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County Surplus

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It should come as no surprise to the interested observer that Howard County is projecting a budget surplus (Baltimore Sun today).

The two largest revenue streams for the County (income and real estate) are growing more than projections had estimated.

“…property tax revenues are running $14.5 million ahead of projections, while income tax receipts are expected to be up $4.4 million.”

The HoCoMD Blog has written on many occasions that the County always (almost always) under estimates this revenue stream.  The silver lining (I guess) is that these under projections make up for declining tax revenues.

Those increases more than offset about $4.9 million in lower-than-predicted general budget revenues in other categories. The slowing real estate market put a $4.4 million dent in the estimated real estate recordation revenues.

The County Council expressed their appreciation to Raymond Wacks for coming to a Council meeting to discuss the surplus.

With the economy going through gyrations and compared to some neighbors Howard County is in good shape.

In order for Ken Ulman to maintain is B+ grade he is going to have to manage this very carefully.

Although, I think the County taxes us too much, a la 30% tax increases, that is now history – kinda.

While, “the county is projecting a $13.7 million surplus when the budget year ends June 30” that money is not allowed to be spent in the new operating budget.  What is the projected revenue for the next budget and does the County expect to run additional surpluses (they never do expect to but history tells us they almost always do).

The County Executive’s next budget needs to take into consideration a slowing economy and perhaps a recession.  The housing market and consumer spending are taking hits that ripple through the economy and effect tax revenues.  Many businesses and sectors have already written off 2008 as a poor year (economically speaking) and many don’t predict a recovery until 2009.

I would be willing to give Ken Ulman another B+  if he begins to reign in spending now and starts to prepare the County for a minor increase in the next budget.  I will give him an A+ if he reduces the next budget in anticipation of lower revenue estimates.

Since I mentioned the B+ I wanted to briefly comment on that article.

David Keelan gives Ken Ulman a “B+” for his first year as Howard County executive, which might seem unremarkable, except that Keelan is a Republican blogger and a sometime critic of Democrats like Ulman.

“He’s being very deliberate and very careful,” Keelan said, and “he’s got a pretty good staff in place.” Ulman began his second year in office Wednesday.

Keelan’s only complaint, he said, is that Ulman made an 11th-hour campaign promise last year to block the proposed 23-story condominium tower in Columbia but didn’t actively support County Council legislation intended to stop it.

I was not misquoted.  Although I wasn’t fully quoted either.  I have been poised over my computer key board ready to blast Ken Ulman, and honestly he hasn’t provided a lot of opportunity to do so.  He is doing a decent job – through a good staff.

I still despise him for his campaign tactics and resume enhancements, but hey he emulates a winning campaign strategy.  Both those reflect on his character – poorly I might add.  However, he has proven (up to this moment) to be a good manager only in the sense that he lets the experts do their jobs.

What I wish had made it into that article were the good marks I gave to the County Council.  Particularly Calvin Ball, Greg Fox, and Courtney Watson.  We are very fortunate to have a good balance on the council.  Greg Fox, as the lone Republican, is actually relevant and his peers listen to him because he is a valued member of the team (need I mention “FIRE TAX”).  Calvin is independent and Watson is very deliberate. 

I think Ken and his administration would walk all over a weak Council (he has tried to walk over this council – just speak to your Council member) and he needs to coach his team to work more closely and in a more collaborative manner with the council.  This is a strong and unified County Council – we should all be very grateful.  I give a lot of credit to the leadership of Calvin Ball – he fostered collaboration and it showed.  This isn’t partisan – this is about personalities.  Calvin made some mistakes in legislative areas, but in terms of making sure the Council was relevant and worked together he did an awesome job.  He blazed a good trail for Courtney Watson to widen.

The only improvement that could be made to the Council is if it were all Republican (for Pete’s sake I am just kidding – kinda).

This is not Baltimore City where the Mayor can pretty much do what the Mayor wants to do. 

So, Ken’s B+ is mostly due to the A+ I gave to the County Council.

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Posted in Budget, County Council, County Executive, David Keelan, Howard County | 16 Comments »

MRSA

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, October 19, 2007

Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

What the 4377 is that? You may be asking.  Well you should be.  It has been all over the news lately and it is very serious. 

I think our officials in Howard County, starting with Ken Ulman, should take the lead in bringing awareness of this issue to the public.  Most of all he should not put any, especially some of our most vulnerable, citizen in a situation where they may be exposed to MRSA. 

MRSA is a staffph infection that is highly resistant to antibiotic medications and there has been a rise in the occurance of this strain of staff infection.

The Centers for Disease Control says that MRSA infections are more prevalent and invasive than previously thought.  Additionally, the CDC says the overall incidence rate is an “astounding” 32 invasive infections per 100,000 people.  Finally, older adults and people who are ill or have weakened immune systems, ordinary staph infections can cause serious illness called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusor MRSA.

Older adults….  Lets get back to that.

WBAL reports:

Howard [County] is the latest Maryland county Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in County Executive, Ulman | 7 Comments »

HoCo Board of Public Works

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, October 18, 2007

What?  Didn’t know we had one?  I don’t mean the Department of Public Works or the Public Works Board either.

The Maryland State Board of Public Works consists of the Governor, the Comptroller, and the Treasurer. 

In order to protect and enhance the State’s fiscal integrity, the Board of Public Works ensures that significant State expenditures are necessary and appropriate, fiscally responsible, fair, and lawful.

Apparently Howard County has a Board of Public works modeled after that of the State except it consists of one member – Ken Ulman.  Their web site is here

Ken was the “Director of the Board of Public Works” so he knows how things are done.

According to the Howard County Times Mr. Ulman decided, all by his lonesome:

…to buy a floor in a proposed Columbia office building for $4 million…

County Councilman Greg Fox obviously thought that is was odd that the Executive would by pass the County Council on such a large sum of money so he asked the question and received an answer.

…an Oct. 15 opinion … from the county Office of Law states that the purchase must be added to the county’s budget through the approval of the County Council.

Mr. Ulman’s response:

Ulman, a Democrat, said this week that he did not originally believe it necessary to amend the budget to spend the $4 million on the project, but added that he would send such an amendment to the council soon.

Well Mr. Ulman must think he can spend County money anyway he chooses.  Seriously, why would he not want to run this by the County Council or even his own legal advisors?  He served on the County Council – he fully understands the role and responsibilities of the County Council.  Yet…

To boot why would he not want a public hearing on the matter?  It is the law after all.  Wasn’t it Ken who wanted more transparancy in County Government?

Thankfully Mr. Fox forced the point and County Council will now be able to ask, why the County needs this particular piece of yet to be constructed property?

Peter Khalaf, a spokesman with the building’s developer, the Baltimore-based MetroVentures/USA Inc….expects to break ground on the project in October or November and finish it by fall 2008, Khalaf said.

I would like to know why the County can not use currently available office space.   Would it have anything to do with the fact that MetroVentures/USA Inc. contributed $3,000.00 to Ken Ulman’s campaign for County Executive?  Just asking. 

Perhaps this is a question best left for the Howard County Board of Public Works. 

I am sure that their are other developers in the County that Mr. Ulman could have done business with and many of them contributed to his campaign.  However, this just looks bad.  Trying to spend $4M of the County’s money with a large campaign contributor without vetting it through the County Council is simply questionable and a tad arrogant.

When a similiar situation came up – relative to campaign contributions and alleged favors – there were a lot of comments.  Check it out.

Posted in County Council, County Executive, Howard County | 6 Comments »

I appreciate the restraint

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Examiner reported

Rather than expand the government by creating a separate Department of the Environment, the county should consider a smaller central office, a county environmental commission said.

While the question remains as to whether we need a new department or not I appreciate the tone of the environmental commission.  While they are obviously sensitive to the environmental impact we have in the County they are expressing sensitivity to the concerns of a larger government.

I think it is a conservative trademark that big is not necessarily better.

Posted in County Executive, Howard County | 4 Comments »

Sometimes Rumors Are True

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I heard a rumor during the campaign for County Executive.  It was September or October 2006.  We got an anonymous email tip.  Some of us discussed it and we said we couldn’t do anything with it because the tipster was anonymous, and wouldn’t follow up with us.  We felt it was just too scandelous and hot to touch without proof.  We even thought about giving it to a reporter and let them run with it (maybe it is time to reconsider that again).  We didn’t even go that far.  However, if the tables had been turned Ken Ulman would have gone to every reporter this side of the Patapsco.

The email said something like this:  “What would you do if you knew Ken Ulman had an illegal alien working as his housekeeper?”

Well, I had completely forgotten about it.  Completely!

Then I read today’s news.  Ulman dismisses illegal housekeeper

Ken Ulman says:

The woman has lived in the United States about 15 years, Ulman said, and “it never occurred to me” that she was not a legal resident.

“I have conflicted feelings,” said Ulman, who checked on the woman’s status after an inquiry from a reporter. “She is a good person who deceived me. She knew she was illegal, and she didn’t tell me.”

Hmmm.  Back in Sept/Oct someone knew she was not a legal resident and they contacted the Merdon campaign.  A reporter just happend to recently inquire.  How long has this rumor been around?  How could it be that the Ulman’s didn’t know if the Merdon campaign knew.

Should we give Ken the benefit of the doubt?

This should not go away.

As Larry Carson sums up in his article – similiar issues did not go away for other people in the same situation:

A number of public figures have had problems with employment of illegal immigrants. Linda Chavez withdrew as President Bush’s first nominee to be labor secretary in early 2001 after news reports that from 1991 to 1993 she housed and occasionally gave money to an illegal Guatemalan immigrant woman who also did housework for her.

Earlier, Zoe E. Baird, former President Bill Clinton’s nominee for attorney general in 1993, was disqualified after admitting she knowingly employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Early in 1993, then-Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown disclosed on television that he had failed to pay Social Security taxes for a part-time domestic worker for four years.

“I am annoyed at myself for making a mistake and not filing the 1099,” Ulman said. “Since she wasn’t an employee, I knew I didn’t have to withhold taxes.”

I feel comfortable writing this because enough people saw this email to back me up.

Update:

My nanny (domestic) says she’s an independent contractor and doesn’t want taxes withheld. Can I do that?
The simple answer is no. The IRS has strict guidelines to define employees and independent contractors (Refer to IRS Publication 926). Nannies and other domestics are generally considered employees. It does not matter how the employee refers to herself or how you refer to her in an employment contract. You are obligated for all payroll tax filings and remittances.  The IRS has reaffirmed this stance twice in 1999. In two private letter rulings (PLR 199923014 and 199923015) the IRS disregarded a written contract’s designation of a worker as a contractor, ruling that the substance of the relationship and not its label determines the worker’s status.

Posted in County Executive, Howard County, Ulman | 30 Comments »

WCI Tower Begins

Posted by David Keelan on Sunday, August 12, 2007

According to Melissa Harris’ article in the Baltimore Sun.

County Executive Ken Ulman vowed before November’s election to oppose the tower, but his attempts to persuade WCI to select another site or shrink the building have not succeeded.

Part of the problem, he said, is that WCI obtained all the permits necessary to build last year, and the residents who filed suit won’t accept a smaller building. They don’t want the tower constructed at all, he said.

“There are so many different parties involved with so many different ideas of what should happen,” Ulman said. “I’m frustrated. I had hoped we would have been able to reach a compromise by now.”

Well Mr. Ulman, that was the probelm when you pigeon holed yourself when you pledged to stop the tower in the first place.  As an earlier commentor said:

If Ulman ends up dropping the height limit pursuit, in favor of the tower, he has broken a campaign promise. Even though the end result is what you want, you attack him for breaking a campaign pledge.  If Ulman sticks with the height restriction, then he is blindly pandering to CoFoBoBo et al, and is making decisions that are bad for business. The end result isn’t what you want, and you attack the guy for that.  Either way, the guy can’t win in your perspective.

The implication is that I am not being fair to Ken Ulman.  Well Jiminy Cricket!  He is in a no win situation and he put himself there.  My advise to Ken.  Run an honest campaign next time and you won’t find yourself in these situations.

Please refer to my earlier post “Block That Tower

Mr. Ulman hope to use the legistlative whip to bring WCI to its knees.

But Ulman said the conflict is not over. Nearby residents have not exhausted their judicial appeals, and Ulman said Sigaty plans to submit legislation this month that would limit Columbia buildings to 14 stories and apply to the tower. Sigaty did not return e-mails and phone calls to her home and office Friday.

“Because this legislation is pending, my hope is that folks will still come to the table in good faith and try to work together,” Ulman said.

Right now the count on the tower legislation is Mary Kay -v- Courtney, Calvin, Jen and Greg.  Quite frankly I don’t know where the other four stand on this issue.  However, I think Courtney and Greg will come down on the side of predictability and the rule of law.  Although I understand that Courtney is really in the middle and is up in the air and has spoken on both sides of the issue.  I will call Courtney up in the air.  Now Calvin really touts his skills and experience as a moderator so I think it will be interesting if Calvin comes out and opposes the tower.  I don’t know how he will come down.  He showed his independence with the fire tax and will in the end do the right thing even though he stood next to Ken when Ken said he would stop the tower.  WCI didn’t do anything wrong, didn’t lie, fool, or hoodwink a soul.  They followed the game book and they should be allowed to move foward.  Jen was at Ken’s press event when Ken vowed no tower too.  I don’t know if that means she will support Ken on this issue but as far as I can tell Jen will support Ken.

This is going to be an interesting battle.  Ken is going to twist arms really really hard on this one.  Mary Kay will probably twist some arms too since this was key to her campaign.  Prediction – 2 to 2 with Courtney being the tie breaker.  Then get ready for WCI to sue the County if it passes.

As Ken even said, “WCI obtained all the permits necessary to build last year…”  Why Mary Kay and Ken won’t accept that I don’t know.

Here is a question for you.  According to The Sun article:

The start of construction could have significant legal implications. Once “substantial construction” has been done, a court can’t stop the work.

Can someone define “substantial construction”?

Posted in County Council, County Executive, Howard County | 18 Comments »

Green Legislation

Posted by David Keelan on Sunday, August 12, 2007

By the way.  I was on vacation when I got the news that Ken Ulman’s “Green Legistlation” package was approved by the County Council.  Thankfully it contained enough amendements to garnish the support it required to pass the Council.

Congratulations Mr. Ulman, Mr. Feldmark, and to members of the County Council.  Also, thanks for the input from the Chamber and the HCAA that helped to clean up the original proposals.

Posted in County Council, County Executive, Howard County | Leave a Comment »

What’s the rush tell me what is happening…

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Sun reportstoday on the County Council’s struggle with Ken Ulman’s Green Legislation.

Council Chairman Calvin Ball, …, and Councilwoman Jen Terrasa, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, appear interested in voting Monday on the environmental bills. [of course] But western county Republican Councilman Greg Fox is campaigning to table them….Mary Kay Sigaty and … Courtney Watson, haven’t publicly committed themselves.

“We have to work through these issues as much as we can and see what we can accomplish,” Ball said after the session.

At Watson’s urging, council members compiled 13 questions on the two commercial building bills. Ulman administration officials vowed to try to satisfy any objections with amendments and explanations.

“I’m not prepared to vote on it tonight,” Sigaty said. “I don’t know what we’ll be doing.”

Fox said he is not trying to harm the legislation but feels the council needs more time. He handed out information sheets about similar laws, including a reprint of a May 8 Fox News story about major operation problems in green municipal buildings built in Seattle.

Based on the multiple people I have spoken with about this and what I understand to be the Council’s concerns I think tabling this legislation until Sept/Oct is a good idea.  I think the legislation will unanimously pass and.  So, what is the rush and why the backoffice pressure on the Council members?  Let them work through it.  Don’t get me wrogn talking points and “myth busters” are good ways to help the Council get the facts straight but don’t bully this legislation through.

Who am I kidding.  Sigaty, Watson and Fox are not the kind of people who can be bullid.  Without those three having satisfied themselves (not each other) this will be tabled.

The council wants to get this done the right way.  I don’t want any unintended consequences so Ulman should back off and give the Council time to review, digest, and offer amendments.  Despite what the County Executive thinks he did not submit perfect legislation – how could he.  He has to satisfy 5 other people that it is perfect – that is not an easy thing.  Let the process play out.  We will all be better off for it.

Now after it is passed and Green buildings start popping up all over the County then home owners and businesses should start saving lots of money on energy costs, right?  WRONG!

Mr. O’Malley’s “consumer friendly” PSC is permitting rate coupling.  See the Sun story here.  FreeMarket discusses it here and Jim Adams comment on Freemarket’s post is worth reading.

Essentially, the more you save on electric use the less money the electric utility makes so the “consumer friendly” PSC will allow them to charge us more for transmission costs to make up the difference.  I THOUGHT THEY DEREGULATED IN MARYLAND!

So, anyway this is just more reason for the Council to table this legislation.  The cost savings these builders/owners would experience are no longer there.

Posted in County Council, County Executive, Howard County | 8 Comments »

Block that…Tower (updated)

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Remember this campaign pledge?

Nov. 3–Democratic candidate for Howard County executive Ken Ulman said yesterday that if elected Tuesday he would move to block construction of a 23-story lakefront tower in Columbia and impose a 14-story height limit on downtown buildings. The two proposals are part of a broader plan Ulman was to announce at noon today at the lakefront for redirecting the process for developing Town Center. Ulman said he decided to speak up now “when I saw this issue being made into a political football by my Republican opponent. I felt it was important to lay out exactly what my vision is.” Ulman, who represents west Columbia on the County Council, said he rejects Republican candidate Christopher J. Merdon’s call for at least a one-year delay in the planning process.

Update:  I found this on Ken Ulman’s campaign web site.  I just want to be sure I am quoting his campaign pledge accurately.

Ulman Nov 3 ‘06 press conference

Ken Ulman’s November press conference where he pledged to introduce legislation restricting building heights in Columbia Town Center.

I will share with you what I see as the core features of the master plan based on my own personal vision andwhat I have heard… And finally, downtown Columbia must be developed at reasonable heights. The community’s voice has been loud and clear that a 22 story building has no place in our Town Center.  As County Executive, I will introduce a height limit for New Town Zoning to prohibit any building over 14 stories.

I am told that we are waiting or the planning board to review and comment on Mary Kay Sigaty’s ZRA petition.  We will see if either of them submit legislation or if Ulman is going to pull an O’Malley (problem is O’Malley has an Ehrlich to dump on – Ulman doesn’t) End Update

Remember this February statement?

“I’m actively engaged in discussions with all parties,” Ulman said, and “I’m hopeful all parties will come together and compromise.”

Which is it.?

  • Ring Ring…. County Executive Ken Ulman speaking.
  • Hi Ken, this is Mary Kay.
  • Ha ha.  Ok.  Mary Kay who?  Mary Kay cosmetics?
  • Ken, this isn’t a knock knock joke.  This is Mary Kay Sigaty.
  • [Sigh…]  Hello Mary Kay.  Actually, I am glad you called.  About my order.  When is my toe nail polish going to arrive?  [Snort].
  • Aren’t you funny Ken? 
  • I know. I know.
  • Ken, about that WCI tower.  I am going to submit legislation proposing height restrictions and I want to know if you are going to support me.
  • Mary Kay, first let me ask,  do you think that candy apple red or peach is a better color for my toe nails?
  • Peach is better for your comp….  Er… Ken, stop it, no more jokes. Get serious!
  • [Snort… ]Ok ok Mary Kay.  Well Mary Kay, as you know this is a very complicated issue.  I was against the tower before I was for compromise.  Now I am waiting for the results of my poll on the issue to come out.  So, I don’t think it is fair for you to put me on the spot.  First you run against me for County Council and now you want a straight answer….
  • Ken, you said you would stop the tower.  Are you going to stop the tower or not?
  • …..
  • Ken? 
  • Are you there, Ken?
  • Ken, for Pete’s sake will you stop crying?

Since Mr. Ulman layed out his exact vision EIGHT months ago isn’t it time for him to act?  Shouldn’t the business community expect an answer on this question?  Given the implications of retroactive legislation don’t we all deserve closure to this question. Will Mr. Ulman uphold his campaign pledge or is all this just rhetoric or will we he refuse to act at all?

Posted in County Executive, Howard County, Ulman | 46 Comments »

Idling by…

Posted by David Keelan on Saturday, June 9, 2007

I don’t believe in global warming.  That is not to say I don’t believe we should do what we can to preserve our enviroment.  My next car will by a hybrid.  We are replacing our light bulbs, we recycle, we teach the kids about the importance of preserving the environment.  There is much more we can do of course.

When I tell people I don’t believe in global warming they instantly think I want to destroy the environment or let someone else destroy while standing by and doing nothing.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  One can be an enviromentalist while not believing in global warming.  It is true.  I am among those who think that we are too small and insignificant to effect that kind of change and I am not among those who believe this is settled science.

INTERNAL DEBATE AT ‘WEATHER CHANNEL’ OVER GLOBAL WARMING… ^

GLOBAL WARMING ‘IS THREE TIMES FASTER THAN WORST PREDICTIONS’… ^

Claims of scientific ‘consensus’ on global warming called into question… ^

NASA’s Top Official Questions Global Warming… ^

Australian TV to air controverisal documentary claming global warming ‘is a lie’… ^

Climate expert says it’s ‘time to attack the myth of global warming’… ^

PAPER: RAPID RISE IN GLOBAL WARMING IS FORECAST… ^

Among the many things that bothers me about the global warming scare is the large amounts of money people are making and are going to make from the programs and government regulations that are going to come down.  I am speaking specifically about carbon offsets – BS.  The way it works is that I pay some one to erase my carbon footprint so I don’t have to change my lifestyle.  Please.  Governments are instituting carbon limits and this is creating a new category of investment.  In the business world company X pays Company Y for the carbon credits Company Y doesn’t use so that Company X doesn’t exceed its carbon quota.  Company X doesn’t reduce it’s carbon emissions.  Pretty soon a commodity market is born where companies, brokers, and investors are trading in carbon credits.  Doubt it?  It is already happening in Europe and is going to start in the US.  What kind of incentive is that?

Now closer to home…  How many times do you see a municple or utility vehicle sitting in a parking lot or on the side of the road idling by.  Even private citizens do it.  They leave the car running to keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  They do this in the morning because they don’t want to hop into a cold car for their morning commute.  They do this when they run into the store.  I have seen cars idle for 45 minutes.  I see police cars idling for long periods of time.  Even the Crown Victoria in which Mr. Ulman is chauffered idles when the police officer/driver is waiting for Mr. Ulman to come out of his current event.  I guess Mr. Ulman offsets that by leaving his $25,000 – $35,000 hybrid sitting in his driveway.  What is my point?  Is Howard County going to purchase carbon offsets on the market in order to keep their fleet idling by… or are they going to issue an executive order telling employees to stop the practice and set an example.

Posted in County Executive, Howard County | 10 Comments »