County Comment: Legislative Agenda Impact on County

County Comment
Legislative Agenda Impact on County
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Winter meeting for 2008 was held during the first week of January in Cambridge, Maryland. Commissioners' President John Barr and Commissioner Jim Kercheval represented the Washington County Board of County Commissioners at this year's meetings.
In its regular meeting on January 8th, the Commissioners heard a report on the meetings from Barr and Kercheval. Barr cited the interaction between County officials from across Maryland as helpful in gaining understanding of statewide issues. Kercheval talked about issues discussed that will be part of the current session of the Maryland General Assembly.
The state's structural deficit remains a top item for work by the Legislature, Kercheval said, citing about $400 million that will have to be worked out of that deficit. Counties will be following those budget items closely, to judge the effect of further cuts on the local level.
The recent special session of the Legislature added about $400 million to the state's transportation budget to help with infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. During MACo, concerns were expressed about reauthorization of the federal transportation act, and how that will affect Counties. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which had provided money for state and local projects, is scheduled to end in 2010. Should the fund not be reauthorized, the State of Maryland, which passes highway funds to the Counties, could lose 40% of those revenues for construction and repair of transportation infrastructure across Maryland.
A MACo seminar on energy use looked at conservation methods and at ways to help ease a possible energy crunch.
"I think the County needs to take a lead role on that, to look at alternative forms of energy as well as ways to conserve energy in County buildings and promote conservation to our citizens," Kercheval said.
Methods discussed included location of solar panels on the roof of large box buildings, or warehouses and distribution centers. Solar panels could also be located at closed landfill sites, where there are large amounts of space open to the sun. State officials discussed initiatives for use of solar energy in the coming decades.
"There's still a discrepancy as to where (solar) financially pays off, but I think from an environmental side it's certainly something we need to pursue. And as energy costs continue to rise, the price of oil continues to rise, the cost of solar becomes much more affordable," Kercheval said.