County Council Meeting Minutes
November 10, 2009
County Council of
Regular Meeting Minutes
November 10, 2009
The County Council of Dorchester County met in regular session on November 10, 2009 with the following members present: Present were Jay L. Newcomb, President; William V. Nichols, Vice President; Effie M. Elzey; Ricky Travers; and Rick Price. Also present were E. Thomas Merryweather,
The Council adjourned from a Regular Session and convened in a closed Executive
Session pursuant to State Government Article §10-508(A)(7) to consult with counsel to obtain legal advice on a legal matter.
Voting in favor of the closed Executive Session were all Council members.
INVOCATION AND PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
Councilman Nichols led the invocation and the pledge of allegiance.
CALL FOR ADDITIONS OR DELETIONS TO AGENDA
There were no additions or deletions to the agenda.
APPROVAL OF DISBURSEMENTS
The Council approved vouchers as presented.
FINANICAL REPORT: CASH AND INVESTMENTS
Councilman Newcomb reported total cash and investments as $11,179,618.41.
EXECUTIVE SESSION SUMMARY
The County Council of Dorchester County convened in an Executive Session at 4:30 p.m. on November 10, 2009 in a closed session at Room 110, County Office Building, 501 Court Lane, Cambridge, Maryland, pursuant to the State Government Article §10-508(A)(7) to consult with counsel to obtain legal advice on a legal matter.
Motion made, seconded and carried to conduct a closed session pursuant to the above. All members of the Council voted in the affirmative to conduct the closed session for the purposes stated above and to discuss the topics listed above.
Action taken at the closed session: discussed with legal counsel a matter regarding a public bid for Elliott’s Island Shoreline and Wetland Restoration project– took no action and agreed to discuss in open session.
The above information is being provided to the public pursuant to and in compliance with Section 10-509(b) and (c) of the State Government Article.
Councilman Newcomb stated that, historically, the County Council members meet with members of the State delegation to discuss proposed legislation the Council would like to be introducedfor the next Maryland General Assembly legislative session. He acknowledged that the following local legislators were present: Senator Richard Colburn, Delegate Adelaide Eckardt and Delegate Jeannie Haddaway. Delegate Rudolph Cane could not attend.
The Council asked the local legislators to oppose any transfer of the responsibility of paying either a portion or all of the costs for teachers’ retirement from the State of Maryland to counties. Senator Colburn stated that he was personally against transferring this fiscal responsibility to counties in light of the recent drastic reductions in county highway user revenue fund distributions. Delegate Eckardt echoed Senator Colburn’s opposition. Delegate Haddaway advised that she was also opposed to transferring the responsibility of paying teachers’ retirement from the State to the counties and that representatives from Caroline County and Talbot County have also expressed concern about the transfer.
Philip Bramble, President of the Dorchester County Board of Education, stated that the Board of Education members received a letter from the County Council regarding its intention to seek an amendment to State law to require that the Superintendent of Schools of Dorchester County take up primary residence in Dorchester County within one year of employment. He said he was adamantly opposed to the amendment because the Dorchester County Board of Education members have the obligation to hire the best person for the job, regardless of where they live including surrounding counties. He expressed his opinion that there is no legislation pertaining to other counties in the State of Maryland that require the Superintendent to be a County resident but, noted, instead, that such a decision is left to each local Board of Education as a matter of policy and asked the Council members to re-consider this amendment and advised that he will testify against any bill that is introduced.
Councilman Newcomb noted that several County residents have expressed concern that the Superintendent of Schools should reside in the County and have expressed their desire for that requirement to be implemented. He advised that the Council was requesting that Section 4-201 of the Education Article in the Annotated Code of Maryland be amended to require that the Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools must take up primary residence in the County within one year of employment.
Councilman Nichols expressed concern that, generally, no real estate taxes or income taxes are collected from those individuals who serve as Superintendent in the County but live in another county. He noted that three of the current Dorchester County Board of Education members upper level staff do not live in the County while the County Manager and Finance Director must reside in Dorchester County pursuant to County Charter.
Lorraine Henry, Dorchester County Board of Education member, expressed her belief that adding the requirement that the Superintendent must reside in the County makes the Board members’ job to hire a qualified individual more difficult. Glenn Payne, Dorchester County Board of Education member, stated that although he would prefer that the Superintendent be a County resident, it may limit their ability to hire the most qualified individual. He suggested that the Council consider setting a minimum number of miles away that an individual can live from Dorchester County in order to include residents in surrounding counties.
In response to a question from Senator Colburn, Councilman Newcomb stated that some of the reasons the Council wants to pursue this amendment to ensure that the Superintendent is familiar with the County, its residents and can make an accurate assessment on whether schools need to close in extreme weather conditions. Councilman Travers said that even if the amendment were passed during the 2010 Maryland General Assembly, the amendment would not affect the hiring of a new Dorchester County Superintendent.
Delegate Eckardt stated that because the amendment will only apply to Dorchester County there may be some hesitation in passing such legislation and that she will research to determine if there are other counties or local jurisdictions that have this requirement. Senator Colburn noted that the employment contract between the Wicomico County Commissioners and the Superintendent of Schools specifies that the individual must be a County resident.
Councilman Nichols noted that the amendment will not limit the applicant pool to just County residents but will require that the individual, reside in Dorchester County within one year of employment. He stated that several residents have expressed concern to him that the Superintendent of Schools does not live in the County.
Councilman Newcomb noted that the Council, based on a request received from the Dorchester County Sanitary Commission, the County Council is requesting an amendment to Section 9-622(A)(II) of the Environment Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland to add a sixth member to the Dorchester County Sanitary Commission to represent the newly established Madison-Woolford-Susquehanna Sanitary District. Senator Colburn advised that he sent a request to a bill writer to draft the legislation. Delegates Eckardt and Haddaway also expressed their support of this proposal.
Councilman Newcomb explained that the Council was requesting that Article 24 Political Subdivisions-Miscellaneous, Section 24-101 of the Annotated Code of Maryland be amended to create a new subtitle entitled “privilege tax” to impose by ordinance a privilege tax on certain public utilities, persons or corporations engaged in the business of transmitting electricity through one or more long distance, extra-high voltage electric transmission lines located in Dorchester County. He said that the amendment of this State law will encourage the installation of such high voltage transmission lines underground in order to protect the County’s citizens, landscape, tourism and economic development. Councilman Newcomb noted that there will be a $750 base rate for above ground lines and a base rate of $250 for underground lines.
In response to a question from Councilwoman Elzey, Senator Colburn expressed his opinion that if the legislation were passed the tax will apply to the Mid Atlantic Power Pathway project as that transmission line will not be installed until 2015 if the Public Service Commission allows the installation.
Based on a question from Delegate Eckardt, E. Thomas Merryweather, County, Attorney explained that the County’s tax counsel, Charles MacLeod patterned the legislation after legislation passed in neighboring States. He noted that there is no existing “privilege tax” law in the State of Maryland.
Delegate Haddaway expressed her concern that the cost will be passed on to consumers. Councilman Newcomb acknowledged that possibility but explained that the legislation is intended to encourage businesses to install transmission lines underground, in order to protect the citizens and quality of life of the County. He noted that MAPP representatives claim that once the transmission lines have been installed overall electricity costs will decrease. Delegate Eckardt stated that she would have to research the matter to ensure that the costs will not be passed onto consumers. At the request of Senator Colburn, the Council agreed to modify their request to a base rate of $750 for above ground lines only. Jane Baynard, County Manager, stated that the proposed legislation calls for the revenue from the privilege tax to be divided into thirds and dedicated to offset the impact of high electricity costs to consumers, manage and improve quality of life and for economic development and tourism purposes.
Councilman Newcomb noted that the Council, based on request from Sheriff James Phillips, was asking legislators to support the possible re-introduction of legislation to alter how an individual complies upon receiving a traffic citation to limit overtime costs. He noted that this legislation had been unsuccessful in the 2009 General Assembly Session. Councilman Nichols expressed his concern that the proposed legislation will place an undue burden on residents.
Councilman Newcomb advised that the County Council is requesting that the cap on the assessment of marshland in Dorchester County be amended or removed. He expressed his belief that the majority of the marshland property in Dorchester County was owned by non-county residents. Senator Colburn stated that it was his understanding that the assessment cap was originally classified as an incentive for residents to own marshland and questioned the reason the law was originally introduced. Mr. Merryweather stated that the cap was put into place to protect the trapping industry in the County during the early 1950s and 1960s when most of the marshland was owned by residents. Councilman Travers noted that the State and Federal governments own a lot of land within the County and are exempt from paying real estate property taxes.
Based on a question from Senator Colburn, Michael Spears, Finance Director, estimated that the revenue realized from the removal and/or amendment of the cap on marshland will be $30,000 to $40,000.
Councilman Newcomb advised that the Council was also concerned about the amount of property owned by the State in Dorchester County for which no taxes are received. Councilwoman Elzey noted that the State owns approximately 45,000 acres some of which is marshland, forestland or agricultural land. Senator Colburn said that although he was aware that the impact on the County’s revenue income was reduced because the State is exempt from the payment of real property tax, he did not believe that any legislation to require a payment in lieu of taxes for State owned land will pass. Delegate Eckardt also expressed her concern that there is a negative economic development impact to the County when land is purchased by the State because such land is tax exempt.
On behalf of the Council, Councilman Newcomb asked the local legislator’s to support the future restoration of highway revenue user funds to counties within the State based on the significant State aid reductions in recent months. He explained that the Council has had to re-allocate funds designated for other purposes in the County’s FY09 budget to fund the Public Works Department due to the overwhelming reductions. Delegate Eckardt encouraged the Council to include the loss of highway revenue user funds in any testimony for legislation that results in increased revenue.
Senator Colburn explained that the General Assembly did not authorize the reductions in highway user revenue and that the decision was made by the Board of Public Works based on a 1939 State law which gave the Governor authority with the approval of the Board to make sure reductions. He noted that Dale Mumford from Caroline County
requested an Attorney General’s opinion regarding the formula used for the highway user revenue reductions and that Ernie Crofoot, Attorney for Caroline County, has also questioned that opinion. He said that he will send a copy of the letter he received regarding the matter to the Council and Mr. Merryweather.
Senator Colburn expressed concern that during the fall 2007 Maryland General Assembly Session legislation was passed on the eve of a recession that if an individual lives in another state for six months and one day they do not have to pay Maryland State income taxes which has resulted in a reduced tax base. He also expressed concern that additional State reductions are necessary in order to balance the current budget and that in 2011 reliance on federal stimulus funding to provide for State projects will end.
Delegate Haddaway advised the Council and County staff to monitor the Department of Legislative Services’ website for advance notice of proposed initiatives to balance the State’s current budget. Delegate Eckardt noted that the Board of Public Works members will probably make additional cuts during the week of November 16 through November 20, 2009.
Councilwoman Elzey requested that local legislators act favorably on any proposed legislation by or for Mothers Against Drunk Driving to apply the Maryland interlock program to all repeat offenders and that the program be extended to all offenders of drunk driving. Senator Colburn said he will support the legislation. Delegate Eckardt echoed her support and said she will introduce a bill for the proposed legislation.
Senator Colburn advised that a constituent wrote him a letter expressing concern about wild dogs on Taylors Island and that Mr. Merryweather and Sheriff Phillips are working on proposed local legislation to address the problem. He said that he will not submit any legislation on a State level regarding this matter. Based on information provided by the Department of Legislative Services that Dorchester County has the authority in the matter.
Senator Colburn asked the Council to support legislation to require that funds received by residents to install new septic systems with BAT (best available technology) be forwarded to the vendor installing the systems instead of the residents. He noted that there is at least one company who is owed in excess of $1.8 million because residents are not forwarding the checks received to the companies who installed the systems. He said that he spoke with Senator Dyson, Co-chair of the Critical Area Commission (CAC) who advised him that the Bay Restoration fund will be a topic at the CAC meeting on Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. at the Miller Senate building. He asked the Council and members of the public to attend that meeting.
Senator Colburn noted that he received copies of the Council’s September 15, 2009 letter to the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) regarding the Bay Restoration Funds and concerns that there are no funds remaining to install mandatory BAT systems in
Delegate Haddaway stated that she is working on legislation that will require the owner of pit bulls to provide proof that their animals have been spayed and neutered.
Councilman Travers asked the local legislators to send the message to State representatives not to pass on unfunded mandates to counties. Senator Colburn expressed his hope that some of those unfunded mandates will be repealed based on current fiscal conditions. He asked the Council to identify some of those mandates in a letter to the delegation.
Delegate Eckardt stated that she is working on legislation to relieve health department mandates and in particular will allow the Council as the Board of Health to work with the local Health Office to set priorities.
Councilman Travers explained that the Dorchester County Board of Education staff have submitted a request for the entire State funding allocation of $8.9 million for the construction of a new Dorchester Career and Technology Center in FY2010. He asked the legislators to support this request. Senator Colburn asked the Council to keep him and the other legislators updated on the progress of that request.
Councilman Newcomb recused himself from the meeting for items regarding the amendment of Article 2 B, Alcoholic Beverages to be addressed, because he holds a liquor license in Dorchester County.
Councilman Nichols advised that the Council was requesting an amendment to Article 2B, Section 6-301(k) Beer, Wine and Liquor License-Clubs to bring armed forces and nationwide fraternal organizations into compliance by lowering membership requirements. He clarified the Council is requesting that the membership requirements for fraternal organizations be changed from 250 to 125 persons with dues of not less than $5 per year per person and from 125 to 50 for persons and dues of not less than $5 per annum for organizations comprised of armed forces personnel. Senator Colburn and Delegate Eckardt said that they will support the proposed legislation.
Senator Colburn and Delegates Eckardt and Haddaway agreed to support legislation to increase the amount of fines that the Dorchester County Board of License Commissioners can assess on establishments not to exceed $2,500 to $3,500 per violation to better combat underage sales.
Councilman Travers noted that the Board of License Commissioners will be meeting
to discuss proposed legislation relating to the age of employment of individuals under the age of 21 at a Class A establishment
Delegate Eckardt expressed her appreciation to Council for providing legislative initiatives in advance of the 2010 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session and encouraged them to submit additional items early. She advised that she will forward copies to Council of any proposed legislation for Dorchester County to review and encouraged the Council and residents to attend hearings on these bills, if submitted.
Councilman Newcomb rejoined the meeting.
The Council thanked the legislators for attending the meeting and for their support during the 2010 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session.
ANNUAL TRANSPORTATION MEETING-STATE HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION
Beverly K. Swain-Staley, Secretary for the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) advised the Council that she was present before Council to discuss the State Highway Annual Transportation Plan as it relates to
Secretary Staley said the primary reason there is a shortfall of funding for MDOT is due to declining revenues, including title tax. She expressed her hope that the highway user revenue reduction to local jurisdictions was a temporary reduction. She noted that $635 million was received by MDOT from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and that over 80% of projects being funded by these stimulus funds have been advertised. Ms. Staley stated that of those funds $4.9 million was allocated to the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) for improvements to State roads in Dorchester County and $1 million to Dorchester County for safety projects and resurfacing on County roads. She explained that the Highway Trust Fund is bankrupt and that legislation expired at the end of September 2009 that directed funding to MDOT. Ms. Staley advised that they reduced system preservation measures in January 2009 and are currently receiving federal funding to maintain those services. She explained that without the ARRA funds there would have been a significant deterioration in State roads.
Ms. Ratcliff thanked the Council for its support of Delmarva Community Services (DCS) which provides transportation to County residents and also plays a key role in the local Upper Shore transit. She said that FY10 transportation funding was maintained at the same level as provided in FY09. She explained that DCS was able to purchase three replacement vehicles with ARRA funds. Ms. Ratcliff stated that she was looking forward to working with DCS staff during the upcoming year.
Secretary Staley stated that MDOT staff are currently working with the City of Cambridge regarding long term usage of the nine acre waterside parcel site in Dorchester County which is the site of Governor’s Hall. She explained that the Maryland Port Administration owns the property and extended its lease with the City for five years with the intention of advertising a request for proposals for the property in 2010. She noted that MDOT staff are also working with the County in reference to rail and the Cambridge-Dorchester Airport.
Mr. Pederson stated that there were reductions in SHA funding in both FY09 and FY10 which resulted in the freezing of its capital program. Mr. Pederson noted that the following activities will be reduced as a result of decreased funding: mowing, litter pick up, ditch cleaning, brush cutting, delays in re-stripping roads, filling of potholes and sign maintenance.
Mr. Pederson noted that the number of State-wide traffic fatalities have decreased and that seatbelt usage is up to 94% for drivers and front seat passengers. He encouraged the public to continue using seatbelts. He thanked the local legislative delegation for passing traffic safety legislation including a bill that became effective October 1, 2009 which makes texting while driving illegal. Mr. Pederson advised that Governor Martin O’Malley instituted a policy that State employee cannot use hand held cell phones while driving State vehicles and was encouraging each County to adopt a policy for their employees to improve traffic safety.
Mr. Drewer advised the Council that the following resurfacing projects were completed in Fiscal Year 2009 using ARRA funds: 1) Maryland Route 14 Main Street from Secretary Bridge to Creamery Road; 2) Maryland Route 335 Hoopers Island Road on bridge over Honga River to Maryland Route 336; and 3) Maryland Route 336 Lakesville Road to end of state maintenance. He noted that the following will be resurfaced in FY10 and FY11 using stimulus funding: 1) Maryland Route 16 (Church Creek Road) 500 feet south of Egypt Road to Maple Dam Road; 2) Maryland Route 16 (Taylors Island Road) beginning of state maintenance to Salt Marsh Drive; 3) US 50 (Ocean Gateway) east of Big Mill Pond to Linkwood Road; 4) Maryland Route 335 (Golden Hill) beginning of State maintenance to structure 09012; and 5) Maryland Route 392 (Harrison Ferry Road) from the structure over Marshy Hope Creek to Maryland Route 313. He noted that the Council has requested the repaving of Maryland Route 16 to Egypt and Maple Dam roads, in front of the Cambridge South Dorchester High School.
Councilman Newcomb questioned if there are plans to redo the intersection at US 50 and Bucktown Road because the new Technology Park will be built on Bucktown Road which will increase traffic. Mr. Drewer stated that typically upgrades to intersections based on new construction are done by developers. He stated that it was the opinion of SHA staff that the intersection is still operating at a satisfactory level. Councilman Travers expressed his belief that the intersection was nearing capacity and the addition of the Technology Park will further tax the intersection. Mr. Pederson advised that they will place the intersection on their inventory of intersections with potential capacity problems which will be addressed when revenues improve.
In response to a question from Councilman Newcomb regarding the status of repaving
Councilman Newcomb noted that Rufus Todd and Tommy Gootee, Dorchester County residents, were present and wanted to address the MDOT representatives regarding a road drainage issue in southern Dorchester County. Mr. Todd expressed concern that the Route 335 roadway needed to be raised because it frequently floods during rains. He explained that he has been asking SHA representatives for years to raise that roadway. He said there were approximately six inches of salt water laying on the road after a storm in the middle of September 2009. Mr. Todd noted that a few weeks ago because the road bid is still too low and it was repaved but that did not correct the flooding problem. Mr. Gootee also expressed concern about the settling of the roadway after crossing Great Marsh Bridge. He said that Route 335 needs to be widened.
Mr. Drewer stated that due to MDE regulations that roadway cannot be raised or widened. Senator Colburn suggested that Mr. Drewer set up a meeting with MDE regarding the roadways. Mr. Pederson stated that, instead, he will ask the Director of Operations to discuss these issues with MDE representatives.
Mr. Todd expressed concern about the condition of Wallace Creek Bridge. In response to a question from Councilman Newcomb regarding that facility, Mr. Drewer advised that he was aware that the roadway was raised in that area and that he will have the next paving contractor in the area flatten out the roadway.
Mayor Victoria Jackson Stanley thanked the Maryland Department of Transportation staff for their work on the State owned roads in the City and in particularly the Maryland Port Authority for renewing the lease for the property that is the site of Governor’s Hall for another five years. She presented them with a copy of the Waterfront 2020 program which she noted depicts a thumbnail sketch of the plan for the future use of the property. Mayor Stanley stated that she may be contacting SHA shortly due to the decrease in highway user revenue funds, seeking assistance to maintain City owned roads and regarding the planned re-routing of traffic during the closing of the Cambridge Creek bridge for repairs in the near future. She noted that the Dorchester County Council sent a letter to the City regarding the pavement in the yield area after the bridge which has deteriorated. Mayor Stanley stated that Route 343 needed to be paved. In response to a question from Councilman Newcomb, Mr. Drewer advised that the bridge will only be closed for a couple of days to accommodate repairs.
Senator Colburn explained that Mayor Stanley has advised him that the bulkhead at the “Governors Hall” property is nearly collapsing and needs to be repaired. He noted that with the recent 90% reduction in highway user revenue funds, the City has no funds to make that repair. He recommended that MDOT staff work with the Department of Natural Resources to identify funds for that bulkhead. Secretary Staley said she will have staff look into the matter.
City of Cambridge Commissioner Ken Knox also requested that repairs be made to the bulkhead. He asked if Homeland Security Funds may be available for those repairs based on the fact that the Cambridge port was the second deepest port in State of Maryland and commerce may be affected if the port of Baltimore is not accessible. Secretary Staley advised that Mr. Hamons will look into the matter.
In response to Councilman Newcomb’s request, Mr. Hamons provided an update on the Mid Bay Island project. He explained that the Chief’s Report for the project has been executed and that the next step is the passage of a bill in Congress. He said that he is hopeful that the legislation will be introduced because there are six projects that have executed Chief reports. Mr. Hamons advised that the project is high on the federal priority list. Councilman Newcomb noted that the Council is sending a letter to federal legislators to encourage the introduction and passage of this bill.
Barbara Hale, a Dorchester County resident, advised that she lives on Griffith Neck Road and was concerned that the Bespitch Bridge was being replaced at the estimated cost of $3.4 million because, in her opinion, there are not enough individuals that use that bridge. Chuck Weber, Public Works Director, noted that it was a County bridge and that operators of school buses, emergency equipment and farm equipment do not use the bridge due to its current condition. He noted that the funds to replace the bridge are Federal funds that are administered by the SHA with an 80/20 match.
Based on a question from Councilman Travers, Mr. Weber stated that he was waiting for approval from the railroad administration to cross the railroad track on Bucktown Road with water and sewer lines for the proposed Technology Park. He noted that they also charge an annual fee. Mr. Johnson stated that the annual fee can only be waived by the Board of Public Works and that he will assist County staff in obtaining the necessary approvals to cross the track and in requesting the waiver of the annual fee from the Board of Public Works. Ms. Ratcliff said she will also bring the matter to the attention of the Maryland Transit Administration staff.
Councilman Travers left the meeting.
In response to a question from Mr. Weber, Mr. Pederson expressed his belief that bridge funds previously allocated for county use are still available and encouraged Mr. Weber to move forward with requests for future projects as soon as possible.
Mr. Weber expressed his appreciation to the SHA staff for their assistance in using ARRA funds. In response to a question from Mr. Weber, Secretary Staley stated that it was her understanding that the recent highway user revenue reductions were temporary but was subject to legislative action during the General Legislative Session.
Councilman Newcomb asked the Secretary if she or other SHA staff have been contacted regarding right of ways for the Mid Atlantic Power Pathway project. Mr. Drewer stated that he has limited knowledge regarding the right of ways because the Office of Real Estate is working with PEPCO on the possible installation of underground lines along Route 50 from the Choptank Bridge to the Town of Vienna. Mr. Pederson advised that staff will obtain the latest information regarding the request. Senator Colburn encouraged SHA staff to work with PEPCO regarding the use of these right of ways.
Councilwoman Elzey requested that a draft cell phone policy for County employees be prepared for Council’s review and consideration. Ms. Baynard stated that a policy is being developed and will be presented to council at an upcoming meeting.
In response to an inquiry from Councilman Price regarding the blinking lights in the Town of Hurlock, Mr. Drewer explained that he believes the lights are sufficient to meet traffic demands. Mr. Drewer confirmed that they are investigating the Route 14/Route 16 intersection regarding lighting concerns and that if a light on a telephone pole is out and needs to be replaced on a State owned road, residents should contact Delmarva Power if they own the light poles.
Based on a concern expressed by Portia Jones-Ennals regarding a pedestrian crossing at the corner of Pine and Washington Streets (Route 343), Mr. Drewer advised that he will have staff review that intersection.