Each year, City staff with guidance from the Mayor and City Council selects the legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session in Annapolis. The following are the City's initial priorities:
Watkins Mill Road Interchange:
The Watkins Mill Road Interchange remains a key legislative priority. This project is essential to reducing congestion both in Gaithersburg and throughout the County. It is also a vital component to jumpstarting significant entitled development projects in the vicinity of the interchange.
With an agreement in place between the City, the County and the development community, both the western and eastern segments of Watkins Mill Road extended will be completed in the near future without the need for State funding.
However, it is crucial for the State Highway Administration to move forward with the actual interchange. We have already secured 75% of the right-of-way land necessary for construction of the interchange at no cost to the State, and we are working diligently to obtain the balance. While the Department of Transportation did not propose increased engineering funds in the Consolidated Transportation Plan, it is our understanding that Montgomery County has agreed to contribute up to $5 million in FY 2013 to complete the engineering of this interchange.
The City will be working diligently during the upcoming session to have the State allocate the necessary funding to move this project into the construction phase once engineering is complete.
Restoration of Highway User Revenue:
In 2011, the House and Senate voted to increase highway user revenue for municipalities in FY12 from $1.6 million initially budgeted to nearly $10 million. Additionally, language was included in the budget reconciliation bill that would require the legislature to pass legislation prior to transferring or diverting from the Transportation Trust Fund to the general fund. This legislation would require repayment of funds within five years of the transfer or diversion.
During the 2012 Legislative Session the General Assembly approved the Governor’s FY 13 recommended HUR of $6.5 million which represented a 25% reduction from the previous year. Unfortunately, no new means of funding the transportation Trust Fund were identified and as a result no additional restoration was made to HUR.
In FY13 Gaithersburg will receive an HUR payment in the amount of $310,975. MML reported that the FY13 adopted state budget has HUR for municipalities set at $7.2 million in FY14. We were recently informed by State Highway Administration that the City’s estimated share of HUR will be $337,868. If HUR were to be fully funded, Gaithersburg would receive over $2 million.
The State’s projected $406 million deficit in FY14 and $526 million deficit in FY15 coupled with the continuing economic downturn does not bode well for future restoration of HUR. Identifying a new revenue source is crucial to restoring the loss in HUR for municipalities. It is anticipated that the Governor will once again recommend a transportation funding package in the 2013 Legislative Session.
The City’s efforts will once again be supported by MML as they have made this their #1 League priority this year.
Municipalities – Legal Notice Requirements – Posting on Websites:
Pursue legislation that would provide discretionary authority to local governments to post state-mandated legal notices on their websites rather than in newspapers, resulting in a more progressive and cost efficient method of public notification. State-mandated newspaper public notice requirements for municipalities are associated with annexations, charter amendments, and constant-yield tax rate hearings to name a few.
The bill would require local jurisdictions to post a more abbreviated version of currently required notifications and the full version prominently on the City’s website. It would also require a free “subscription” to any member of the public who would like these notices mailed to them.
During the past three sessions, the General Assembly has raised concerns as they relate to the lack of internet access for all citizens, the economic impact on the newspaper industry and how visible the notices would be on local government websites. In 2012, Senator Ron Young introduced legislation that sought to address these concerns and Delegate Niemann introduced the cross filed bill (HB 1355) in the House. Unfortunately, both versions received unfavorable reports as a result of the heavy lobbying effort of the newspaper industry.
The City anticipates that both sponsors will once again introduced similar legislation and City’s efforts will be bolstered by MML this potential legislation has been approved as a League priority in the upcoming 2013 legislative session.
Ethics - Financial Disclosure by Local Elected Officials:
The City would like to pursue legislation that would alleviate the financial disclosure requirements of state ethics law for municipal government officials so that business and other interests that are not germane to municipal government operations need not be disclosed.
Prior to the changes, local ethics ordinances needed to be “substantially similar” to state law. That requirement had been in place for over 30 years.
While the City agrees that transparency of the upmost importance, the breadth of the new financial disclosure requirements for ALL elected officials, regardless of the level of government, seems excessive.
Last year, MML established a working group to examine the concerns raised by many League members. Council Member Ashman played an integral role on the working group and provided valuable insights into the issues created by the 2010 legislation. At the core of the concerns for the working group was that municipal officials work in a much smaller environment compared to state officials and (county officials for that matter).
The group agreed that these differences warranted a more narrow range of financial disclosure to address the potential conflicts of interest. The group explored ways to narrow the focus of the financial disclosure requirements but at the same time achieve the goal of transparency sought by the General Assembly to ensure any conflicts were in the public record.
The workgroup presented its recommendations to a special Senate subcommittee appointed by Senate President Mike Miller to look at potential amendments to the state ethics law. Portions of the workgroup’s recommendations were incorporated in SB 948 that was introduced by Montgomery County Senator Jamie Raskin during last year’s legislative session. Unfortunately, the bill did not come up for a Committee vote.
Vehicle Laws – Speed Monitoring Systems - Enforcement
Current law requires that a sworn law enforcement office inspect recorded images and sign a statement that the vehicle was photographed operating in violation of the law. The use of sworn police officers to complete this administrative task is misappropriation of valuable police resources when an administrative employee could perform this duty just as well.
In 2009, speed camera legislation required that a sworn law enforcement police officer perform this task. Prior to the passage of that legislation, the municipalities participating in the Speed Camera pilot program, including Gaithersburg, were allowed to have a trained technician employed by the agency review violations, a process that was extremely efficient.
At a time when our communities rely more and more on community policing, it is imperative that every available officer actively focus on public safety. The passage of a legislative remedy would allow the City of Gaithersburg to return the officers that are currently performing administrative speed camera functions to the streets for essential police enforcement and public safety activities.
The technicians who would review violations would not only be trained to verify that a violation has occurred, they would be knowledgeable about the entire scope of the speed monitoring system, which is extremely useful when a violation is being appealed. The proposed legislation would bring in line with the current procedures for red light camera violations in Montgomery County.
In the 2012 legislative session, SB 486 passed the Senate, but the House Environmental Matters Committee referred the issue to summer study.
The City looks forward to working closely with the cities of Greenbelt and Rockville in pursuit of this priority.