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Howard budget increases spending, recordation tax hike defeated

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The Howard County Council approved the FY21 Capital and Operating Budget May 27, increasing spending 1.2 percent over the previous year.

The amended budget included about 98 percent of the proposals from Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

Deb Jung

On May 20, Council Chair Deb Jung (D-District 4) and Councilmembers Liz Walsh (D-District 1) and David Yungmann (R-Dist. 5) pre-filed amendments to the county executive’s proposed budget that reduced spending.

The amendments prioritized funding for the county’s essential services, focusing on health and safety and school construction and renovations.

“Our FY21 budget is fiscally responsible but at the same time will allow our government to continue to provide the services Howard Countians appreciate,” said Jung. “We will continue to do all that we can to make sure that our county remains on strong economic footing.”

A proposal earlier in the year by the county executive and supported by Councilmembers Opel Jones (D-Dist. 2) and Christiana Rigby (D-Dist. 4), restructured the county’s recordation tax to generate approximately $21 million to address an operating budget shortfall.

That resolution failed 3- 2 with Jones and Rigby voting in favor.

Compromises

Ahead of the vote, Ball and the budget amendment sponsors agreed to several adjustments that increased allocations for road resurfacing, pedestrian and multi-modal transportation initiatives – including development of the Complete Streets Manual and ramps compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act – as well as traffic improvement installations. Other adjustments included retention of currently vacant government positions deemed by the county executive as operationally critical.

Increased funds were added to capital projects overseen by the Department of Public Works, fiscal year 2022 bonding for the New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia and improvements for the Tiber and Plumtree Watersheds.

On the revenue side, Councilmembers Jung, Rigby and Jones voted to increase the transfer tax by a quarter point.

The budget adjustments resulted in $75 million in General Obligation bonds for capital funding. The Operating Budget was reduced by $21 million, which was achieved by freezing vacant positions and shifting fund balances recommended by the county executive and recouping savings from refinancing certain county debt.

Unintended Consequences

During a May 18 virtual public hearing, the only support for the recordation and transfer tax measures came from the Howard County Board of Education (BOE) and the PTA Council of Howard County.

“I’m just happy to see there [was] an increase as opposed to no increase or a cut,” said Mavis Ellis, BOE Chair.

Yet while 25 percent of the transfer tax was earmarked for Howard County Public School System capital projects, there was no guarantee that even a portion of recordation tax revenue would necessarily find its way to the school system.

Many in the development and real estate industries argued that the measures could unintentionally harm the county in the long term.

During a public hearing on the recordation tax, Bruce Harvey, president of Williamsburg Homes, said small county-based developers would incur the tax on indemnity deeds of trust, while larger multi-state developers could borrow against properties outside of Maryland to avoid the same tax.

“I’m going to have a hard time attracting pension and retirement funds that are investing in us instead of investing in the market,” said David Finch, general counsel for Columbia-based Corporate Office Properties Trust.

Conservative Outlook

Yungmann said the budget amendments did not cut anything that provided services during the pandemic.

“A lot of money we took out was leftover money from prior appropriations … and there were very few capital projects that are ready to advance that we [targeted for cuts],” he said. “People are going to act like we dug really deep and created austerity, we didn’t.”

Councilwoman Rigby did not respond to The Business Monthly’s request for comment on this story.

“Mr. Yungmann, Ms. Walsh and I … [were] aligned in thinking we really need to take a fiscally conservative outlook this coming year and not base a balanced budget on speculative revenues,” Jung said. “Listings in the month of April were down 45 percent, and that’s as much as we have to go on right now. I think the better part of valor this year is to be safe rather than sorry.”

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly

Outdoor seating boosts restaurants

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In accordance with the Gov. Larry Hogan’s recommendations, some Howard County restaurants opened for customers for outdoor seating only, effective May 29.

Restaurants and bars that do not currently have outdoor seating will receive information on an expedited process in the coming days to accommodate some operations.

Howard County sought and received community input on reopening decisions, speaking with nearly 55 restaurant owners and 180 members of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce on May 27.

“Reopening of our restaurants is an indication of the perseverance and adaptability of Howard County businesses and residents to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County health officer. “Continued social distancing practices will be necessary to maintain our successful efforts.”

“We are excited that we are able to take this next step for this sector of our small business community,” said Larry Twele, Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO. “Restaurants employ over 11,000 workers in Howard County, so we are encouraged that this will help put many of these employees back to work.”

Ruppersberger supports relief for businesses

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Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) voted in favor of bipartisan legislation improving the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), the loan forgiveness program created for small businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 269-147 and now heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

The PPP was originally created by Congress under the CARES Act passed in April and provides businesses with a loan that converts to a grant as long as they use it by June 30 and spend at least 75 percent of the funds received on payroll. The rest can be used on other expenses such as rent and utilities.

“I’ve heard from many small business owners who are not applying for the program – even though they need it ― because they can’t meet the current requirements for making the loan forgivable,” Congressman Ruppersberger said. “Others have received PPP loans but are afraid to use the money because of these one-size-fits-all rules.”

The Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act provides greater flexibility by:

● Allowing loan forgiveness for expenses beyond the 8-week covered period to 24 weeks and extending the rehiring deadline;

● Increasing the current limitation on the use of loan proceeds for non-payroll expenses from 25 percent to 40 percent;

● Allowing businesses to repay loans over five years instead of two;

● Ensuring full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans to provide businesses with liquidity.

Pittman, Annapolis mayor form partnership

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Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley jointly announced a grant agreement that provides the City of Annapolis $4.25 million of federal CARES Act funding.

The county received approximately $101 million of funding from the U.S. Treasury as its local share of the COVID-19 response funding in the federal CARES Act. The grant agreement signed today provides the City of Annapolis with a proportional share of that funding.

“It was only a month ago that residents across the state of Maryland were feeling united in our battle against this deadly virus,” said Pittman. ”As we work to drive out the wedges that are being driven between us, the city of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County are demonstrating what cooperation looks like. Mayor Buckley and I will build back better, together.”

The amount of funding in the grant agreement considers the population of the city in relation to overall county population and the percentage of services provided to city residents by the county, such as health and education. The agreement requires the same level of accountability and reporting that the federal guidelines require of the county. The funds can only be used on specific equipment and actions that are related to COVID-19 response and may not be used to replace lost revenue.

The County will post data on CARES funding expenditures by category on the OpenArundel website (www.aacounty.org/OpenArundel/covid-19/index.html) as soon as it is available. Examples of funding to date include purchases of personal protective equipment (PPE), equipment to make workspaces safe, food and food distribution for those in need, and rental assistance to prevent evictions.

Live! Casino & Hotel set health, safety protocols

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Live! Casino & Hotel announced a comprehensive and robust health and safety plan in preparation for the eventual re-opening of the property. The new Play It Safe Plan is an enhanced health and sanitation program which will allow for ample social distancing, reduced occupancies and hygiene and health measures for all guests and staff. The full plan can be found at www.livecasinohotel.com/clean.

“We are eager to bring back our Team Members and entertainment to our guests, and we are fully committed to doing so responsibly with the well-being of our Live! family as our top priority,” said Rob Norton, president, Cordish Gaming Group, the gaming division of The Cordish Companies.

The new health and safety plan at Live! follows guidelines and recommendations from federal and state public health and elected officials, along with best practices for the gaming and hospitality industries. In accordance with the latest state guidelines, Live! Casino & Hotel is prepared to limit occupancy, anticipated between 25%-50%, to achieve appropriate social distancing.

Numerous measures and precautions will be implemented to protect guests and Team Members, including:

Casino

· Limiting player capacity by disabling slot machines. Removing chairs or erecting plexiglass barriers between slot machines and table games to ensure proper physical distancing.

· Sanitizing gaming chips, chairs, gaming tables, and other high-contact surfaces at public areas on a regular basis.

· Providing hand sanitizer and wipes stations throughout the casino floor.

· Positioning signs and markers to indicate proper distancing during guest queuing at elevator lobbies, entertainment venues, and Live! Rewards Club.

Hotel

· Installing a plexiglass barrier at the front desk to separate hotel guests from concierge staff.

· Positioning signs and markers to indicate proper distancing during guest queuing at front desk and elevator lobby.

· Providing hand sanitizer and wipes stations at the hotel and elevator lobbies.

Restaurants

· Providing single-use menus, utensils and plates at all restaurants.

· Minimizing bar & lounge seating.

· Placing food & beverage items on tables instead of handing directly to guests.

· Providing hand sanitizer to guests upon seating.

The Hall @ Live! and Live! Spa will remain closed until further notice.

All Live! team members and guests will be required to wear masks and other necessary PPE while on the property. Live! will provide masks to employees and guests who need them. Team Members will undergo daily temperature checks and health screenings and will need to successfully complete an enhanced COVID-19 training program before returning to work. Guests will also follow similar temperature screening protocols. Anyone with a registered body temperature at or above 100.4 degrees will not be allowed on the property.

“We are dedicated to providing a safe and healthy entertainment experience for everyone who comes through our doors,” continued Norton. “We are fully ready to re-open our facility and bring back our team members along with much needed jobs and taxes to Maryland as soon as government authorities allow us to do so.”

Brewers, distillers support direct shipping

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The Brewers Association of Maryland, Maryland Distillers Guild and Maryland Wineries Association are in support of Gov. Larry Hogan authorizing direct-to-consumer shipments of Maryland beer and spirits.

Since the crisis began, the primary sales channels for brewers, distillers, and wineries (on-site visits and wholesale) have largely dried up. Curbside and delivery were brand-new sales channels but were limited by a customer’s proximity to the producer. Wineries had a tool giving them an advantage over breweries and distillers: direct shipping.

Maryland residents are utilizing home delivery and shipping services more than ever during this time. Neighboring states have proven that this serves to satisfy consumer demand while being regulated to ensure compliance with all alcohol service and delivery rules.

“In these times of fast-changing consumer preferences, this authorization allows members ultimate flexibility when marketing and selling their products,” said Sarah Healey, president of the Brewers Association of Maryland, and manager of Milkhouse Brewery, in Mt. Airy.

The state’s alcohol producer industry supports more than 29,500 jobs, and more than $3.5 billion in economic activity annually, according to an economic study on value-added agriculture by Grow & Fortify and BEACON. Hogan’s announcement directly impacts the supply-chain of

Maryland grown and processed raw materials that are used in the production of craft beer, wine, and spirits.

Realtors fight for affordable housing

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The Howard County Council considered two measures directly affecting county residents May 27. County Resolution (CR) 84 and 85, would have increased both the county’s transfer and recordation taxes, which are two of three taxes currently charged on Howard County home sales.

Together, these resolutions would have levied thousands of dollars in additional taxes on residents and made Howard County the most expensive place to buy and sell a home in the state of Maryland.

The Howard County Association of REALTORS (HCAR) staunchly opposed both resolutions and spearheaded a robust member Call for Action against them. HCAR also joined with other members of the housing and business community to testify against CR 84 and CR 85, noting that raising taxes during a pandemic would make buying a home more difficult and place the County at a competitive disadvantage for job growth.

As a result of those actions, the Council voted yesterday to reduce the local transfer tax increase in CR 84 from the proposed 1.5 percent down to 1.25 percent while the recordation tax changes under CR 85 were defeated.

“While we are pleased that the Council scaled back the transfer tax rate in CR 84 and defeated CR 85, yesterday’s actions still result in a tax increase of over $1,000 on the typical Howard County home sale,” says HCAR Board of Directors President Lisa Wissel. “It will have real impacts on first-time buyers, those who are currently in the process of buying or selling a home, or those may need to in the near future due to job loss or reductions in income during the pandemic.”

Wissel thanked the over 400 HCAR REALTORS® and REALTOR® affiliates who participated in the Call for Action. “We showed up in force against increases that would prove detrimental to the American dream of homeownership,” she says. “REALTORS® will continue to represent the best interests of our clients on these and other legislative proposals both now and in the future.”

Emrick named emergency management director

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Preeti Emrick has been named Director of Emergency Management for Anne Arundel County. She joined the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) earlier this year in January 2020 as the deputy director.

The Office of Emergency Management coordinates resources and facilitates the mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts of local, State, Federal, and non-governmental agencies for the county.

OEM is charged with:

● Developing and maintaining a Comprehensive Emergency Management Program for all-hazards

● Coordinating Emergency Planning with County, State, Federal, and non-governmental agencies to protect life, property, and the environment from the effects of natural and man-made disasters (View the County Emergency Operations Plan)

● Mitigating the impact of hazards

● Preparing the community for disasters and terrorism

● Responding to emergencies when they occur

● Establishing recovery systems to return the County and its citizens to a normal state as soon as possible.

Pittman announces more reopenings

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Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman reopened restaurants and bars May 29, under state guidelines. He also advanced the date for the opening of retail businesses to coincide with restaurants.

“I am able to make these announcements … because our public health recovery metrics have improved, and our staff has delivered the regulatory changes needed to move forward more quickly than expected,” said Pittman. “We are able to move from the blunt tools of shutdown to the sharper tools of testing, contact tracing, and innovative safety measures that our businesses have developed.”

Pittman put these changes into the context of the long-term pandemic response at the county Emergency Operations Center in Glen Burnie. The specific actions are:

As of Friday, May 29:

Non-essential businesses that are currently operating under curbside pickup only may open to customers. The maximum number of occupants (customers and employees) will be calculated based on 150 square feet per person. Businesses will be required to have protective measures in place regarding physical distancing and face coverings will be required for everyone in the store. Specific details and guidance are available on the county’s Road to Recovery web page (www.aacounty.org/coronavirus/road-to-recovery/index.html).

Foodservice establishments, which include restaurants, bars, and social clubs with dining facilities, may serve food and beverages for consumption in outdoor seating areas in accordance with state guidance. The county Office of Planning and Zoning will authorize outdoor seating for food and beverage service uses as a temporary use for up to 180 days, until or unless the emergency is lifted or revised by Executive Order. A permit application is not required for this temporary use, if it complies with specific criteria. Specific details and guidance are available on the county’s Road to Recovery web page.

Barbers and beauty salons may open for hair services only. The maximum number of occupants will be calculated based on 100 gross square feet per person due to the small footprint of many facilities and the necessity of closer personal interaction for services to be provided. Specific details and guidance are available on the county’s Road to Recovery web page.

The following remain closed until further notice:

Senior Centers

Fitness Centers

Movie Theaters (including “pop-up” drive-in theaters)

Shopping Malls

Nail Salons

Playgrounds

County park visitors’ centers

County park restrooms

Indoor aquatic centers

Recreation centers

Howard Bank’s ‘Keep It Local’ contest names Top 15

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Howard Bank has released the list of Top 15 small businesses vying to win $10,000 in its Keep It Local contest. The contest seeks to find a local small business that goes above and beyond in their community. The Top 15 are from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Harford and Howard counties plus Baltimore City.

The first round of voting opens June 1 and ends June 8. The Top 5 businesses will advance to the second round of voting beginning on June 15 and closing on June 22. The contest winner will be announced on June 30.

To vote, visit https://bit.ly/36K4WRq

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