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Maryland municipalities want more state funds for highways

October 05, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown City Councilman Martin E. Brubaker aknowledges being "a Democrat" after being introduced by Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II Friday during the Maryland Municipal League conference at Hager Hall in Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Keeping with its goals of past years, members of the Maryland Municipal League on Friday voted unanimously to support the restoration of highway-user revenues to municipalities across the state as a top legislative priority in 2013.

The legislative committee of 32 members, including mayors, council members and municipal leaders representing 157 cities and towns in Maryland, also voted to support bills that would allow municipalities to post state-mandated legal notices online during a quick 15-minute session at Hager Hall and Convention Center as part of the annual fall MML conference.

Since total highway-user revenues were slashed by the state legislature in 2008 from about $46 million to $1.6 million, it’s crippled the ability of municipalities to adequately maintain their roads and do essential public-safety projects, such as sidewalk and intersection improvements, according to MML President Judith F. Davis.

“Highway user revenue has been one of our top priorities for several years,” said Davis, the current mayor of Greenbelt, Md. “It is vitally important.”

Davis said some police aid has also been on the chopping block as lawmakers have had to make extensive budget cuts in recent years, but the loss of highway-user revenue, in particular, has had a devastating effect on municipal budgets.

“This is what we’ve depended on for years. And all of a sudden, it’s gone,” she said. “Some municipalities chose not to do any repairs thinking that in a year or two it would be returned. It has not been.”

Here in Hagerstown, City Councilman Martin E. Brubaker, who serves on the legislative committee, said restored highway-user revenue would allow the city to use municipal funds on other projects rather than needing them to pay for to maintain streets, many of which are state roads.

“It’s a reimbursement that’s earned because of the maintenance we do on state highways ... and the municipalities have been hit harder by this budget crisis, I think, than any other level of government,” he said. “It’s very important that the legislature restores this, and we’ll continue to hammer away at it until we get a resolution.”

If highway-user funding was restored in some degree, the city could do more highway improvement and safety projects, Brubaker said.

The MML’s second priority during the upcoming legislative session — to allow municipalities to post legal notices online rather than by traditional means in newspapers — would save thousands of tax dollars for cities and towns, officials said.

MML Executive Director Scott Hancock said a version of the bill has been in the legislature for the past three years, but its been difficult to find a compromise that would not be too detrimental to the revenue streams of newspapers.

“Obviously, (legal notices are) the lifeblood of some newspapers,” Davis said.

Hancock said the MML has been interested in continuing discussions with the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association to try to find a way to make it work for everyone involved.

“There’s got to be a win-win here in this process,” he said. “We don’t want ... to cut the revenues to the newspapers, but on the other hand, it’s not the intention to take money out of the taxpayers pockets to pay for these types of ads.”

One option that has been discussed is to ask municipalities to post a smaller legal ad in the newspaper that gives a brief overview of the notice and then provides information about where to find the complete document online, officials said.

It’s an option that Brubaker said he supports because some people still rely heavily on newspapers for that type of information, despite the growth of the Internet.

“It would still save us thousands of dollars and yet require a small notice to be in the paper, but if you wanted the details you would have to see the electronic notice,” he said. “But not everybody has access to the Internet, so I think we’ve got to be careful and make sure that people know where it can be found.”

These two priorities were selected out of 13 that were submitted by municipal leaders over the summer for consideration of endorsement from the MML. Later in the year, when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes, MML officials will keep tabs on other legislation discussed that could affect municipalities and act accordingly to support the league’s position, Davis said.

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