Charles Adopts Budget, Invests In Education & Public Safety

The Charles County Commissioners adopted a balanced General Fund budget of download$404,659,200 for fiscal 2019 on May 15. The budget marks a 3.4 percent increase over fiscal 2018. This is the fifth consecutive year in which the County has balanced the budget without increasing tax rates. According to the County’s press release:

The adopted budget protects core services, invests in education and public safety priorities, and incorporates efficiencies in county operations.

Commissioner President Peter F. Murphy stated:

I am pleased that the Board of Commissioners has been able to hold the line on the tax rates while continuing to deliver the high-quality services our community expects and deserves. Our fiscally-responsible choices have resulted in a balanced budget that will be sustainable in the future.

Budget highlights include:

  • $6.49 million increase for Charles County Public Schools
  • $2.96 million increase for the Sheriff’s Office
  •  $2.84 million increase for County Government operations, to fund employees salary increases and hire staff to open the new Waldorf Senior and Recreational Facility
  • Real property tax rate remains $1.141 with an additional $0.064 for Fire and Rescue per $100 of assessed value
  • $457.5 million allocated for the five-year capital improvement program (fiscal years 2019-23) to pay for enhanced school security, school construction, upgrading the county’s 9-1-1 system and investments in new or improved assets including roads, parks, water and sewer infrastructure, and other public facilities

Click here to read about the fiscal 2019 budget proposal.

EPA Extends WIFIA Water Infrastructure Loan Deadline

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has extended the deadline for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). The new deadline is July 31, 2018.

WIFIA was established in 2014 as an EPA federal loan and guarantee program. The program can provide up to 49% of the project financing. As of March 23, the President awarded the program $63 million through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018.

The funding grew on April 4, 2018, when the EPA announced WIFIA may be providing as much as $5.5 billion in loans.

Following the April 4 announcement, the EPA issued it’s first WIFIA loan of $134.5 million to King County, Washington for a new wet weather treatment station.

The EPA estimates that U.S. States, territories, and tribal leaderships, need over $743 billion for water infrastructure improvements in the next 20 years.

Applying for WIFIA:

Phase 1: Project Selection

Phase 2: Project Approval

Phase 3: Negotiation and Closing

Application materials are available on the EPA’s website. The website also includes more detailed information about the application process.

If you are interested in learning more about water projects, join us this August at our conference, “Water, Water Everywhere.”

Baltimore County Adopts $3.3 Billion Budget, No New Taxes

The Baltimore County Council approved a $3.3 billion budget on Thursday for fiscal 2019, which begins July 1. The approved budget includes no tax increases, although Fred Homan, the county administrative officer and acting county executive, indicated that water and sewer rates would have to be increased by at least 12.5 percent.

Pamela Wood reports on the council meeting for The Baltimore SunIn particular, she mentions that Council Member Wade Kach tried, unsuccessfully, to lower the property tax rate:

The budget keeps the rates for property taxes and local income tax the same as they have been for more than 20 years — though Councilman Wade Kach attempted to make a small cut to the property tax, frustrating Democrats who blocked the maneuver. Councilwoman Cathy Bevins accused Kach of “absolute grandstanding.”

The Council voted 7-0 at the same meeting to name Don Mohler as the new county executive. Mohler was the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s chief of staff.

Mohler served for Kamenetz for eight years, and as communications director for former County Executive Jim Smith for eight years, as well. He worked in education for 30 years, as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal and administrator.

Wood reports:

Several mentioned Mohler in particular as someone who could carry out Kamenetz’s vision without using the position for personal or political gain.

Read her article here.

See prior coverage on Baltimore County’s budget here.

As proposed, the late County Executive Kamenetz’s budget funded:

  • a 3 percent cost of living adjustment for employees, effective
    next January
  • 22 new social workers, 23 new counselors and 18 new school psychologists in Baltimore County Public Schools, plus additional pupil personnel workers, health assistants, and bus attendants
  • 19 more police School Resource Officers, increasing the County’s total to 84 officers
  • $979,000 for the first year of Baltimore County College Promise, which provides full tuition and fees to Baltimore County Community College for qualifying students
  • Over $1.8 million toward rat abatement
  • An increase of 7.4 percent to volunteer fire companies
  • nearly $27 million to maintain and improve water and sewer infrastructure and reduce water main breaks and sewage spills
  • $3.9 million to support arts, humanities and cultural organizations in Baltimore County and the region

Hogan Appoints Howard County Fire Chief to State EMS Board

Governor Larry Hogan recently announced the appointment of John S. Butler, Chief of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services (HCDFRS) to the Maryland Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Board.

According to a Howard County press release:

“The governor has made an outstanding appointment.  Chief Butler is an innovative leader and listener here in Howard County and will share what ambulance-riding responders would want the Board to know,” said Kittleman. “He is highly regarded by fire service leaders throughout the country and by the men and women who serve in the County’s combination fire and EMS system.”

Chief Butler served as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), paramedic, operational field supervisor, emergency services educator, and tactical medic for Howard County before Kittleman selected him to lead the Department.  He maintains his para-medicine affiliation for the department.

“I’m honored to be able to make a difference for Maryland EMS providers,” said Butler. “As a fire chief and an EMS provider, I am listening and aware of some challenges that EMT firefighters and paramedics are experiencing.  I’m humbled to be a part of an already hard-working EMS Board and hope to contribute new ideas and perspectives.”

Created in 1993, the Board develops and implements an emergency medical system plan for Maryland. The plan defines criteria for designating trauma facilities; guidelines for emergency medical services; improved communications and transportation; public information and education programs; and a system to evaluate emergency care in Maryland.

The 11-member Board also governs the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS), an independent, executive-level agency responsible for the coordination of all emergency medical services.  By law, the Maryland EMS Board must meet at least six times per year and has the authority to appoint an Executive Director of MIEMSS with the approval of the Governor.

Read the full press release for more information.

Council Appoints Mohler as Baltimore County Executive

Don Mohler. Photo courtesy: Baltimore County Government.

The Baltimore County Council today voted 7-0 to appoint Don Mohler as County Executive. Mohler will finish out the term of the late Kevin Kamenetz, who passed away unexpectedly on May 10th.

Mohler is a longtime veteran of Baltimore County Government, most recently serving as Kamenetz’s chief of staff. Mohler will replace Baltimore County Administrator Fred Homan, who the became acting county executive immediately following the death of Kamenetz.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Cigna Helps to Reduce Opioid Use by 25% One Year Early

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Two years ago, Cigna (MACo Gold Corporate Partner) made a commitment to reduce the opioid use among their customers by 25 % by 2019.

With the help of 1.1 million prescribing clinicians, Cigna has reached their goal one year early!

Reducing customer use by a quarter brought the usage back down to pre-epidemic levels.

Cigna’s strategies in reaching their goal:

  1. Increasing safeguards in the opioid prescribing process
  2. Enhancing support and counseling
  3. Providing easier access to treatments for substance use disorders

Cigna President said in the official press release:

We committed to this reduction for our customers because we recognized the severity of the epidemic and its impact on people from every walk of life, their families, employers and communities.We are proud that we achieved this goal early, but even more importantly, we did so by enhancing patient support and ensuring our customers have access to the right care at the right time. There is still much more work to do, and we are focused on continuing to push forward on these efforts every day.

– David M. Cordani, Cigna President and Chief Executive Officer

Specific tactics that helped Cigna reach their goal:

  • Partnered with 2,000 medical groups and 65,000+ doctors
  • Reported opioid use analysis to physicians
  • Engaged with 85,000+ prescribers
  • Created pharmacy safeguards
  • Increased access to substance use disorder drugs and other reversal agents
  • Opened a 24/7 support line for Veterans (considered to be an at-risk community)
  • Provided communities with information used to identify solutions for treatment and prevention

Cigna’s Official Opioid Use Reduction Flyer

Learn more about MACo’s Corporate Partner Program.

 

U.S. Senate Committee Passes Water Resource Authorization Bill

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed a version of the Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) authorization bill, the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (H.R. 8). The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is scheduled to mark up the bill tomorrow.

NACo provides information on the bill. 

From the letter to the House advocating for WRDA, sent by NACo, National Governors Association, National League of Cities, United States Conference of Mayors, and National Conference of State Legislatures:

WRDA is critical in helping to protect, maintain and further develop our water infrastructure systems including, ports, waterways, and clean and safe drinking water. It provides states and local governments with added stability and certainty to meet water infrastructure needs while also supporting the safety, environmental protection and economic development of our communities. Following a seven – year gap in the passage of WRDA, Congress was able to enact both the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA) and the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 (WIIN) on a bipartisan basis. We strongly urge Congress to stay this course and approve bipartisan WRDA legislation in 2018, and continue to authorize WRDA every two years moving forward.

The Senate version of the bill includes extensions to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which provides low-interest loans to local governments and utilities to repair existing water and wastewater infrastructure. Route Fifty reports:

The version of the bill the Senate committee approved includes language that would effectively extend WIFIA lending terms to another set of waterworks programs known as the drinking water and clean water state revolving funds.

With the revolving funds, EPA awards “capitalization grants” to states. States contribute a 20 percent match, and then use the money to provide low-cost loans and other financing assistance for drinking water and wastewater projects. The funds are one of the primary ways the federal government provides support for local water infrastructure across the U.S.

The extension to WIFIA was originally proposed in the Securing Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now Act.

The National Rural Water Association supports the expansion, which it says will make it easier for rural communities to access the funds. The American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and the Water Environment Federation oppose the move, however. They argue:

…it would undermine the purpose and ability of WIFIA to effectively leverage limited federal dollars to support major water and wastewater infrastructure investments.

Helpful Links

SC18 Brochure Cover - final
Like water? Join us for MACo’s Summer Conference, “Water, Water Everywhere,” August 15-18, 2018 at the Ocean City Convention Center!

NACo Coverage

NACo’s WRDA letters to the Senate

NACo’s WRDA letter to the House

Route Fifty: Senate Panel Passes Water Bill That Would Rework Lending Program

Route Fifty: Tension Bubbles Up Over Water Infrastructure Bill in Senate

Prior Conduit Street coverage

 

NTSB: Require Seat Belts in New School Buses

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants all new school buses to have seat belts.

The independent federal agency, charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, released its findings Tuesday from its special investigation into school bus safety issues. The investigation focused on the November 2016 crash involving a Baltimore City school bus and a transit bus, as well as a school bus crash that occurred that same month in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The two crashes injured 37 people and killed 12.

The NTSB found that, although school busses are “the safest vehicles on the road, and one of the safest modes of transportation overall,” certain enhancements could “close gaps in school bus safety.” These enhancements include lap/shoulder seat belts and technological improvements such as electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking, and event data recorders.

However, insofar as the two investigated crashes are concerned, poor driver oversight was the key issue:

The report cites the overall safety of school buses yet notes a similarity in the two fatal accidents investigated.  The lack of driver oversight which was found to be causal in both accidents. The NTSB found this lack of oversight by not only the school districts in Baltimore and Chattanooga, but also by the motor carriers under contract to the school districts to provide student transportation, which employed the drivers in the two crashes.

In both cases, school bus drivers continued to operate school buses unsafely, with no remedial action taken, even when driver safety issues were known. In addition to lack of oversight, the Baltimore report focused on medically unfit school bus drivers, and commercial driver license fraud.

NTSB issued safety recommendations to the State of Maryland, Maryland State Department of Education, Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Maryland School Bus Contractors Association, as well as to a number of other public and private entities.

The NTSB recommended that 42 states (including Maryland), the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico adopt legislation requiring lap/shoulder belts on new, large school buses. It recommended that Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York amend their existing statutes requiring lap-only belts to require lap and shoulder belts, instead.

In the past, MACo has weighed in on proposed legislation requiring the retrofit of existing school buses with seat belts, citing cost concerns. The NTSB recommendation only applies to newly purchased school buses moving forward.

Helpful Links

NTSB News Release, “Lack of Driver Oversight Key Issue in School Bus Safety Special Investigation Report”

NTSB: School Bus Safety

NTSB, Special Investigation Report [Synopsis], School Bus Transportation Safety, Baltimore, Maryland, November 1, 2016, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 21, 2016

DLS Releases Results of Carroll Schools Audit

The Department of Legislative Services’ (DLS) audit of the financial practices of Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) found a total of 13 findings that require recommendations. The purpose of the audit was to evaluate whether CCPS’ procedures and controls are effective in accounting for and protecting its assets and whether its policies provide for the most efficient use of financial resources.

The audit disclosed that CCPS needs to improve accountability and internal controls in several areas including payroll processing, student activity funds, and equipment inventory. DLS recommends that CCPS ensure schools properly control cash receipts by implementing and enforcing accountability measures and conduct periodic audits of schools with significant school activity funds.

DLS also identified specific security risks on CCPS’ computer systems and network. For example, the network is not sufficiently protected against malware. The network is also vulnerable when it comes to protecting personally identifiable information. DLS recommends that CCPS implement protection against untrusted traffic entering the network and restrict access of third party connections into the CCPS network.

According to the Carroll County Times:

Despite more than a dozen recommendations, CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said the school system has known about many of the recommendations and has been working to fix them.

“Overall, we’re pleased that these recommendations were relatively minor. There were no surprises,” Guthrie said.

Other recommendations include ensuring that the necessary parental approvals for Medicaid billings are obtained and that all allowable Medicaid reimbursement is sought for eligible students, implementing a process that provides for the independent review of payroll adjustments, making sure that the equipment inventory records accurately include all equipment owned by CCPS, and ensuring that all annual financial disclosure forms are properly completed and reviewed by the ethics panel, as required.

Read the full article for more information.

Join the NACo Northeast Regional Conference Call, Infrastructure Week Review

Every Maryland County is a member of the National Association of Counties, and all Maryland County elected officials and staff are invited to join the NACo Northeast Regional Conference Call.

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The monthly Northeast Regional Conference Call is an opportunity to discuss and hear updates on federal issues affecting counties in the northeastern United States.

NACo Northeast Regional Conference Call

  • Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018
  • 8:00AM EST
  • Dial-In: 1-719-359-9722
  • Guest Passcode: 299194

 AGENDA

Welcome and Introductions Christian Leinbach, Chairman, Berks County Commissioners (PA) / NACo NE US Representative

Roll Call by State

NACo Staff Update

Arthur Scott –  Ass. Legislative Director/Political Outreach Manager

Jack Peterson – Ass. Legislative Director/Finance, Pensions and Intergovernmental Affairs

  • FAA Reauthorization
  • Review of Infrastructure Week

Upcoming NACo Webinars

NACo Conferences