Mount Rainier hopes to catch up on audits this year

Mount Rainier city officials anticipate they will have their audits up-to-date by August 30. Until recently, Mount Rainier had not filed completed audits, as required by state law, since 2017. But in March, city officials received the first of the outstanding audits, which revealed serious oversight issues around the city’s financial management.

Hyattsville Council unsure how to use $1M pandemic relief fund

Hyattsville City Council continues to look for ways to spend its $1 million local pandemic relief fund. During discussion at its April 22, 2020, meeting City Council members discussed in broad strokes possible ways the money could be spent, including donations to local charities already dealing with the aftermath of coronavirus’ disruptions, and programs for business aid. 

Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, lead sponsor of the city relief fund measures so far, pushed City Council members to think realistically about how the fund could best be used to provide direct relief to individuals. Additionally, she said Hyattsville economic development officials were crafting ways they could expand existing city business grant programs with some of the relief funding. Hollingsworth noted a city-funded program to provide about 75 grocery gift cards to Hyattsville residents attracted more than 650 applicants, of which only 88 turned out to be city residents. The deluge of applicants, and the work needed to verify their city residency, proved challenging for city staff to manage.

Audit finds major problems in Mount Rainier’s finances

A long-awaited audit of Mount Rainier’s 2017 finances uncovered eye-opening issues, including spotty record-keeping, poor oversight, a need for more administrative staff and a lack of official policies governing many spending decisions. While the audit focused on 2017, its authors said many of the flaws found still need to be corrected “as soon as possible.” During a three-minute discussion of the audit during its April 7, 2020, City Council meeting, Mayor Malinda Miles said “the data in that audit has to be obsolete by now.” “Hopefully over the past two years, a lot of what has been found has been fixed as they were going through and preparing to have the audit now,” said Miles. Interim City Manager Latasha Gatling aknowledged the city’s financial safeguards and policies still need work.

No backyard chickens for Hyattsville, Council says

Backyard chickens remain banned in Hyattsville’s lawbooks. At its April 6, 2020, meeting, Hyattsville City Council easily defeated a measure from Councilor Danny Schaible that would have deleted city laws banning domestic chickens and other fowl. But Schaible’s proposal would not have overturned a county-level ban on domestic fowl in areas not zoned either agricultural or rural residential. Nor would it have established regulations governing the husbandry of backyard fowl. As Route 1 Reporter has previously covered, a majority of City Council said they would not support the measure unless one or both of those concerns were addressed.

Franchot: Maryland will see “significant and historic” budget hit from pandemic

Due to the economic impacts of the pandemic disruptions, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot says he expects state government revenue to drop by as much as 25 percent heading into the next fiscal year. Local governments in Prince George’s County are already bracing for a significant reduction in revenue. 

“We know it is going to be significant and historic,” said Franchot in an March 27, 2020, interview. “It could be a 20 to 25 percent reduction in state revenues for the forseeable future.”

Franchot noted the Comptroller’s Office could not even issue a state revenue estimate for March 2020. 

“We are still flying blind,” said Franchot. “All the signals are pointing to a significant reduction in state revenue.”

Maryland has a few tools at its disposal to deal with a big reduction in state revenue. 

As the Baltimore Sun noted March 20, 2020, Maryland legislators approved an emergency measure allowing Gov. Larry Hogan to reallocate $50 million from state reserves to respond to coronavirus and, in the budget, empowered him to tap another $100 million if needed. Additionally, Franchot noted that the Maryland Board of Public Works – a body made up of the governor, the comptroller, and the treasurer, can make unilateral line-item cuts to the Maryland budget of up to 25 percent.