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BOCC asks others to lobby against state proposal

By MEGHAN RUSSELLStaff writer

The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners plans to ask all local entities that receive county funding to lobby at the state level against the looming threat of shifting teacher pension costs onto local jurisdictions.

During her commissioner’s report on Tuesday, Commissioner Susan Shaw (R), the board’s Maryland Association of Counties representative, made a motion to send letters to local agencies to which the county provides money, urging them to fight the Maryland General Assembly’s proposal to shift a portion of the burden of funding teacher pensions, which have risen by 7.5 percent a year, Shaw said, onto county backs. Should the proposal pass in the legislature, these county-funded entities, including those in the public safety sector, will not have as much local funding available to them, she said.

The motion passed unanimously.

“Every jurisdiction is doing everything they can to notify everybody they can that if we are forced to take on teacher pensions ... it will crowd out all other expenses,” Shaw said, adding that the consensus at MACo is that the state expects local jurisdictions to raise income and property taxes to make up for the shifting costs and that the state currently believes counties are “under taxing our citizens,” or that the taxes are not as high as they should be. “They’re trying to really pressure us to raise taxes at the local level in all 24 jurisdictions.”

Last month Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) suggested as part of his budget that local governments begin sharing the pension costs with the state. The $239 million cost shift to county governments this year would grow to some $330 million in the following year, and leave counties “desperately strained,” according to a MACo press release.

“The bottom line is it’s irresponsible. ... It threatens our standard of living,” Shaw said.

Commissioners’ President Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he thinks it’s important to let local agencies know that even though the county previously told them it would keep their funding levels as is, “their funding could actually be cut if this is forced down on the counties.”

Commissioners’ Vice President Steve Weems (R) said he heard Maryland is one of just three states in the U.S. where the state government covers the pensions, an argument used in favor of the pension cost shift.

“But at this time we’re at such a fragile economic state,” Weems said. “I just question why we’re here. Are we just an arm that’s expected to raise taxes?”

Of further concern is the maintenance of effort issue that is “hotter in Annapolis right now than teacher pensions,” said Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R), who sits on the MACo education subcommittee.

The Maryland State Education Association, Maryland Association of Boards of Education and Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland have asked the state government to adopt comprehensive reform of its current maintenance of effort law requiring counties to fund their schools at the same per-pupil levels as the previous year.

In addition, Shaw said she is keeping track of the federally-mandated Watershed Implementation Plan that will cost Calvert an estimated $1.3 billion to carry out nutrient load reductions. She attended a WIP meeting in La Plata last week.

“The good news is apparently if we have no growth our plans would work,” she said. “The challenge comes if we have growth.”

In other business, the commissioners:

Ÿ Unanimously adopted resolutions for the establishment of a $240 utility permit fee and an amendment to the Calvert County Road Ordinance for establishment of a civil citation form;

Ÿ Unanimously awarded a contract to K&H Electric Inc. of North Beach in the amount of $102,400 for replacement of lights, poles and related work at the Calvert Pines Senior Center, County Services Plaza and Southern Community Center;

Ÿ Unanimously approved a frequency reconfiguration agreement for additional equipment, support and funding for rebanding of the county’s current 800 MHz radio system, the costs of which will be borne by the Sprint/Nextel Corporation. The total change order amount is $101,744, of which Calvert will receive $2,680 in reimbursement for county staff time dedicated to the project.

mrussell@somdnews.com