Happy New Year! 2018 offers optimism, opportunities, and new experiences. I wish you and your family peace, good health, and prosperity in 2018.
Everyone loves to save money! We can celebrate that 2017 ended with some very good news for taxpayers. The county saved an amazing $2.6 million by refinancing county bond debt. This is very similar to refinancing a mortgage to a lower interest rate. Because of the county’s three AAA bond ratings and strong fiscal management, we were able to lock in an interest rate of only 2 percent! This means real savings for taxpayers this year and beyond.
In December, all three New York bond rating agencies -- Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s -- each reaffirmed their ratings of Frederick County Government at the highest possible: AAA. Each expressed confidence in the county government’s management and financial health. Since June of 2016, Frederick County has stood among the ranks of the elite few counties across the nation that earned AAA stable ratings from every agency. Fewer than 50 counties out of over 3,000 counties in the nation earn this trifecta rating.
I am extremely proud to be protecting taxpayers and delivering savings.
Honest Government – Everyone wants it, few deliver it. When I ran for County Executive in 2014, I pledged to restore honesty, integrity, and trust in county government. I believe that citizens deserve to know what their county elected officials are doing and to be assured that decisions are being made in the best interest of the public, not special interests. We can all be proud that Frederick County is leading the way.
Frederick County has adopted one of the toughest local ethics laws in the state. Our ethics laws prohibit elected officials from profiting from their position and have restored penalties for serious ethics violations that were removed by the prior administration.
We can be proud to be the only county in Maryland to have a non-political, independent appointment process for the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission is responsible for holding the elected officials accountable and should be selected independently.
I am also pleased to report that state Senator Michael Hough and I have successfully merged our proposals to strengthen state ethics provisions that apply to Frederick County. A single ethics bill will be advanced during the General Assembly session that begins January 10th. The new bill would prohibit not just applicants with a pending land-use case before the county council from contributing to the campaigns of the decisions makers but also their agents. The law expands the definition of agents to include the attorneys, engineers, and traffic consultants who are hired by the applicant.The bill would also require members of the Board of Appeals, Ethics Commission, Liquor Board and Planning Commission to step down within 48 hours of opening a campaign account to avoid conflicts of interest.
I am pleased to have worked across the aisle and with the League of Women Voters and members of our Ethics Task Force to build consensus to strengthen the state ethics laws that apply to Frederick County. Working together, we achieve more and serve our citizens better.
New bus service to North County
I was pleased to recently announce a new pilot program to expand TransIT bus service to people in the Thurmont and Emmitsburg areas by offering mid-day Tuesday shuttle service to and from the City of Frederick. The service is in direct response to requests by riders and community advocates including a graduate of the Seton Center’s Getting Ahead program who launched an awareness campaign and petition. Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird and Emmitsburg Mayor Don Briggs also advocated for more TransIT options.
Until now, someone living in the northern part of the county could reach the City of Frederick on weekdays by taking a bus that picked them up early in the morning and dropped them off late in the afternoon. That means if someone needed to ride the bus to a doctor’s appointment or a job interview, they had to leave their home around 7 a.m. and weren’t able to return until 10 hours later. By adding a shuttle at mid-day, those trips will take half the time allowing citizens to regain valuable time and add flexibility.
It is our hope that the addition of this mid-day service will make a difference in the lives of citizens by helping them to regain hours in their day as they travel to appointments in other parts of the county. We need your help to get the word out so we can evaluate the demand for service after 6 months and 12 months to see if more daily service is warranted.
Details about stops and timing are available online at www.FrederickCountyMD.gov/TransIT, or by calling TransIT’s offices during business hours at 301-600-2065. Let people know that there is a new option to help them meet their transportation needs.
The New Year will be busy. In January, the Livable Frederick 25 year comprehensive vision and plan will be presented to the Planning Commission. Stay tuned for public outreach meetings happening around the county. This is your opportunity to shape the future of Frederick County.
One of the hottest topics in our county is the pace of residential growth. I have submitted three bills to the county council to more responsibly manage residential growth. The first bill strengthens our forest resource ordinance and requires the replacement of trees that are clear cut for development. This will stop the loss of forest cover in the County. The public hearing on this bill is Tuesday, January 9 at 7 pm at Winchester Hall.
The second bill updates school construction fees to reflect the actual cost of school construction. I do not want this cost to shift to taxpayers. If developers choose to build where schools are already overcrowded, they should be expected to pay a fee that actually covers the impact or wait until the county can provide the needed school capacity.
The third bill seeks to end the misuse of developer rights and responsibility agreements by limiting their use to large development projects and requiring that county residents get an enhanced public benefit like a regional road improvement or new school. It also would end the freezing of fees in developer contracts. The prior administration actually froze some transportation fees at zero for several residential housing projects for as long as 25 years! Those transportation fee revenues could have helped to pay for needed road improvements. This should never happen again. These two bills will be heard by the county council on Tuesday, January 16 at 7 pm in Winchester Hall. More detail on these bills can be found at www.frederickcountymd.gov/residentialgrowth
Good government depends on public participation. Let your voice be heard!