Report from Annapolis by Laura Price

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Wow, what an avalanche of bills that have been dropped in Annapolis!  MACo has been working on overdrive to analyze all those bills and determine which ones the committee will review each week.  Having just completed our fourth week, we have discussed nearly 100 so far and the next few weeks show no signs of slowing down.

As I wrote last week about subtraction modification bills which reduce our local income tax revenues, our second largest revenue source for the county, an additional 6 have been introduced, now totaling 12.  MACo has formalized the letter to submit for each of these and it states:

“Counties are eager and committed partners in promoting economic growth and creating opportunity – we prefer local autonomy in determining the best way locally. MACo opposes state-mandated reductions in local revenue sources, but welcomes tools to grant counties options and flexibility to pursue their own parallel tax incentives, or to develop others to suit their local needs… Legislation that reduces county income tax revenues would make it substantially more difficult for counties to manage their budgets to provide needed services.”

The Budget and Tax subcommittee that I chair has been especially busy.  In addition to bills that would reduce our income tax revenues, we were especially troubled by HB264 – Homestead Property Tax Credit.  This would open up and require that any first-time homebuyer in the State of Maryland be transferred the existing tax savings of the previous owner.  This might seem like a good incentive to make property taxes more affordable, but totally ignores and undermines the purpose of existing law. This tax credit was created so that as a home appreciates in value, as long as the homeowner lives in the home, the homeowner will not be priced out of retaining that home because of an increased assessment, which ensures stability in their future tax bills.

Per MACo’s testimony, “This is county revenue sorely needed to fund public safety, schools, infrastructure, and other essential services. Counties could be forced to eliminate their expansions of the Homestead Property Tax Credit altogether where feasible – or, potentially, cut budgets for crucial public services… using data from fiscal 2017, it projected statewide local property tax revenue losses of $85 million by fiscal 2023”

Let me give you an example and you can look at your own property tax bill to follow along.  Let’s assume you purchased your home for the price of $250,000. That is a big investment and one that we all hope will appreciate in value so that we can build equity.  As your home is reassessed every few years, you will see a new, hopefully higher value and a higher taxable amount. But the next line below will show your tax credit. So, if your home is now worth, say $300,000, you will see a “discount” of $50,000 and your bill stays basically the same.  Every county is a bit different (most around a 5% annual increase), but in Talbot County our rate of increase is Zero Percent. Couple that with our current revenue cap, and this could severely restrict our property tax revenues.

There have been a couple more bills to pay attention to regarding Election Law.  SB363 – Voting Systems for Voters with Disabilities. All polling places are already required to have at least one ballot device for use by voters with disabilities.  This bill would mandate every voting machine to be equipped with this device. This would result in all machines being replaced at a cost of $4000 per machine. Since the access is already available, making it a requirement on every single device is just an enormous fiscal blow to the counties.  SB411 – Polling Places at Continuing Care Communities would require that local Boards of Elections establish a polling place at every continuing care retirement community of 200 or more persons on the premises. For those retired persons, or someone with a disability who truly cannot get out to vote at the polling place, absentee ballots are an easy way to make sure your voice is heard and vote is counted.  To dictate opening all these new centers, is truly a mandate we cannot afford.

Finally, there are several bills that MACo has supported that would hopefully deal with our mental health and addictions issues.  SB506 Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services – Needs Assessment Study. This would require the Maryland Department of Health to conduct a study to determine the existing capacity and estimated unmet needs for mental health and substance use disorder services by region of the State. This would help answer the questions of what is our need and what is the shortfall?  While this does not put implementation into place, this would provide the roadmap. MACo’s proposed amendment is to make sure this is put out to bid as an RFP to get the best price and not just be a flat requirement of $5 million in spending.

HB306/SB402 Mental Health-Inmates in Correctional Facilities.  This would require the state to reimburse our local detention center if the inmate has been identified that they should be in a state mental health facility.  Upon notification by a medical doctor or nurse within 12 hours, per diem reimbursement must begin. In Talbot County, with at least 85% of our inmates having either a drug/alcohol addiction or a mental health issue or a combination, this would be significant to our local jails.  Currently there is no reimbursement at all. Our detention center calls the state and says an inmate needs admission to a mental health facility. In many cases, due to lack of space in mental health facilities, the inmate winds up staying in our local jail, even after all requirements have been met to commit them to the appropriate facility.

So, the bills aren’t all bad news for the counties, but we will keep analyzing them for their impact at the county level.  Good, bad or indifferent. Support, Oppose, or no position. The staff, at the direction of we, the elected officials in the room, offers an explanation to the legislature and MACo has the credibility to make change.  

Laura Price is on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, the legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.

Letters to Editor

  1. Your reports are very interesting and informative. Thank you Laura.

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