and assess the skills of the employees and match them up with new positions.

Baltimore County Announces “Open For Business” Initiative

Baltimore County Executive and MACo President Kevin Kamenetz signed an executive order today aimed at streamlining county procurement processes and helping small, minority and women-owned businesses compete for professional services and construction contracts.

The Open For Business Initiative:

  • streamlines the prequalification process to reduce application processing time by one-third, to 30 days;
  • creates the Small Business Purchasing Program, a tier-based system allowing small firms to bid as prime contractors;  and
  • allows minority business enterprises and women business enterprises to permit self-performance in meeting 50% of subcontracting goals.

Said County Executive Kamenetz:

We realized that the County’s contracting opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses weren’t as accessible as they could be for growing businesses, so we did a top to bottom review of the whole process and have made changes that expand opportunities for minority and women-owned firms, and others who may be new to the government contracting arena.

The county is hosting a networking reception and procurement workshop this evening, at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. The reception begins at 4 p.m., followed by a 5 p.m. program and break-out sessions by project category. The workshop is designed for contractors, offering them the opportunity to learn about the prequalification process, potential contracting opportunities, surety bonding requirements, and more.

County press release and Executive Order text

Worcester Receives $38K from Education Foundation

The Worcester County Education Foundation this week donated $38,000 to aid the school system with technology expenses.

According to The Dispatch,

On Tuesday, Todd Ferrante, chairman of the Worcester County Education Foundation, presented a $38,000 check to the Worcester County Board of Education. The donation will provide funding for the purchase of laptop cases and covers as well as other technology related expenses.

“We certainly appreciate everything you do for our students of Worcester County,” said Steve Price, the school system’s chief operating officer.

In an update provided to the school board, Ferrante outlined the various ways the foundation has been working to support local students. Since it was established in 2014, members of the foundation have worked hard to collect funding to aid in the county’s digital conversion, which aims to provide every student with a mobile device.

“We’ve been very, very busy,” Ferrante said. “We can’t do it with just one person. We are a team.”

Ferrante said the foundation had accumulated $650,000 in money and pledges during the past three years.

The funding has already gone toward the school system’s digital conversion. A $35,000 donation last year enabled the school system to buy laptop cases. This year’s $38,000 donation will purchase 550 laptop cases and 200 covers for Chromebooks as well as a cart of iPads and a cart of Chromebooks.

The foundation has also provided grants to teachers. Six were awarded last year and nine were awarded this year.

Superintendent Lou Taylor praised the foundation’s efforts. He said because of the organization the school system was able to meet its technology needs now rather than later.

“This is not a funding organization that takes the place of our county, state or federal government funding,” he said. “They just help expedite our needs and get things done quicker.”

Read the full article for more information.

How Tax Reform Would Hinder Muni Bonds

A federal border adjustment tax (BAT) would negatively affect counties’ cash flow by causing downturns in the municipal bond market, reports Ian Adams, Associate Vice President of the R Street Institute for Governing. It would also impact many states’ tax revenues from the insurance industry and potentially increase costs to local governments to provide social services.

A BAT will likely serve as a central component of congressional tax reform proposals – at least of the plan coming from House Republicans. BATs tax imports but not exports, favoring domestic production and supply, and raising costs of international capital. Insurance companies depend upon international capital as a means of diversification, “to keep insurance prices down and policy coverage broad.”

So what does this have to do with counties?

U.S. life insurers invest about 75 percent of every new premium dollar in fixed-income debt markets, and often are the only buyers for some kinds of bonds, particularly long-term debt. In fact, municipal bonds are among insurers’ most significant long-term investments: Property and casualty insurers held $326.8 billion in municipal bonds at the end of 2012, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, while life insurers tripled their muni holdings from $47.1 billion in 2008 to $131.2 billion in 2012.

By driving down insurers’ bond investments, a BAT would harm the ability of state and municipal governments to borrow long-term. ….

[A] BAT would further stretch limited state and local resources because it would push financial-planning products such as insurance beyond the reach of many of those teetering on the brink of public assistance. While the federal government might be called upon to support some of those needs, most of that extra load would need to be carried by state and local authorities.

A BAT could also reduce the flow of revenues from gross premium taxes paid by insurers to states.

Read the full article here.

For an interesting 20 minutes on BATs, listen to the Tax Policy Center’s new podcast, Taxology.