County Council Update

The members of the Baltimore County Council are grateful for the opportunity to update the County Bar on the activities of our County’s legislative body. The seven member County Council serves as the independent legislative branch of County government. The Council meets year-round, generally in bi-monthly legislative sessions at night and bi-monthly work sessions held during the day. All proceedings are open to the public, and the legislative session is broadcast on BCTV (Comcast & Verizon channel 25). The Council’s website at www.baltimorecountycouncil.org provides helpful information as well.

On Tuesday April 15, 2014, Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz presented the administration’s Budget Message in the County Council Chamber. Mr. Kamenetz offered his $1.75 billion General Fund Operating Budget and $175.7 million capital budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Highlights of the budget include prioritizing funding for public education, public safety and the rebuilding of the County’s aging infrastructure, while holding the line on the property tax rate for the 26th year in a row, and the income tax rate for the 22nd. Following the Budget Message, the County Council will now undertake its own review of the FY15 budget. This includes a budget analysis of individual County agencies and departments by the County Auditor, the fiscal advisor to the legislative branch. The Council also conducts budget hearings with County agencies as part of its review process. This will culminate in the County Council’s Budget Message and FY15 Budget Adoption on May 22, 2014 in the Council Chamber.

Other recent items of interest include the following:Picture10

Bill 3-14 – Zoning Regulations – Signs – This bill amends the sign regulations to prohibit electronic changeable copy signs on National Scenic Byways in the County. A National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Baltimore County has one such byway as part of the Maryland Scenic Byways program – the Charles Street National Scenic Byway, which runs through the heart of Baltimore City and north into Baltimore County. This bill was passed by the Council on February 18, 2014.

Bill 4-14 – Prohibition on Smoking at Recreation and Parks Facilities – Bill 4-14 amends the general prohibition on smoking in public places, as set forth in the County Code and in state law. More than 20 years ago the County Council passed legislation that addressed smoking in public places and government buildings. In 2007 the Maryland General Assembly passed the Clean Indoor Air Act and made indoor smoking more restricted. Bill 4-14 takes the County and state restrictions further by prohibiting smoking in certain outdoor areas of Recreation and Parks facilities. Specifically, it mandates that a person may not smoke near playgrounds or tot lots; dog parks; organized games or events at athletic fields sponsored by the Department of Recreation and Parks or a local recreation council; nor within 20 feet of a Recreation and Parks building. This bill was also passed on February 18, 2014.

Bill 5-14 – Automated Purchasing Machines – An automated purchasing machine is a self-service device that is designed to dispense money in exchange for an electronic device, such as a cell phone, smart phone or tablet. These automated purchasing machines are often referred to as “reverse vending machines” and have commonly been found in malls. They have also been linked to an increase in street crimes involving electronic device theft, due to the assertion that the device can be turned into cash by thieves very quickly through the use of the automated purchasing machines. Bill 5-14 essentially bans the use and operation of automated purchasing machines in Baltimore County. The bill was passed on March 4, 2014.

Bill 6-14 – Electronic Device Dealers – While Bill 5-14 bans automated purchasing machines, which are unattended and dispense cash directly to a potentially anonymous customer, Bill 6-14 seeks to regulate the “brick and mortar” stores that buy and sell electronic devices. The bill requires a license from the County in order to buy used electronic used and provides standards and requirements for receiving the license and for revoking or suspending the license. The bill also has several public safeguards including: prohibition on paying cash for a device; prohibition on a dealer buying a device from a minor; requirement for the dealer to collect identifying information from the seller; daily transaction reports to the police department and a requirement that all devices purchased be held by the dealer for at least 18 days. These requirements are similar to regulations applicable to pawn shops. This bill was also passed on March 4, 2014.