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Casinos generate $149.5 million in August

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As Maryland’s six casinos continued operating at 50 percent capacity due to COVID-19, they generated $149,549,000 in gaming revenue during August, their second full month of operation after being closed for three months due to the pandemic.

The total is the eighth-best month of revenue in the Maryland casino program’s history and represents a decrease of only $4,711,219 (-3.1 percent) from the August 2019 total of $154,260,719, which was the fourth-best month. Hollywood Casino in Cecil County and Rocky Gap Casino in Allegany County saw increases from their August 2019 gaming revenue figures.

Casino contributions to the state in August 2020 were $60,831,129, a decrease of $2,440,296 (-3.9 percent) compared to the $63,271,425 contributed to the state in August 2019.

Contributions to the Education Trust Fund (ETF) in August of 2020 were $44,273,819 a decrease of $3,158,137 (-6.7 percent) compared to the $47,431,956 in ETF contributions from August 2019. Casino gaming revenues also support communities and jurisdictions where the casinos are located, Maryland’s horse racing industry, and small, minority- and women-owned businesses.

Revenue totals for local casinos for August 2020:

MGM National Harbor, Oxon Hill (1,692 slot machines, 190 table games)

$59,706,483 in August 2020, a decrease of $2,683,593 (-4.3 percent) from August 2019

Live! Casino & Hotel, Hanover (2,327 slot machines, 184 table games)

$52,468,619 in August 2020, a decrease of $554,091 (-1.0 percent) from August 2019

Horseshoe Casino, Baltimore (1,045 slot machines, 129 table games)

$16,798,542 in August 2020, a decrease of $1,485,580 (-8.1 percent) from August 2019

Fiscal and calendar year-to-date totals for state casinos are available at www.mdgaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/August-2020-Casino-Revenue-Data.pdf.

Ball reports 2020 census progress 

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball highlighted Howard County’s 2020 Census response rate of 79.9%, which has surpassed the 2010 rate of 76.7%. The rate is 34th highest in the nation out of 3,215 counties and second highest in Maryland. Howard County’s Internet response rate of 74.7% is the best in the state.

“We take pride in being a state and national leader in census completion and self-reporting, with more than 74% of our residents completing their census online,” said Ball. “But we will not stop here. We’re in the last leg of this race and need to push ourselves. We are working to exceed our 2010 final response rate of 81%  ̶  and we’re nearly there. For every person not counted, we lose out of $18,000 in federal funding. Especially now, these funds are critical to support our growing population, provide vital government services like emergency personnel, and create a high quality of life for all who live and work here. We have 20 final days to make sure our message is heard. The Census is safe, easy and important.”

Howard County also joined multiple complaints against the Trump administration for their restrictive census policies. Howard County joined an amicus brief to stay the administration’s rushed plan to complete the Census by Sept. 30, when it was originally scheduled to be completed on October 30 following the COVID-19 pandemic. The case is currently pending.

Additionally, Howard County joined a lawsuit against the administration for its policy attempting to “exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.” The exclusion of undocumented persons would significantly impact the apportionment of congressional districts and the electoral college. The three-judge panel in this case entered the decision that ruled the president’s directive to exclude undocumented persons from the census count as unlawful and commanded that the presidential directive not be implemented.

 

Ruppersberger proposes ‘Hero’ Pay for hospital workers

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Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) unveiled federal legislation providing “hero” pay to hospital workers on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Dr. Joseph J. Costa Honoring Essential Americans Risking Their Safety (HEARTS) Act is named after Dr. Costa, who ran the critical care unit at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, treating COVID-19 patients before dying of the disease himself.

“From Day One of this pandemic, there have been heroic people like Dr. Costa running into the fire,” Ruppersberger said. “We must compensate those on the frontlines who are assuming extraordinary risk to themselves and their families to keep the rest of us safe and alive. We have all seen ads, speeches and social media posts thanking our brave health care workers ― my bill is a way of putting our money where our mouth is.”

The legislation covers hospital workers including doctors, nurses, specialists and non-medical staff such as custodians who work in close proximity to COVID-19 patients within federally-designated virus hotspots.

 

Ball presents second round of rental assistance

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced a second round of HoCo RISE rental assistance funding, providing an additional $800,000 in CARES Act funds to support residents struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic. These funds build on the nearly $1.6 million provided for rental assistance by the Ball administration earlier this year.

Ball also announced a $60,000 grant to Maryland Legal Aid to provide legal support for residents facing eviction earlier this month.

Beginning Oct. 5, residents may apply for assistance to pay up to three months of past due rent. Applications will be available at the Community Action Council (CAC), Grassroots and FIRN. Residents must live in Howard County and provide documentation that the loss of household income is related to COVID-19 to qualify for assistance. Household income limits apply. Details can be found at www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Housing-and-Community-Development.

“The longer this pandemic stretches on, the more urgent rental and eviction relief becomes,” said Ball. “With more than 23,000 renters in the county and more than 46,000 residents who have filed for unemployment, we are doing all that we can to keep people safely housed. This $800,000 is in addition to nearly $1.6 million we provided in rental assistance earlier this year. As we continue to battle this virus, we must deliver the necessary relief and services to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

The county previously awarded $800,000 in CARES Act funding to six nonprofit partners in early July. During the last 10 weeks, 196 households have received $543,006 in assistance to pay up to three months of past due rent. The average amount of assistance provided to each household is $3,300. There are 74 applications still in process. Based on the average amount of assistance per household, the applications currently in process will deplete these funds before the end of September.

The county also previously awarded $770,356 in CDBG-CV funds from HUD to the Howard County Housing Commission and Bridges to Housing Stability. Both agencies are working with clients in properties owned and managed by the respective agencies. These funds will be provided to their tenants by the end of the year.

Efforts to secure additional funding are ongoing, as Howard County is seeking $2 million in support from the Maryland Eviction Prevention Partnership Grant program. The application for additional funds will be posted on the Howard County DHCD website on Sept. 21 and public comment will be accepted through Sept. 25. The County Council will concurrently consider a local resolution authorizing submission of this application at a public hearing on Sept. 21. If approved, the application will be submitted to the State before the Oct. 2 deadline.

For legal assistance to prevent evictions, residents can contact Maryland Legal Aid intake line at 301-560-2100 or www.mdlab.org. Residents with concerns about unfair landlord practices may contact the County’s Office of Consumer Protection for assistance at 410-313-6420.

 

Howard County kicks-off International Underground Railroad Month

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Visit Howard County in partnership with Maryland Office of Tourism Development, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, and the Howard County Historical Society, officially kicked-off International Underground Railroad Month in Howard County last week. See a video of the event here.

As a part of the month-long commemoration, the Museum of Howard County History will showcase its Underground Railroad exhibit. Other ways visitors and residents alike can take part are to visit National Park Service’s vetted Underground Railroad and Network to Freedom sites in Ellicott City’s historic district. More information on this and another African American heritage site can be found at:

https://www.visithowardcounty.com/blog/post/harriet-tubman-the-simpsonville-freetown-legacy-trail/.

Dick’s Happy Birthday Story

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Dick Story

Dick Story knew something was in the air when, several days before his recent 75th birthday, when he found 15 birthday card greetings in his post office box.

The next day, there were 25 additional cards in his box. And then more than 50. By the time he celebrated his birthday on August 7, nearly 270 cards had arrived. Now the cards, mostly from the many business and real estate associates he had met and formed relationships with during his more than 50-year career, line the walls of his home office.

Little did Story know at the start of this effort that his daughter, Karen Cherry, had come up with the idea because she knew of Dick’s daily ritual of driving each morning to the Betterton (Md.) post office to check his mail. So the Howard Hughes Corp. executive asked the commercial real estate community to help flood his mailbox with birthday well-wishes.

And, since one of Story’s hobbies is stamp collecting, Cherry also requested the senders to hunt down unique offerings to add to his collection.

“I suspected something was up when the initial volley arrived, about one week before my birthday,” said Story, who worked as head of the Howard, Baltimore and Howard county economic development groups. “The real estate community responded to Karen’s request quickly and impressively, and I was humbled to read the personal messages. In addition, I received thousands of new stamps.”

He also received citations from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, as well as several hundred well wishes via Social Media.

For many years, Story served as the “Ed McMahon” of NAIOP-Maryland, as well as master of ceremonies for numerous industry events, thanks to his quick wit and radio-friendly voice that he honed while working in the radio business, most notably at WTTR, in Westminster.

Now retired from Howard Bank, his humor remains in full display.

“Unfortunately no money arrived with the cards, but the messages received from the people that I formed relationships with were invaluable,” he said.

 

State report faults BGE in explosion

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Photo by Emily Calkins

An August 2020 staff report of the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Engineering Department (PSCED) faults the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) for the Aug. 25, 2019, explosion at the Lakeside Office Building on Stanford Boulevard in Columbia.

According to the report, pressure tests and subsequent excavation revealed three holes in the building’s service line, as well as an apparent electrical fault in a BGE electrical service cable supplying the building, although it remains unclear whether these facilities caused the explosion or were damaged as a result of the explosion.

According to the PSC report, BGE is conducting its own investigation and is unable to provide a more detailed root cause analysis of what triggered the event or accurately estimate when it will complete the investigation.

The PSCED report concludes that its evidence and analysis point to a sequence of events initiated by an underground secondary cable fault of unknown cause that degraded the polyethylene gas service piping. It also determined that the explosion originated in the building structure and not the parking lot.

Safety Violation

The Lakeside Office Building explosion mirrors a similar accident involving the Washington Gas Light Company in Loudon County, Va., in 1998. That accident resulted in one death, severe burns to one individual and slight injuries to two others.

A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of that accident likewise found a hole in a gas service line located near faulted electric service lines.

The Commonwealth of Virginia approved legislation in 2000 to modify separation standards for underground gas and electric service lines to avoid melt-through incidents, but there are no federal regulations or national standards that address this issue.

The PSC report did find that BGE’s gas and electrical facilities involved in the explosion did not conform to U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulations or the Code of Maryland Regulations, constituting a safety violation.

BGE Response

In a statement issued to The Business Monthly, BGE said it was reviewing the PSCED’s report and intends to work closely with the PSC to address the issues in the report.

“BGE is currently instituting a number of changes to enhance the BGE system,” said Tasha Jamerson, a BGE spokesperson. “There are 250 locations like Stanford Boulevard and all are being redesigned with enhancements including relocation of the electrical services outside of trenches shared with gas pipes, the installations of curb valves, and the installation of enhanced conduit seal-offs for the electrical ducts.”

Jamerson said work has already begun and will be completed in 2021.

She added that BGE is working with experts to try to replicate the event in a laboratory but has not yet devised a procedure to perform this testing safely.

“While this potential work remains, BGE has identified a number of safety practices … as a result of the Stanford Boulevard investigation [that] we are now implementing to enhance our gas and electric system,” she said.

BGE could be fined $25,000 for each violation for each day that a violation persists under Maryland law but PSCED is recommending that the Public Service Commission issue a show cause order on whether the maximum civilian penalty of $218,647 should be imposed on BGE for the safety violations uncovered by the investigation.

The Aftermath

The Lakeside explosion displaced approximately 22 businesses, including a Social Security Administration (SSA) office whose employees were temporarily redeployed to other nearby offices.

“They will continue to handle workloads for residents in the Columbia area,” said Daniel O’Conner, a spokesperson for the SSA’s Philadelphia Regional Office.

He confirmed that the SSA intends to return to its Columbia Lakeside Office Building location after the owner rebuilds.

Holland Properties of York, Pa., the property owner, began demolition work on the damaged two-story building wing in January.

A commercial addition permit issued to Holland Properties by Howard County on May 7 approved a one-story and two-story addition and interior renovation of the existing one-story wing for the purpose of creating new shell space for future tenants.

Roger Holland, president of Holland Properties, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Technical Assistance

Following the explosion, the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) stepped in to help displaced businesses find new leases and navigate the insurance claim process.

“We provided some technical assistance in terms of financing or helping some of the businesses reestablish or consolidate operations,” said Larry Twele, HCEDA CEO. “We also helped find reemployment for the displaced workforce while their employers were reorganizing.”

Unfortunately, several of the businesses decided not to reopen.

“We were also able to help the property owner navigate the county’s permitting process,” Twele said. “We’re looking forward to seeing this property rebuilt to provide opportunities for businesses to come back. COVID-19 makes it more challenging to find those businesses right now, but by the time construction is complete we’ll hopefully be on the other side of this and fully leased in time for a reopening.”

Truck driver Appreciation Week Sept. 13-19

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Event takes on special significance as driving heroes keep delivering during the pandemic.

Marylanders can recognize professional truck drivers for their hard work in undertaking one of our economy’s most demanding and important jobs during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week.

This year’s National Truck Driver Appreciation Week is Sept. 13-19 and takes on a special significance considering the crucial role truck drivers have played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly every aspect of daily life is made possible because a truck driver delivered the goods and resources people need. Did you know that in Maryland:

· Every day in Maryland trucks move essential goods such as clothing, medicine, food, and fuel!

· Trucks serve every community in the state. 93 percent of all Maryland communities depend exclusively on trucks to get their goods.

· Trucks move 96 percent of manufactured freight in and out of Maryland – over 139,000 tons per day.

· The trucking industry employs over 111,000 Marylanders – 1 out of every 20 workers.

Americans in all 50 states have taken extraordinary steps to show their appreciation for the important work that professional truck drivers have done as we navigate our way through the coronavirus pandemic. From children passing out lunches to businesses providing drivers with masks and hand sanitizers, the public has taken notice of the essential role truck drivers play in their lives.

This week is a way to show appreciation to the 3.5 million professional men and women who deliver our goods safely, securely and on time.

Since 1935, MMTA serves the needs of every segment of the trucking industry through a wide range of informational, educational, regulatory and legislative initiatives.

Recognized as one of the largest trucking associations in the country MMTA has over 1000 member companies.

Visit www.mdtrucking.org for further information.

McClarty optimistic about jobs numbers

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Photo creidt Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty said the numbers in the federal government’s latest jobs report are both “favorable and encouraging” and that he expects Maryland’s economy to improve as the state enters the final stage of its coronavirus recovery plan.

“The jobs report is favorable and encouraging,” McClarty told MarylandReporter.com in an email on Friday. “I do expect things will get better in Maryland now that we have moved to phase 3. This move to the next phase is extremely important for restaurants and hospitality. It still remains to be seen how that impacts sales as many patrons are still hesitant to meet in large groups or patronize establishments where outside seating is unavailable.”

The report was released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Friday morning. It said that in August 1.4 million jobs were added to the economy and that the unemployment rate dropped from 10.2 percent to 8.4 percent. The economy grew by 1.8 million jobs in July, according to the department.

Maryland added 53,900 jobs in July and the state’s employment rate dropped from 8 percent to 7.6 percent. Maryland’s August jobs numbers will be released on September 18, according to a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Labor.

Maryland will enter Stage 3 tonight at 5 p.m. EDT. This will allow all of the state’s businesses to reopen. However, some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore City and Prince George’s County-have said they will wait before entering Stage 3.

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state chair Mike O’Halloran expressed tempered optimism over the numbers in the jobs report.

“Unfortunately the country is still in the red from April when BLS reported the loss of 20.8 million jobs at the onset of the pandemic. But the good news is the rate at which employers are adding jobs to the economy is anywhere from five to six times as many each month compared to the same time last year. So businesses are definitely showing signs of life. The concern is whether or not these are full-time, permanent jobs.”

O’Halloran said small business owners have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.
“Small business owners have faced distinct disadvantages since the beginning of this crisis compared to their larger counterparts – access to capital, finding qualified employees willing to come back to work, and other difficulties. It will definitely take longer for small businesses to feel the full effect of our economic recovery. The NFIB Research Center noted in a recent study that just 19 percent of owners anticipate conditions improving to normal levels by the end of the year. Over half (52 percent) think it will take until sometime in 2021 for things to improve.”

O’Halloran said he is “hopeful” that Maryland’s entrance into Stage 3 will boost the state’s economy.

Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said he expects that the “unemployment numbers will continue to improve as the number of businesses allowed to reopen increases.” Weldon called Maryland’s entry into Stage 3 “great news,” however, he went on to say that “there’s a long way to go to get back to the low single-digit unemployment rate” that Frederick County had prior to the pandemic.

Maryland Retailers Association President Cailey Locklair said her organization is “extremely disappointed some of the localities are not entering phase three.” Locklair said that she is “hearing massive backlash as businesses have been crushed” by coronavirus lockdowns.

There are 110,831 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Friday morning according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,645 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 3.48 percent, which is better than that of most states in the country. Maryland has tested more than 2 million people for COVID-19.

By Bryan Renbaum | MarylandReporter.com | Published Sept. 4, 2020

 

It’s Post Time for Preakness Oct. 3

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Photo by Emily Calkins

The Stronach Group and the Maryland Jockey Club, owners of the Preakness Stakes, announced that Preakness 145 will proceed – without fans in attendance – on Oct. 3 at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, which will be televised live on NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3.

The Stronach Group and 1/ST have implemented industry-leading, rigorous safety and prevention measures for COVID-19. As such, only essential racing personnel and horsemen will be permitted on-site at Pimlico on race day. Preakness 145 will operate in full compliance with all state, county and local health department orders and will follow all current and recommended Centers for Disease Control precautions and safeguards to ensure the health and safety of the limited number of essential racing personnel and participants required.

Existing ticket holders that have already purchased tickets will have the option to either transfer their purchased tickets to next year’s Preakness 146 or to apply for a full refund. Information on ticket transfer or refund options is available at www.preakness.com, via email at tickets@preakness.com or by calling 877-206-8042.

For the first time since its inception, Preakness will represent the third jewel of the coveted Triple Crown and will feature an all-stakes program with $3.35 million in purses, including the 96th running of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Additionally, 2020 will mark the first time that the winner of the Preakness Stakes, or of any Triple Crown race, will qualify for November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic as part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.

Wagering on Preakness 145 can be accessed, with handicapping tools available on the 1/ST BET app.

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