Baltimore Area Home Values On The Rise

The median sale price of a house in the Greater Baltimore Area – the City and surrounding counties – rose to its highest mark in nine years this April, according to a survey based on listing activity from real estate tracker MRIS. The median value of $255,500 marks an increase of 5.1 percent from the prior month, according to The Baltimore Business Journal. 

From the article:

Sales volume across the Baltimore area also increased in April, the survey showed. A total of $971.3 million in home sales was recorded, a year-over-year increase of 8.9 percent.

Residential closings were also up by 2 percent in April over last year’s data during the same month. There were a total of 3,264 closings.

The survey found that a total of 4,464 newly minted pending contracts were recorded last month, slightly below last April’s pending contract data of 4,853 during the same time.

A house in the Baltimore metro market has a 26-day median market stay, the lowest level since 2007, down from last year’s average of 41 days, the survey showed.

Savings & Solutions with New U.S. Communities Paint & Paint Supplies Contract

U.S. Communities is excited to announce the award of a new cooperative contract for Paint and Paint Supplies. This contract was awarded to The Home Depot through a competitive solicitation process conducted by the lead public agency, Maricopa County, Arizona. The contract term is for three years with the option to renew for seven additional one year periods.

Learn more about this new contract that provides services and savings:

  1. Up to 20% off paints, stains and primers
  2. All paint purchases eligible for rebate of up to 5%
  3. Free direct-to-jobsite delivery
  4. Dedicated field support

More Information on the Paint Contract

Join U.S. Communities for one of its free informational webinars. If you are unable to join one of the webinars, click the information link below to have a Home Depot representative contact you.

2017 End of Session Wrap-Up: Finance and Procurement

The segments below provide a brief overview of MACo’s work in the area of finance and procurement policy in the 2017 General Assembly. 

Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database

Tax Sales

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo opposed a bill that, as amended, imposes a moratorium on using tax sales to collect water and sewer liens. MACo raised concerns with laws limiting collection of overdue fines and charges – citing unfairness to those who make timely payments and contribute to supporting the local water infrastructure. An amended version of House Bill 453 passed the House of Delegates but not the Senate. However, a bill to require a multi-party study of tax sale processes was passed by the General Assembly and awaits the Governor’s signature. Bill InformationMACo Coverage

 

Push Icons-NOT IDEAL

MACo supported a bill that would allow local governments to use tax sale procedures to collect on judgments for property maintenance and nuisance condition violations. The bill provided local governments with the tax sale tool to abate nuisance conditions, without having to pass those costs onto other taxpayers. House Bill 1496 did not advance out of its Committee. Bill InformationMACo Coverage

TIFs (Tax Increment Financing Developments)

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo successfully opposed a bill which would have made it more difficult for counties to use tax increment financing (TIFs) by requiring payment of prevailing wages on construction contracts receiving any funds from TIF bond proceeds. Senate Bill 870/House Bill 466 was given an unfavorable report by the House Economic Matters Committee. Bill InformationMACo Coverage

Economic Development

Push Icons-NOT IDEALMACo supported an Administration bill to provide the Department of Commerce more flexibility in providing economic development assistance. This economic development assistance program funds grants, loans, and investments to support economic development initiatives, including business attraction and retention, infrastructure support, brownfield redevelopment, and local strategic planning. House Bill 161 did not advance out of its committee. Bill InformationMACo Testimony

 

Procurement Reform

Push Icons-WONMACo successfully supported an Administration bill to implement recommendations made by the Commission to Modernize State Procurement. Senate Bill 310/House Bill 390 “Improving the State Procurement Oversight Structure,” has passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature. Bill InformationMACo Coverage

 

Push Icons-WONMACo successfully supported an effort to streamline procurement efforts related to campaign finance reform. Senate Bill 632/House Bill 118 simplifies a campaign finance/procurement law mandate on counties. The bill replaces a requirement that counties notify the State Board of Elections if awardees of certain contracts fail to file requisite campaign finance disclosures. Instead, it requires counties to file a list of all contract awardees required to file those disclosures. Bill InformationMACo Coverage

Store Licenses

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo suggested fundamental amendments to improve a bill to streamline trader’s and chain store license fees with a flat fee. MACo’s amendments would have made the fees equal in all counties, and would have helped out small businesses that may have seen an increase in fees under the bill. House Bill 859 received an unfavorable report from its committee. Bill InformationMACo Coverage.

Click here for a round up of the wrap-ups for all policy areas

Bringing BABs Back: Will Trump Revive Build America Bonds?

Build America Bonds (BABs) may make a resurgence. This Recession-era infrastructure financing program provided state and local governments access to taxable bonds, along with a subsidy from the federal government of 35 percent of the interest payments – bringing the net cost closer to that of more traditional, tax-exempt municipal bonds.

Governing reports that interest has been expressed in the financing tool by economic advisors to President Trump, who has pledged to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure – purportedly at least in part through encouraging private investment. BABs would open up the municipal market to new private investors. From Governing:

All told, state and local governments sold more than $151 billion in BABs between 2009 and 2010. The program even propelled total bond issuance in 2010 to $433 billion, a record that still holds today.

Unfortunately, the last time around, mandated cutbacks in federal appropriations in 2013 resulted in decimating program subsidies by seven to nine percent. In addition, the bonds were not eligible for refinancing – leaving some jurisdictions on the hook for higher interest rates than they would have had under traditional tax-exempt municipal bonds. Governing quotes Dan White, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics:

[The feds] could theoretically design a program that protects states against this. But states know this has the potential to be changed at a moment’s notice by policymakers in Washington.

 

U.S. House Transportation Chair on Infrastructure Funding: Get Shovels to the Ground, Fast

The U.S. House Transportation Committee Chair recently suggested that states that can move projects ahead quickly will have an advantage when it comes to benefiting from any federal infrastructure funds in the coming months.

According the the Route Fifty article,

If a major infrastructure package takes shape, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said a message for states would be: “you’ve got to get those dollars to shovels in the ground, fast.”

President Trump has called for a $1 trillion plan to direct public and private investment toward upgrading infrastructure assets around the U.S., such as roads, railways and airports.

Responding to a question about how to get money for new infrastructure investment distributed swiftly to help spur job growth—a priority for Trump—he replied: “Part of that mechanism we have to put in place is to reward states that are going to move very quickly.”

“We’ve got to get something done before next spring,” Shuster added, “whether it’s taxes, Obamacare, or health care reform, or infrastructure spending. Because the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, they’re going to be on the line.”

Shuster said his hope is to have an infrastructure bill by this fall.

Prevailing Wages For TIFs Bill Dies In Committee

The House Economic Matters Committee has killed a bill which would have made it more difficult for counties to use tax increment financing (TIFs). HB 466 – Prevailing Wage – Tax Increment Financing Developments – Application would have required payment of prevailing wages on construction contracts receiving any funds from TIF bond proceeds.

Counties had concerns that the bill would drive up costs of public infrastructure projects, stifle use of a demonstrably successful economic development tool, and squeeze out small businesses from participating in infrastructure construction projects. In addition, it unfairly applies prevailing wage requirements to certain projects receiving TIF bond proceeds when those projects would not otherwise have to comply even if financed with other public funds.

MACo testified on the Senate crossfile, SB 870, on March 16 in the the Senate Finance Committee. From MACo’s testimony:

TIFs are a demonstrably successful economic development tool that enables counties to finance public infrastructure improvements using future property tax revenues associated with the new development. These are revenues which the county would not receive at all unless the development came to fruition. Creating a viable TIF district and development plan requires careful financial planning and forecasting to ensure that the future tax revenues received from the project more than cover expenditures on the infrastructure required to support that development. In general, counties will only use this tool if the development is not financially viable without the benefit of the TIF; in other words, if the numbers do not add up, the county does not issue the TIF bond, and the development never happens.

….This bill will significantly raise costs for development projects funded with TIF bonds. If costs are raised over and above what the development will return in future tax revenues, the county will not issue the TIF because it is not economically viable. This generally prevents the development from occurring, sacrificing blight elimination, job creation, targeted economic development, and growth to the taxable base.

 

Both Chambers Move To Streamline County Procurement Requirement

Both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly have passed SB 632/HB 118 – Election Law – Persons Doing Public Business – Reporting by Governmental Entities, a bill that simplifies a campaign finance/procurement law mandate on counties. MACo testified in support of the bill with Kathleen Boucher of Montgomery County’s Intergovernmental Relations Office on February 7 in the House Ways and Means Committee and again on February 23 in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Both committee passed their respective bills with technical amendments.

The bill repeals the requirement that state and local procurement officials notify the State Board of Elections if awardees of contracts worth $200,000 or more fail to file requisite campaign finance disclosures with that State Board. Instead, it requires those government entities to provide the Board with a list of all individuals and entities receiving contracts worth $200,000 or more who are required to file the subject disclosures.

From MACo testimony:

The Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013 sought to reduce the risk of “pay to play” activities influencing government contracting – and by streamlining enforcement procedures, this bill helps to further those goals. This bill removes the “middle man” from an enforcement role it is unable to effectively accomplish. Recipients of government contracts worth $200,000 or more are currently required to file statements of political contributions with the State Board. The provision of existing law addressed in this bill holds state and local procurement officers responsible for (1) requiring that the applicable contract awardees certify that they have made their requisite disclosure filings with the State Board, and (2) notifying the State Board if those awardees actually fail to make the requisite filings.

Regarding that latter requirement, procurement officers do not actually have the means to verify whether their contractors have filed the requisite disclosures with the State Board – the State Board has that information. Instead, this bill requires state and local government entities to file a list of applicable contract awardees with the State Board, returning enforcement obligations to the Board which is supposed to receive the campaign finance disclosures in the first place.

 

House on Unpaid Water Bills: No Liens For 1Yr, As We Study Tax Sales

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Revenues (who has jurisdiction over tax collection processes such as tax sales) has advanced two bills targeting the collection of unpaid water bills. The two amended bills, as passed, would impose a moratorium on using tax sales to collect water and sewer liens, and would require a multi-party study of tax sale processes to be completed this year.

The two bills being moved are:
HB 453: Bill Information | MACo testimony
HB 659: Bill Information | MACo did not take a position

In previous Conduit Street coverage (“Should ‘Good Actors’ Subsidize Bad Actions?”), MACo had raised concerns with laws limiting collection of overdue fines and charges – citing unfairness to those who have made their timely payments:

Water systems are usually set up by governments as “enterprise funds,” meaning they cover their own costs. This “user pays” principle is widely embraced for similar public services.

But if the prospect of losing service… or the potential to see your property face tax sale… is off the table, surely compliance will drop. The state’s largest water system in Baltimore City estimates that without the lien process available they could face some $7 million in reduced payments, as non-payers would no longer be eventually compelled to cover their own share of system costs.

Both bills should be reported out from the full committee and on the House floor in the days ahead, likely passing to the Senate by the Monday “crossover” procedural deadline.

Queen Anne’s Earns AAA Bond Rating for the First Time Ever

For the first time in county history, Queen Anne’s County has earned a AAA bond rating from Fitch Ratings.

According to the press release,

Recently, the county’s Finance Director Jonathan Seeman, County Administrator Gregg Todd, and County Commissioner Stephen Wilson went to New York City to present their case for a higher bond rating to the two major rating firms Fitch and Moody’s.

The county went to the bond markets to finance $12.6 million in long-term capital debt such as the new Circuit Court House, school building improvements, and the purchase of heavy equipment, such as that used to clear the roads of snow.

“Fitch gave us AAA, but Moody’s kept us at Aa2, which is two steps below AAA. We’ll keep trying,” said Seeman. “You have to remember, that after the recession, only a few years ago, when we had no Rainy Day fund, we were rated AA+, but with a negative outlook, by both agencies. Getting the AAA is quite an accomplishment for the county.”

“Since then, we’ve shown that the county commissioners have restored the county to sound fiscal management, with stable revenue growth, above average reserves, and relatively low levels of debt. With this rating from Fitch, we’ve joined an elite group of AAA rated counties in Maryland as well as the State of Maryland government, that have this rating ,” Seeman said.

Congratulations to Queen Anne’s County!

MACo Supports Improving State Procurement System

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided written testimony in support of House Bill 390, “Improving the State Procurement Oversight Structure,” which implements recommendations made by the Commission to Modernize State Procurement, including those concerning restructuring and reorganizing the Procurement Advisory Council into the Procurement Improvement Council. Most relevant to MACo, the bill charges the new Council with coordinating with local entities to maximize use of intergovernmental purchasing.

The Commission to Modernize State Procurement, created by Governor Larry Hogan in February and chaired by Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford, released its final Report last December including more than 200 pages and 57 recommendations for streamlining procurement efforts, expanding small and minority-owned business opportunities, promoting efficiency through automation and technology upgrades, and removing redundant and unnecessary procurement processes.

From MACo testimony:

MACo appreciates the extensive, hard work completed by the Commission to recommend nearly 60 improvements that allow the State to get the best deals, most efficiently, in the fairest and most transparent manner. MACo especially appreciates the Commission’s recommendations which also allow counties to reap benefits from improved coordination on procurement, including this recommendation to maximize cooperative purchasing arrangements.

Recommendations by the Commission of particular noteworthiness to local governments are available here.

The cross-file to the bill, Senate Bill 310, was heard by the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee on February 16, 2017. Find previous coverage of the bill on Conduit Street.

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