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Baltimore County Now

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Date: Sep 2012

Ayla Haig
Sustainability Coordinator
Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability


Say “no thanks” to foreign oil dependence and air pollution!

Imagine being able to drive 100 miles without worrying about filling up or being subject to fluctuating gas prices. Electric and hybrid electric vehicle technology is evolving and vehicles are now widely available from major manufacturers. Charging stations are popping up all around Baltimore County and around the United States to eliminate the need to fill up. Baltimore County will be participating in the second annual National Plug In Day for electric vehicles (EV) on September 23rd at the White Marsh Park and Ride.

National Plug in Day was created to help educate the public about the availability of electric vehicles and to bring attention to the existing charging infrastructure. Electric vehicles rely solely on an electric battery instead of gasoline. The electric car uses energy stored in its rechargeable batteries, which can typically charge in hours or less. The car has no direct tailpipe emissions, is energy efficient, and helps shift energy dependence to domestic sources.

Over 20 electric vehicles will be on display and some will be available for test drives including plug-in and hybrid vehicles by Th!nk, GM (Volt), Nissan (Leaf), Ford (C-MAX) and others. Additionally, there will displays (with a focus on green and solar technologies), door prizes, and a citation presented by Baltimore County.
     
The event will be held on Sunday, September, 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the White Marsh Park and Ride located at 8490 Honeygo Blvd, White Marsh, MD 21236. Presentations will occur at 11 p.m. Capitol Fisker will be stopping by the event with a Fisker Karma (the world’s first luxury electric vehicle) from 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. All other ride & drive vehicles will be available for the entire event.

The event is free and open to the public. If you are interested in attending, please register for the event or contact Ayla Haig with questions. For more information about the national event, you can check out the National Plug In website.

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Baltimore County Cool Treesby Vincent J. Gardina
 Director of Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability

Imagine if you invented a simple, low-cost, low-tech piece of equipment that could lower energy costs, absorb air pollution and soak up stormwater runoff. Imagine if this invention was also beautiful, cool, could be placed almost anywhere and actually raised property values and people’s sense of community. You guessed it – I’m talking about trees.

Everyone knows that planting trees helps the environment in a number of ways, but did you know that strategic tree planting actually cuts energy costs in buildings? The Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (EPS) recently completed a project to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data to optimize the planting of trees around County buildings as an affordable technique to cool buildings as well as contributing to a better local environment.  

The “Cool Trees” program planted 957 native shade trees at 46 County schools, eight police precincts/PAL centers, seven community centers, five senior centers, all three CCBC campuses, two libraries, two fire stations, and one health center. By planting trees within sixty feet of the south, west and east facades of buildings, the energy needed for cooling will be reduced by 30%. In a unique approach, EPS used GIS software to evaluate data about all County buildings, schools and CCBC buildings and identify the best locations as well as the precise spots to plant the trees to maximize energy savings.

Over just the next 30 years, the $500,000 invested in Cool Trees will provide more than $2 million in benefits, a 300% return on investment. Funded through a $7.4 million U.S. Department of Energy Grant, the goal of this grant is to reduce energy consumption and create jobs. Over the next 30 years, the $500,000 invested in Cool Trees is estimated to provide in excess of $2 million worth of energy savings and other environmental benefits – a 300% return on investment.

We chose the name “Cool Trees” because trees are cool, as in nifty, dandy, keen and marvelous. They are also cool as in temperature reducing. If every household in Baltimore County planted a native species large canopy tree within sixty feet of the south, west or east facades of their homes, energy consumption could be reduced by 30% during the summer, and water flowing to the Bay would be cleaner and more healthy for aquatic life. Plant a tree, save energy, reduce stormwater runoff and be COOL!


Baltimore County Sealby Keith Dorsey
Baltimore County, Director of Budget and Finance

by William Cobbs
Public Resources Advisory Group, Chairman


In the wake of the financial crisis of the past few years, many public pension systems have been advised to reduce risk and volatility in their investment portfolios. Reducing risk and volatility, coupled with forecasts of a weak economic outlook for the foreseeable future, would typically result in a reduction in investment return assumptions. Baltimore County reached agreement with its collective bargaining groups on pension benefits and adopted legislation in 2007 grandfathering members who were hired prior to 2007, but not permitting those hired post 2007 to participate in the prior system. As a result of effectively creating two separate retirement systems, the time horizon for investing for the closed plan will decline through the next several decades.

For all the foregoing reasons and based upon information provided by the pension consultant, New England Pension Consultants, and actuarial consultant, Buck Consultants, Baltimore County recently lowered the interest rate assumption used to determine its Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) liabilities from 7.875% to 7.25%. For perspective, the 10-year average return on the County’s pension fund as of July 31, 2012 was 7.4%. Buck Consultants calculated the amount needed to fully fund the increase in the liabilities due to the reduction of the interest rate assumption for the closed plan to be $255 million.

In order to fully fund this entire obligation and maintain this more conservative approach to pension funding, the Baltimore County Executive will ask the County Council to approve the issuance of Pension Obligation Bonds (“POBs”). POBs are taxable general obligation bonds of the County. The borrowed funds are deposited into the County’s pension system and invested along with other money already in the system. What makes this strategy appealing is that taxable borrowing costs are at historic lows. The County expects to borrow funds at approximately 4.25-4.5% and by using those monies to fund the pension system, Baltimore County will reduce its long-term (30 years) pension costs associated with the pre 2007 plan by $250 million. That is, the annual County contribution plus debt service on the POBs is expected to be less than what the annual County contribution would have been in the absence of the POBs.

Issuing pension obligation bonds, while expected to benefit the County, does entail taking investment risk. Over the long term, it is important that the County earn more than the cost of the funds it borrows. Thus, the performance of such a financial transaction for the County will depend on future investment returns. As long as the pension system investment returns exceed the cost (4.25-4.5%) of borrowed funds, the POBs will ensure employee benefits and save the County money. As cited above, the most recent ten year average earnings for Baltimore County effective July 31, 2012 was 7.4%.

In the opinion of the County’s financial advisor, Public Resources Advisory Group, based upon preliminary discussions with credit analysts, the POBs will not negatively impact the County’s Triple AAA bond ratings although there has been no formal confirmation from the rating agencies.

It is important to note that this proposed financing will have absolutely no impact upon the pension benefits currently available to pre-July 2007 employees, post-July 2007 employees or retirees. In accordance with the Baltimore County Code, the County is the guarantor of the ERS and this pension obligation bond issuance is intended to strengthen the system while providing taxpayers with the lowest possible cost to do so.


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