About 1,800 local and state officials are expected to attend the Maryland Association of Counties' summer conference next week in Ocean City.
That number is not a final count, MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson said Monday, adding that, after a tough few years because of the struggling economy, he expects registration and participation to be on par with better attendance last year.
He predicted the better attendance, even “if it turns out the legislature has its own show in Annapolis,” Sanderson said, referring to the special session called to decide whether to expand gambling to a sixth location in the state.
That special legislative session is scheduled to begin Thursday, and some are speculating that it could run over into the next week — perhaps overlapping the MACo conference's Aug. 15 start. The conference is scheduled to run through Aug. 18.
For anyone who is affiliated with Annapolis, it's important to be in Ocean City for MACo, said Melanie Wenger, Montgomery County's chief lobbyist in the State House.
"A lot of networking is done -- these things are extremely important," Wenger said.
Sanderson said he expects attendance by members of the General Assembly and county leaders will be strong, whether or not the state legislative session runs into the conference week, “even if some have divided attention.”
The conference agenda includes a range of topics that are pressing business for many of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore city.
One conference session focuses on how downsized planning departments can cope with increased pressure to comply with state and federal mandates on land use and the environment.
Other discussions will explore how better data might help counties show they are doing their part to meet the federal mandate to reduce pollutants running into the Chesapeake Bay and whether local governments' land-use plans can reduce car travel and the pollution it generates, which is thought to contribute to climate change.
Also slated is a discussion on how collaboration among state, local and municipal governments — as well as neighboring military installations — can benefit each with better planning and infrastructure, as well as cost savings. Another discussion will focus on best practices that county governments and school boards could use to save money and improve education.
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said the MACo conference is important for discussing critical issues.
“The most fundamental issue the state needs to grapple with is transportation,” Berliner said.
One way to do that, Berliner noted, is an amendment to the state's Constitution that Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park and Del. Brian Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac have said they will propose when the General Assembly convenes this week. Their bill would authorize the governor and legislature to offer a plan for large investments in roads, transit and bridges and put that plan on the ballot for voters.
“I'm grateful they are trying to find creative ways to overcome the reluctance of the legislature to pass a gasoline tax increase [but] that could be too high a hill for some legislators,” Berliner said.
Berliner said he would hope that government leaders could find a way to make progress on funding transportation, “even if it isn't in the special session.”
He said it might be necessary to find a way for voters and localities to take control of the state's transportation situation.