MACo officials talk about recent Assembly session
CENTREVILLE — Though the Maryland economy isn’t “gangbusters” as Maryland Association of Counties Executive Director Michael Sanderson put it during the Tuesday, May 10, Queen Anne’s County Commission meeting, he said it is in an overall better situation than has been seen in a number of years. In his 25 years of work in Maryland, he said the Fiscal Year 2017 budget was the simplest and most straightfor ward.
Sanderson highlighted MACo’s involvement in the past General Assembly session and spoke about key issues the organization supported or fought against.
Sanderson said it was a “big year” for public safety issues in Annapolis, working with the wardens, chiefs of police and sheriffs throughout the state. Sanderson said the Justice Reinvestment Act (House Bill 1312 and Senate Bill 1005) was submitted to reduce the prison population and to redirect funding into more efficient treatment, diversion and supervised released programs. Non-violent drug offenders, Sanderson said for example, would potentially be candidates.
Though MACo supported both bills, amendments were added to make sure local jurisdictions weren’t hit with unintended consequences of its passage. “If you don’t do this right, that turns into the state saves money and the counties end up with a sandbag of costs and responsibilities in the local jail,” he said. “We think we’ve got Maryland on track to be reasonable and fair on this front and to advance the cause of justice as well.”
Sanderson said representing the counties of Maryland and fighting against unfunded mandates is a major topic for the organization. Though MACo has a “high strike rate” of amending down or defeating unfunded proposals or mandates taking away local authority, Sanderson said it is important “to be that voice at the table” to say, if the legislature passes a bill, here are the unintended consequences for the county governments.
Other public safety issues Sanderson touched on included the law enforcement issues in Baltimore last year regarding the riots in the city, as well as law enforcement department’s nationwide, and how to discipline officers properly, the processes for that, as well as the equipment being used during an arrest.
Sanderson said MACo was concerned, having worked with chiefs and sheriffs throughout the state closely, because “we didn’t want to see a one-size fits all solution that was born in Baltimore but gets applied in Queen Anne’s and in Garrett and Wicomico County where the circumstances might be very different.”
Sanderson said what came out of the legislature will help with accountability without swamping counties with new regulations and costs.
“For better of for worse,” Sanderson said, MACo had to fight more bills than usual regarding liability and legal issues regarding the circumstances a citizen can sue the government. Sanderson said the issues aren’t behind organization and said the “battle is going to be ongoing.”
“We’ve got to invest a good bit of time on one of those things where we’re worried about insurance rates and for those who self-insure the one big settlement, the $600,000 lawsuit that probably shouldn’t have happened but for under state law,” he said. “Big issues for both large and small jurisdictions.”
With school construction costs continually increasing “through the roof” and how to properly fund kindergarten through senior year of high school, Sanderson told the commission “we’re due for a big assessment.” Sanderson said a group has been formed that will do a “top to bottom assessment” of the state’s school funding formulas, stating there is “an awful lot of money there.”
An increase of 2.7 percent was proposed in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget compared to the prior year, representing total education funds of $5.57 billion. A total of $334 million will be provided for school construction throughout the state.
County Commissioners Steve Wilson and Jim Moran said funding for a required environmental study to look into expanding the Bay Bridge to alleviate congestion in the county is a concern. Though Sanderson didn’t go into much detail regarding the project, he said it was one of the most talked about transportation items for many years. “A big part of that project is just the sheer number of zeros behind the cost of doing it,” Sanderson said. “So it’s a commitment of a different scale than virtually anything else the state looks at.”
The project is estimated to cost about $30 million and would take years to complete.
Moran said it was Queen Anne’s County’s No. 1 priority to fund the study because the amount of traffic from beachgoers will cut off its “economic line” and its revenues. Having no hospital in the county doesn’t help either, magnifying the issues pass through traffic causes to public health and safety.
Michael Sanderson (right), MACo Executive Director, and Washington County Commissioner John Barr, also the 2016 MACo President, spoke to the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners about the past Maryland General Assembly session on Tuesday, May 10.