MACo Advocates for Amended Expedited Foreclosure Process

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu sought to support legislation (SB 1033) with consensus amendments intended to establish an expedited foreclosure process for homes that are vacant and abandoned. These properties are often a source of blight and nuisance for the communities surrounding them.

Over the interim MACo participated in the workgroup that studied foreclosures as well as vacant and abandoned properties with the goal of providing local governments additional tools for addressing problem properties. Recently stakeholders came to a consensus on amendments to establish a framework for an expedited foreclosure process without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits.

MACo’s testimony raised a number of concerns that are addressed with the consensus amendments:

The bill requires that the appropriate county official verify to the court that the property is vacant and abandoned before the expedited foreclosure process may move forward.

The county would be vulnerable to constitutional claims and other costly and time-consuming lawsuits from an aggrieved party should the property turn out not to be vacant and abandoned.

Counties are also concerned about the staff time and resources that would need to be dedicated to inspecting the properties in order to verify that they are vacant and abandoned.

The mandatory inspections and verifications for the expedited foreclosure process would add a new layer of responsibly to their workloads without additional compensation, stretching already limited resources even thinner. The responsibility for verifying the properties are vacant and abandoned should fall on the foreclosing party.

Finally, while the community will benefit from a property that is no longer vacant and unmaintained, the bill should include stronger and clearer protections for the property owner on record. This could include adding notice provisions, as well as opportunities for an owner to object and appeal. The criteria used to determine “vacant and abandoned” should also be reinforced by appropriate documentation.

This bill was heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee on March 16. The cross-file to the bill (HB 702) was heard by the House Environment & Transportation committee on February 14, 2017. The house committee issued a favorable report on the house bill with the consensus amendments. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

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

MACo Supports Sprinkler Assistance Funding for Rural Residents

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, testified in favor of Senate Bill 1103, “Home Sprinkler and Fire Safety Assistance Fund” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Senator Jim Mathias is the sponsor of this bill.

SB 1103 would provide funding assistance for required sprinkler systems for those in workforce and low-income housing in rural areas without public water.

MACo’s testimony states,

Since the passage of the sprinkler system mandate in 2012 (HB 366/SB 602), rural areas have witnessed a dramatic reduction in building permits for moderate- and low-income housing. Sprinkler systems not on public water can require high pressure pumps and water storage tanks that may add $10,000 to $12,000 to the cost of a new home – a significant cost in a rural area for a home designed for a moderate- to low-income family. SB 1103 would help address this issue by providing a limited funding mechanism to offset costly sprinkler and similar building code mandates.

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

MACo: Make Tax Refund Requirement Feasible For Counties

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently supported legislation (HB 1402) which requires counties to pay refunds resulting from property tax assessment appeals within an established time frame, but sought amendments to make the requirement more feasible. MACo’s amendments sought to extend the amount of time from 21 days to 30 days, and begin counting the days after the county receives notice of the decision from the appeal authority. The bill sponsor, Delegate Herb McMillan, introduced the amendments on MACo’s behalf.

MACo’s testimony states,

Begin Tolling Upon Tax Collector’s Receipt of Notice From Appeal Authority
A number of different government sectors participate in the appeal and refund process: the appeal authority, which may be the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT), a Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board, or the judiciary; the local government property tax collector; and the State, in its role as the state property tax collector. Prior to issuing a refund, the local government must first receive notification of the decision from the appeal authority, then coordinate with the taxpayer and State to verify the amount of state and local property tax due. Local finance offices cannot begin this verification process until they receive the initial notification of the refund owed from the appeal authority. For this reason, MACo respectfully requests that the timeframe begin to toll upon receipt of the decision notice.

Provide 30 Days to Issue Refunds

This would provide counties with a reasonable buffer of an additional week to accommodate for minor delays that can occasionally result from unavoidable occurrences like inclement weather closings, vacations, holidays, understaffing, technology malfunctions, etc. Counties believe that 30 days is a reasonable timeframe to verify the amounts owed with the applicable parties and subsequently issue these payments.

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

MACo Supports Streamlined Process For Fixing Neglected Property

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in favor of House Bill 1496, “Tax Sales – Property Maintenance and Nuisance Condition Violation Judgments” which would allow local governments to use tax sale procedures to collect on judgments for property maintenance and nuisance condition violations.

MACo’s testimony states,

MACo supports this bill as a means to provide local governments with the tools necessary to abate nuisance conditions and property maintenance violations, without having to pass those costs onto other taxpayers.

Local governments often must step in to address the adverse conditions when landowners cause nuisances or allow their property to fall into a state of disrepair. Those landowners’ neighbors already have to deal with the negative impacts of the offending activity or neglect; they should not also have to bear the costs for abatement through their own tax dollars. Local governments should not have to choose between spending public funds to abate nuisances on private property, or leaving these adverse conditions to continue unaddressed, negatively affecting their citizens’ property values and quality of life. This bill provides a tool to allow local governments to hold property owners accountable, without having to pass the costs along to law-abiding taxpayers or make cuts to essential public services.

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

MACo Supports Property Tax Credits For Improvements in Revitalization Districts

MACo Associate Director Barbara Zektick recently testified in favor of House Bill 1323, “Property Tax – Credit for Revitalization Districts” which would authorize local governments to grant optional property tax credits to homeowners who make improvements to their homes in specified “revitalization districts.” Local governments have authority to define what a “revitalization district” is and where to designate them.

MACo’s testimony states,

HB 1323 authorizes counties to enact the property tax credit, determine the locations in which to implement it, and apply additional eligibility criteria as necessary. This will allow each jurisdiction that chooses to enact the credit to tailor it to their specific revitalization needs and incentivize improvements in those areas where the jurisdiction sees most fit. Additionally, it gives each county broad discretion to control how many credits it authorizes and how much revenue it is willing to forego to provide the desirable benefits enabled by the bill.

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

Allegany Commissioners Appoint Barclay to Lead Economic Development Department

On March 9, 2017, the Allegany County Commissioners formally appointed Jeffrey S. Barclay to serve as the next Director of the county’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

Jeffrey Barclay, Courtesy of Allegany County Government

According to the press release,

Barclay has been serving as the Acting Director of the department since November of 2016 following a re-organization of the department. “We are very excited for our county and Jeff,” commented Jake Shade, County Commission President. “He is a talented individual who has a proven track record of achieving results. This attribute is critically important for our community going forward,” continued Shade.

“Jeff not only has proven himself in the area of project development, but also has honed his problem-solving skills which is essential for a small department such as ours,” commented County Administrator David A. Eberly.

Barclay has been employed by Allegany County since May of 2001 and has been part of the DECD since 2007. In 2014, Barclay was promoted to the position of Economic Development Specialist, where he has served as a project ombudsman and facilitator for various private development projects. During the last two years, Barclay has been responsible for supporting the investment of 20 million dollars in economic development activity ranging from hotel to commercial retail redevelopment, to large scale product distribution. Barclay was named WCBC Person of the Year 2015 for his leadership role in overseeing the recent boom in economic development activities.

MACo Opposes Local Permitting & Registration Restrictions for Security Systems

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, recently testified in opposition to legislation (HB 1271 and SB 952) that would severely restrict a local government’s ability to regulate security system and monitoring companies. These restrictions weaken compliance with local codes, erode public safety protections, and overburden local resources

MACo’s testimony states,

PERMITTING
HB 1271 requires local governments to follow a universal permitting and notification system for low-voltage security systems. It also requires that these permits be available for bulk purchase without specifying the project. Currently, companies must comply with any local low-voltage electrical permitting requirements. These permits help to ensure that for each project the work to be performed is up to local code and performed by individuals properly licensed to do so within the jurisdiction.

REGISTRATIONS
HB 1271 also prohibits a local government from requiring a security system contractor or a monitoring agency to register customers and sets limits on the ability to penalize companies that fail to do so. Accurate registration is an important safety and resource management tool for local governments. It is the only way for a county to know who the customers are, which companies are servicing them, and whether all parties are complying with the local laws. As the company contracts directly with the customer, they are in the best position to ensure that the customer is properly registered. Counties do not have the ability to track down who the customer is to enforce registration. Failure of a customer to be registered often only comes to light once an alarm has been set off and local police are notified.

FALSE ALARMS
Because of the crucial role contractors and monitoring agencies play in the registration and enforcement process, local governments would almost certainly suffer an increase in false alarm calls under this bill. False alarms are a significant drain on local law enforcement resources. Each false alarm call takes officers away from addressing true public safety needs. When customers are properly registered with the county, police are quickly able to get into contact with them so that any problems can be fixed before there are more false alarms and resources drained responding to them.

Meredith Wivell, Mid Atlantic Chapter President from the False Alarm Reduction Association and Alberto Hook, Director of the False Alarm Reduction Section in Montgomery County, joined Ms. Mehu on a panel in opposition to this bill. HB 1271 was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 6 and SB 952 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on March 9, 2017.

Joining Ms. Mehu to testify on SB 952:

  • Meredith Wivell, Mid Atlantic Chapter President, False Alarm Reduction Association
  • Steve Thomas, Division Chief Commercial Building Construction, Montgomery County
  • Alberto Hook, Director, False Alarm Reduction Section, Montgomery County Police Department
  • Steven Heggemann, Manager, Alarm Reduction Section, Baltimore County
  • Thomas Waugh, Chief of Special Investigations Unit, Baltimore City Housing
  • Brad Shipp, False Alarm Reduction Association

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

MACo Supports Land Banks to Revitalize Neighborhoods

MACo’s Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, submitted written testimony in favor of legislation (SB 957) that would provide counties with the ability to establish land banks — a tool to help revitalize problem properties and stabilize neighborhoods with the Land Bank Authorities bill.

MACo’s testimony states

SB 957 authorizes counties and municipalities to establish a land bank authority. A land bank offers a process for public funds to be used for targeted revitalization efforts. It can be an effective tool in real estate markets that suffer from an abundance of problem properties and a lack of private sector investment needed to make the area marketable. Land banks can be used to remove barriers such as title acquisition, tax delinquencies, low market values, and outstanding liabilities that prevent or slow the transfer of properties to new and responsible owners.

SB 957 properly leaves the local government as the decision-maker for whether establishing a land bank is in their best interest. Jurisdictions that find land banks beneficial to their community-based plans will have the authority to establish them. Jurisdictions that do not, have the discretion to continue to use whatever available tools are most effective for their local circumstances.

This bill offers local governments an innovative tool to help turn distressed properties into assets, improving the neighborhood in the process.

The cross-file to the bill (HB 1168) was heard by the House Environment & Transportation committee on February 28. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

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

MACo: Don’t Remove Local Electrical Licensing Authority

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, recently testified in opposition to legislation (HB 1368) that would remove all electrical licensing authority from local jurisdictions by 2020 and would establish a statewide licensing framework for master electricians. By doing this, journeymen and other local classes of electricians would effectively lose their local ability to perform services.

MACo’s testimony states,

While all but two counties (Allegany and Garrett) license master electricians, there are five counties (Calvert, Charles, Harford, Montgomery, and Prince George’s) that license journeyman electricians. There are also a number of other local licensed classes of electricians including general, limited or restricted, and apprenticeships. As the bill removes all licensing authority for local jurisdictions, journeymen and other local classes of electricians would effectively lose their local ability to perform services. The bill contains no comparable state license system or exemptions for these other classes of electricians. These electricians would now have to meet the more rigorous standards necessary to obtain a statewide master electricians license in order to continue to provide their limited level of services.

Furthermore, local electrical boards are best situated to oversee and discipline electricians working within their jurisdictions. Counties appreciate that the bill retains some ability for local boards to regulate electricians through a registration systems. However, for proper enforcement action it is important for counties to be able to restrict, suspend, or revoke a state license holder’s right to perform electrical services in that jurisdiction.

Brad Shipp from the Maryland Burglar & Firearm Association and Steve Thomas, from Montgomery County’s Division of Commercial Building Construction joined Ms. Mehu on a panel in opposition to this bill.

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

MACo Drops Opposition to Amended Common Area Sale Bill

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu testified to withdrawing opposition to SB 809 after the sponsor, Senator Muse, introduced amendments to remove the onerous and unnecessary requirements on local governments when areas of common ownership communities are subject to a sale.

Mehu’s written testimony to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on the bill as it was originally introduced stated,

SB 809 would require the local governing body of a county to give at least a 30-day notice to each unit or lot owner in a condominium or homeowners association before any sale of a common area – including a tax sale – may proceed. It also requires the county to give notice to the same individuals whenever a tax lien is imposed on a common area of the association. This greatly expands the notice provision. It also undermines the essential nature of the incorporated common ownership community as the responsible party for the property, which is its essential cause for being.

Determining which properties are within an association to comply with this bill would be onerous, if not impossible for local governments. County tax offices do not have a direct means of determining the property ownership and assessment information. The State Department of Assessments & Taxation (SDAT) is responsible for such information. The information counties receive from SDAT is largely limited to the ownership record and a brief legal description. It would not include a listing of properties within the association nor a breakdown of which properties are considered a common area. The data may not always be accurate, providing no guarantee of successfully determining ownership.

The amendments proposed by the sponsor remove local governments from the bill and leaves it to the governing body of the common ownership community to make the necessary notifications.

Click here to view MACo’s testimony on SB 809.

MACo also withdrew opposition to the cross-file HB 1369. MACo’s testimony can be found here.