Auditors, Inspectors General Receiving Less Love In State Budgets

States have significantly fewer auditors and inspectors general on payrolls than before the Great Recession, reports Governing

Governing identified an aggregate decline in filled staff positions reported by the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers of 7 percent over the decade ending in fiscal 2017. Thirty of 47 agencies reported that their staff was smaller than in 2007.

Those left have seen their budgets dwindle. From their coverage:

At a time when governments are trying to get a better grip on their finances, many states have cut funds for auditing and oversight. Such positions were sometimes among the first casualties in the aftermath of the recession. “I find it interesting that there is this nationwide trend of cutting back on the independent watchdog’s budget,” says Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. “I’ve yet to find a taxpayer or a legislator who doesn’t want less waste, fraud and abuse in state government.”

Closer to home, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs just wrote WMATA General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld a letter suggesting that “the transit agency’s inspector general lacks the necessary independence to perform its oversight duties and keep the public informed of the results,” according to The Washington PostThe Committee requests a briefing from Wiedefeld on how the authority “oversees its own overseer.”

Delegate Marc Korman from Montgomery County tweeted thoughts on funding for WMATA’s inspector general:

What is “Water Independence” and How Did Anne Arundel Get There?

Anne Arundel has completed long-awaited upgrades to its water infrastructure – giving every County resident access to County-treated water, and ending dependence of parts of the county on Baltimore City’s water system.

The upgrades began in 2007, with construction of major water transmission mains along the east Broadneck and Crofton/Odenton corridors. Major upgrades also included the expansion of two water treatment plants, the Crofton Meadows Water Treatment Plant to 15 millions of gallons per day in 2011 and the Arnold Water Treatment Plant to 16 million gallons per day in 2012.

Stated County Executive Steve Shuh:

Today is an historic day for Anne Arundel County, and marks yet another example of our transformation from a small, rural backwater county to a major jurisdiction in our state. Becoming a jurisdiction with a autonomous, self-sustaining water infrastructure system is a major step forward and an incredible sign of progress.

From the County’s press release:

Given the previous costs of purchasing water from the Baltimore City, these upgrades will save Anne Arundel County $8.5 million annually and help ensure a reliable, state-of-the-art-water treatment system.  Baltimore City will continue to provide an emergency water connection if needed.

Cecil Transit Adds New “Demand Response” Route

The new route will allow residents to schedule pick-ups and travel to prime retail areas in Middletown, giving them more access to healthcare facilities and retail shopping.

Cecil Transit, a division of Cecil County’s Department of Community Services, has added a new “Demand Response” route that will run twice a month from Cecilton to Middletown, roundtrip. The new route will allow residents to schedule pick-ups and travel to prime retail areas in Middletown, giving them more access to healthcare facilities and retail shopping.

According to a press release:

Photo Courtesy: Cecil County

According to David Trolio, Director of Community Services, “This is an excellent opportunity to begin providing transit services to the Cecilton community. It provides scheduled access to retail and medical services while simultaneously assessing need for future transportation planning and development.”

The Cecilton-Middletown route will begin pick-up on Tuesday, December 12th at 10:30 AM from the Parklands Community Center located at 203 East Main Street in Cecilton. The bus will return back from Middletown at approximately 12:45 PM. The route is tentatively scheduled to run on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month. All riders MUST call by 2 PM the day before to reserve a spot.

“Demand Response vehicles are scheduled based on the number of people who have called ahead for the service. In order for us to send the appropriate size vehicle, it is imperative that riders call and reserve their ride the day before,” Kalmbacher stressed.

The round trip service will cost riders $5.00. Seniors (individuals aged 60 and over) and persons with disabilities will pay just $2.50 to travel back and forth.

Cecil Transit provides free travel training to those in need of instruction on using public transportation. The training includes an explanation of bus routes, bus stops, bus schedules and rider safety, plus “on-site” instruction when requested.

For more information, visit the Cecil Transit website at www.CecilTransit.com.

Counties Invited to Attend Launch of Purple Line Community Development Agreement

The National Center for Smart Growth is hosting an event to launch the Purple Line Community Development Agreement. The event will take place from 9:30 am – 11:00 am on November 28, 2017, at The Hotel at the University of Maryland (7777 Baltimore Avenue, College Park, Maryland 20740).

Attendance and parking are free but you must register as space is limited. Registrations are due by November 17. Coffee and check-in begin at 9:00 am.

From an email announcement about the event:

Hosted by the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth, this event will bring together the region’s leaders and representatives of public, private and community stakeholders to sign and launch Pathways to Opportunity: A Community Development Agreement for the Purple Line Corridor.  Join us in our work to stimulate innovative collaboration, focus community investment, and consider how your organization can play a role in achieving this shared vision.

Speakers

  • University of Maryland President Wallace Loh
  • County Executive Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County
  • County Executive Ike Leggett, Montgomery County
  • Purple Line Corridor Coalition Partners

With the Purple Line transit project already underway, we must take steps now to fully realize the benefits of this massive transit investment.  This shared commitment will shape efforts to create and sustain a unique transit corridor for decades and serve as a national model for purposeful and committed community development.  Our work is guided by the following goals:

  • Support and grow local businesses
  • Build a thriving labor market
  • Ensure housing choices for all
  • Support vibrant, sustainable communities

Useful Links

Click Here to Register

Purple Line Corridor Coalition Website

National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education Website

State Seeks Public Input on Chesapeake Bay Crossing

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) is hosting an online meeting about the Chesapeake Bay Tier I NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) Crossing Study on Wednesday, November 15, between 7:00 and 7:30 pm.

According to a press release:

The purpose of the study is to identify the location of a new crossing and to explore potential financial options. The study is expected to be completed in late 2020.

The online meeting will include a presentation with an overview of the project, study area and proposed schedule. The MDTA is seeking public input on the project scope, purpose and need.

To join the online meeting on November 15 or to provide comment, individuals with Internet access may visit baycrossingstudy.com. They also may provide comment by email directly at info@baycrossingstudy.com. The presentation will remain on the website following the meeting for anyone to view at their convenience.

The initial comment period ends December 15, 2017. The MDTA will provide additional opportunities for public input throughout the study.

Governor Larry Hogan announced the study in August 2016. NEPA requires state and federal agencies to consider the environmental consequences of proposed projects as part of their decision-making.

Read the full press release for more information.

MDOT Unveils New “Scorecard” Draft at #MACoCon Workshop

Following last year’s political firestorm over how the State should prioritize transportation spending, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has new plans for scoring major projects in its Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP) – and MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn will unveil that draft plan and solicit input from county officials first at the MACo Winter Conference. 

County elected officials and transportation professionals surely remember the story well. The Maryland General Assembly entertained legislation officially called the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, which requires the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to score its major capital projects according to a predefined set of goals and measures and rate them accordingly in its CTP. MACo opposed the bill, citing concerns that it may marginalize local input, overlook variations in transportation needs, and undervalue safety in project approval. The bill passed, with some amendments offered by MACo. The Governor vetoed it, and the General Assembly overrode the veto.

series of letters sent over the 2016 summer sought to transfer responsibility for the law’s implementation to the counties. The Attorney General’s Office issued a letter advising that the new law does not authorize this. MACo sent MDOT a letter offering support on developing a collaborative approach to implementing the law and drafting the regulations required by it.

MDOT published draft regulations implementing the law in September 2016 – regulations that MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn himself called “bad.” MACo offered detailed recommendations on how the Administration could instead interpret the law in a manner that is fairer to all Maryland counties.

Governor Hogan made it his top legislative priority last session to repeal what he called “The Roadkill Bill.” Reiterating concerns about the original scorecard legislation, MACo supported House Bill 402/Senate Bill 307, the Governor’s “Road Kill Bill Repeal” – advocating for either its full-on repeal, or its refinement. The General Assembly passed the legislation in an amended form that clarifies that the use of scoring from the statutory system will be purely advisory, while a designated work group convenes to consider refinements to its elements and effects. It also loosened requirements for the scoring system.

Since then, MDOT has been working hard to develop a new scoring model, which is due under the new law on January 1, 2018. MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn will unveil the draft model at MACO’s Winter Conference at a special workshop designed to solicit county officials’ input. This not-to-miss session presented by the County Engineers of Maryland offers county personnel the first opportunity to weigh in on the next chapter for Chapter 36.

Title: Workshop: An Overview of the New Transportation Scoring Law

Description: This past session, the General Assembly passed significant changes to the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, aka the “Scorecard Bill,” “Chapter 36,” “Transportation Transparency Bill,” or the “Roadkill Bill.” This law of many names was significantly changed to be non-binding and to give MDOT more flexibility in how it scores major highway and transit projects in its capital program. Since then, MDOT has been working hard to develop a new scoring model and invites conference attendees to actively participate in the process.

Speaker: Pete Rahn, Transportation Secretary

Moderator: John Barr, MACo Past President, Washington County Commissioner

The MACo Winter Conference will be held December 6-8, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland. This year the conference’s theme is “The Power of Partnership.”

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

Allegany To CSX: We Want Our Street Back

Allegany County residents expressed frustration to the Western Maryland state delegation on Thursday, November 2 about the continued closure of the CSX-owned Washington Street bridge. With the bridge closed “indefinitely,” residents of historic Washington Street turned to their delegation for help in getting their street back.

After the bridge received a poor safety inspection in April 2016, CSX repaired parts of the bridge so that one lane of vehicular traffic could remain open. However, on August 20, a CSX rail car failed to clear the bridge, damaging it and causing its full closure two days later. CSX indicated at that time that the bridge would remain closed “indefinitely.”

Some had hoped to address repairs to the Washington Street and other CSX-owned bridges in Cumberland by adding them to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Howard Street Tunnel grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, MDOT officials cancelled their request of $155 million in federal funds for the Howard Street Tunnel expansion after CSX pulled out of the deal.

Cumberland Times-News reports:

Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim has said the attempts to resolve bridge issues with CSX have resulted in frustration.

“Our bridge is closed,” said Murphy. “It is dangerous. It is an historic area … a heritage area. I realize it is owned by CSX. We have been extremely patient for years. It is a street in this city.

“Why would someone want to move here? You can’t even drive up it. I feel like we’ve been talking about it for years, but it keeps getting worse.”

The Washington Street bridge is one of three bridges on Cumberland’s West Side in disrepair. In addition to Washington Street, bridges at Cumberland and Fayette streets are in poor condition, according to officials with the city and CSX.

Grim said the Cumberland Street bridge will also be closed soon due to safety concerns.

Delegate Jason Buckel suggested that the City of Cumberland sue CSX:

 

“I don’t think the state has any leverage on them (CSX),” said Buckel. “My advice … the shortest time frame to get a human being from CSX to come to Allegany County and look at the bridge is to sue them in Circuit Court for Allegany County, which will require them to retain council within 30 days and show up in Allegany County to deal with it. That is the truth.”

Delegate Mike McKay suggested involving the state’s federal delegation.

 

Harford Installs First of Many Bus Shelters

Harford County installed its first county-owned bus shelter in Aberdeen last week, launching a long-term plan to install shelters at key bus stops in the county.

The shelters planned by Harford Transit LINK, the county’s bus transportation system, will protect riders from the elements, enhancing safety and comfort for riders within its network of bus routes. Harford Transit LINK serves commuters and other travelers within Harford County and into Cecil County, with connections to regional rail and bus services, and interstate travel. Harford Transit LINK is a division of the Office of Economic Development under the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman.

 

Harford Transit LINK to Install Shelters at Key Bus Stops
Pictured from left: Karen Holt, Director, Harford County Economic Development; Patrick Vincenti, Councilman, Harford County Council; Richard Slutzky, President, Harford County Council; Billy Boniface, Director, Harford County Administration; James Ports, Deputy Secretary of Operations, Maryland Department of Transportation; Robert Andrews, Administrator, Harford Transit LINK; Patrick McGrady, Aberdeen Mayor; Randy Robertson, Aberdeen City Manager. Photo courtesy Harford County.

The Aberdeen MARC Train Station bus stop serves the highest ridership in Harford’s transit system with an annual passenger count of 45,000; the stop is also a major transfer point for six of the LINK’s eight bus routes.

Harford County Transit LINK operates 43 vehicles Monday through Friday with eight routes countywide and into Cecil County. The LINK also connects with MTA/MARC trains, MTA commuter buses, and regional Greyhound, which then connect with main terminals in Baltimore and interstate travel.

CSX Nixes Howard Street Tunnel Expansion

In a surprise move, CSX Transportation has withdrawn its support for expansion of the Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore, a known aging freight bottleneck owned by the railroad which limits movement of freight westward. Following the withdrawal, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials have cancelled their request of $155 million in federal funds for the expansion.

The Howard Street Tunnel is 122 years old and its current height restrictions prohibit double-stacked containers from leaving the Port of Baltimore by rail to the midwest and other areas of the country. The recent widening of the Panama Canal and Port of Baltimore expansion have led to a significant increase in freight traffic coming through Baltimore, making the tunnel’s expansion especially important.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad — successor to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad — did not explain why it was turning its back on the project, which would have expanded the century-old tunnel to accommodate trains with shipping containers stacked two-high. …

“We determined that the Howard Street Tunnel project proposal no longer justifies the level of investment required from CSX and our public partners at this time,” the company said.

MDOT submitted a grant application for the project to the federal government last year, and planned to submit it again this year. However, MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation indicating that MDOT no longer plans to reapply for the funds. In his letter, Secretary Rahn called CSX’s actions:

both surprising and incredibly troubling, especially considering the countless hours and energy that have been expended by the Hogan Administration on this effort.

WMATA Releases Proposed FY19 Budgets

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) unveiled proposed fiscal 2019 capital and operating budgets this week. They depend upon an additional $64 million from Maryland over the current year.

The budgets, combined, total $3.1 billion. The proposed capital budget of $1.279 billion includes $787 million from its jurisdiction-members, including Maryland, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Maryland’s share rises from $223 million in fiscal 2018 to $271 million in fiscal 2019. The proposed $1.837 billion operating budget includes $380 million from Maryland, $16.3 million more than in fiscal 2018. That increase is split between Montgomery and Prince George’s.

WMATA indicates that the proposed budget does not include any fare increases or service reductions.

More information is available from The Frederick News-Post and WMATA’s press release.