OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council were briefed with a wrap-up of the 2007 special legislative session as well as the 2008 regular session in Annapolis this week, through a presentation of pertinent bills from the eyes of the municipalities.
The Maryland Municipal League (MML) presented the legislative wrap-up to the Mayor and City Council this week, highlighting the successes and pitfalls of the two sessions in Annapolis.
According to MML Executive Director Scott Hancock, one of the major initiatives of the MML has been, and remains, to find additional sources of revenue for municipalities to decrease dependency on property tax revenues.
According to Hancock, over 60 percent of the revenue stream for municipalities comes from property taxes.
“We have a lot of education to do across the state because people don’t realize that revenues don’t trickle down to the municipalities,” said Hancock.
MML Government Relations Director Candace Donoho outlined some of the successes of the 2008 legislative session, from the point of the view of the municipalities.
Senate Bill 131, the municipal hotel bill tax passed this year, gives municipalities the authority, for the first time, to impose a hotel tax. Only Somerset and Montgomery counties are given the authority to impose the hotel tax under the amended legislation, but Donoho emphasized the future implications of the bill.
“It’s a foot in the door. We do look at that as a building block,” she said, adding that they hope to add more municipalities in the future.
Senate Bill 1000 and House Bill 1604 were passed unanimously, reported Donoho. The bill calls for all grant monies in the Department of Natural Resources Community Parks and Recreation Program to be designated solely to the municipalities.
Hancock also presented the Mayor and Council with bills that were successfully defeated with the help of the MML this year.
“It’s easier to pass a bill than to kill one,” he said.
One such bill involves property taxes, Hancock said.
“Among the most onerous bills, legislation to repeal the law that requires homeowners to apply for a homestead property tax credit was defeated.” Hancock said.
With the defeat of the bill, the application process is still in place, he said. The concern from a municipality point of view is that some homeowners, intentionally or unintentionally, claim a homestead property tax credit on non-owner occupied properties, which ultimately costs local governments thousands of dollars in lost revenues.
Also defeated was legislation under the Open Meetings Act that, according to Donoho, would have required all votes of a public body to be made in open session, essentially eliminating closed door government sessions. According to the MML, such a bill could potentially harm delicate property acquisitions or compromise employee disciplinary actions.
Two bills that were not passed due to time constraints, but are likely to reappear next year include speed camera legislation and an annexation bill.
Both Hancock and Donoho thanked Ocean City for its membership with the MML, emphasizing the importance of unifying municipalities across the state.