From Harford County Council District C Councilman “Capt’n” Jim McMahan:
To My Constituents:
Four days last week I attended the Maryland Association of Counties annual convention in Ocean City.
I prepared a report for those council members that could not attend and have attached it to this memo if you care to read.
August 24, 2012
Memo: TO: Fellow Council Members
From: Capt’n Jim Dist. “C”
Re: MACo Conference 2012 Recap of meetings attended in addition to General Sessions
Subject: Welcoming Session Aug 16 correct date (0900 to 1000)
Subject: Sitting as the Board of Appeals (Aug 15th 0830 to 1130)
As all of you know, we sit as the Board of Appeals for zoning cases and this year I attended the MACo course for certification. It is my understanding that all of you took the course online and we should have a certificate on file in our office should the occasion arise to present it for verification.
The three-hour course placed great emphasis on the fact that case law, especially with objections brought to the Attorney General, supported strict adherence to staying away from conversation regarding zoning matters even though you may think the issue will never come before us as the appeals board. At the beginning of the seminar, I referenced the charter amendment we approved to loosen the parameters with which we can speak to constituents about issues that may come before the board of appeals. A representative from the Attorney General’s Office said case law repeatedly ruled in favor of the plaintiff, resulting in recusal on the part of the board member who spoke in public.
In light of our revised rules, if passed, I would suggest that all council members weigh the pros and cons of public debate when there is even the remote possibility a variance would come before us, the appeals board. If it’s in the news…..better not snooze. Zip it.
Subject: Evolving County Relationships with Military Presence (Aug 16 0800 – 0900)
We in Harford County are far ahead of the curve on this one. Mayor Mike Bennett of Aberdeen was a panelist.
Subject: Plan Maryland Aug 16 (1200 to 1315)
The State of Maryland is going full steam ahead on Plan Maryland which, in my opinion, is a great affront to our authority as the County Council. Under the new catch word “sustainability”, it is obvious the State of Maryland is taking the approach that mother knows what is best and don’t talk back. Sustainability when defined as the proper utilization of resources is fine but, when it becomes part of the “takeover”, it is a threat to liberty and freedom. (Learn more about Agenda 21.)
Subject: The Election Process (Aug 15 Noon to 1 PM)
With social media and IT dominating the 21st century culture, the seminar I attended on the electoral process “Now and in the Future” was a real eye-opener. The legislature will be asked to review the 150 K Rule which says you must have 150,000 voters for every early voting location. As we know from experience here in Harford County, there is no margin of error allowed even when trying to accommodate the voters. In Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, they are experimenting with things like voting by mail, even looking at voting by computer and other modern enhancements.
Maintaining a permanent list of absentee voters gave rise to much debate centering around who knows when a voter dies. What prevents someone else at the residence sending the ballot back in? Yes, there is a stiff penalty for anyone caught doing that but the problem is who is going to enforce it. The bottom line is there is no enforcement.
The absentee ballot process has become a financial albatross to most counties. It demands high volume printing just to cover all possibilities. It is extremely labor intensive with stuffing of envelopes and mailing. Postage alone is very expensive (about $0.80 per envelope). Human error continues to plague the absentee ballot system and there is little more that can be done about that on the local level.
Larger counties are looking at a new system whereby a new company (Runback Election Company) performs that function for the County. I believe at least two counties pay for the service and they report it has worked out well and actually resulted in cost savings by reducing printing and man-hours for local election boards.
Subject: Economic Development Loans and Grants Aug 17 (1300 to 1400)
The meeting with regard to economic development and appropriate incentives drew quite a large crowd. The discussion with regard to processing of applications and permits dominated the meeting as opposed to dealing with grants, loans and incentives to developers. The Deputy Director of the State Office of Economic Development indicated that the State of Maryland had a budget of $50 million a year that the state gives away in the form of grants or enticements. It is my understanding that the Harford County Office of Economic Development got $2 million of this. It was never explained where the connection was between the $2 million the county gets from the State of Maryland. No one attempted to address whether matching funds are part of overall state-wide economic development regulations, policy or law. No one explained the legal basis for what determines the amount a county is legally required to match a state grant. No one on the panel explained when the matching formula went into play. I still wonder what the legislation is requiring matching grants on the part of the county.
One very interesting discussion came of out of this with regard to grants to businesses in general. That discussion centered on the fact that bureaucracy associated with the permitting process has caused over the years, losses to developers through insurance costs, down time and interest payments on principal. To offset these losses, lobbyists persuaded elected officials, years ago, to create the “enticement” program as a way to remediate the government’s inefficiency. The result is what we have today. Grants, pilots, etc. do nothing more than reimburse the developer for the lost time, interest payments and insurance costs during the time they are waiting for approval from government. That certainly has the propensity for impropriety and could smell!
So, if government does its job to streamline the permitting process, thus eliminating down time for the developer, we can eliminate this boondoggle of grants and other givebacks that are costing county/state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I firmly believe the bureaucratic permitting process could be streamlined and could start right here in Harford County.
For those councilmembers who were not able to attend MACo this year, I hope these notes and comments will assist you as we tend to the people’s business in the coming months. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.