A recent change to state law that pushed up costs of building public projects in Frederick County must be reconsidered in next year’s legislative session in Annapolis, according to some members of the Frederick County Council.
How the law should be changed, and how the council should communicate its stance on the topic, dominated a discussion the council had Tuesday regarding priorities for the 2016 regular session of the Maryland General Assembly. The session convenes in January.
The prevailing-wage law sets requirements for what public governing bodies must pay construction workers who are working on public projects. The rates are determined by the U.S. Department of Labor according to geographic region and the type of work being performed.
The prevailing-wage law applies when the project costs $500,000 or more and when the state contributes a certain amount to the project.
Historically, the law had applied when the state contributed 50 percent or more. In 2014, the Legislature voted to expand the reach of the law for school construction projects, changing the threshold for those projects to 25 percent.
The change crippled the county’s ability to stay on its timeline for school construction projects, according to County Executive Jan Gardner.
The cost estimate for building a new Frederick High School increased dramatically this year, bringing the construction timeline for two new elementary schools into question. The Board of Education has held hearings on that topic, but nothing has been decided.
Council members have different approaches for what should happen to help.
Councilman Tony Chmelik said he wants to reverse that change altogether. He said the change was a “political boondoggle” meant to please labor unions.
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater said she would support a task force to bring people together to analyze what changes should be made.
Councilman Kirby Delauter said he wants the state to create a pilot program in which a jurisdiction would be allowed to disregard the law for two public projects, so that the costs could be compared.
The county executive has also decided that this should be a priority. Gardner is proposing a legislative initiative that would “require a state cost share to cover cost increases resulting from new state laws,” according to a county document.
Which option or options will move forward as legislative initiatives will be decided next month.
The council and county executive are working toward creating a joint legislative packet to submit to the delegation by Nov. 1. The county executive will host a public hearing on Oct. 8 to review the proposals from council and other county groups. The council will vote Oct. 20 on which initiatives they support.
Council members also mentioned the following other legislative initiatives, which the full council will consider:
- MDE laws:
- Councilman Kirby Delauter wants the council to create a position statement supporting initiatives to revise Maryland Department of Environment laws and fines. Delauter was not specific on which fines he was referring to, but said that something he had talked about with both Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles and state Sen. Michael Hough.
- Alcohol server license:
- Councilman Kirby Delauter wants the council to ask the local delegation to support a reversal of a law that passed last session that required all establishments licensed to sell alcohol to have someone who is certified by an approved alcohol awareness program to be present at all times when alcoholic beverages are being sold. Delauter said he heard from businesses that they do not like this new law.
- Lab registration:
- Councilwoman M.C. Keegan-Ayer wants the council to write a position statement supporting a new law that would require certain private laboratories in the county to register. This is a priority for the local Containment Laboratory Community Advisory Committee, Keegan-Ayer said.
- Business permits:
- Councilman Billy Shreve wants to look into a permitting issue that affected a local business to see what could be changed about state law.
- Vehicle emissions:
- Councilman Billy Shreve wants to change rules for vehicle emissions testing in the state.
- Defunding Planned Parenthood:
- Councilman Billy Shreve said he supports Sen. Michael Hough’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood at the state level.
- English language:
- Councilman Billy Shreve wants English to be the official state language.