November 28, 2011

Innovations in Wellness Awards

In October, Healthy Howard, Inc., certified 46 local businesses as "Healthy Workplaces". "The Healthy Workplaces program, a part of the County’s overall Healthy Howard Initiative, certifies county businesses that meet specific criteria in six main areas of worksite wellness-physical activity, mental health, environmental health,nutrition, safety and culture of wellness."

Just this past week, Healthy Howard awarded Tower Federal Credit Union and Verizon Wireless for their innovations in wellness. The program awarded $500 to businesses from three categories: small, medium, and large. Businesses that wanted to highlight specific policies designed to benefit the overall health of their workplaces were encouraged to apply for their Innovation Award. The Howard County website lists the benefits of being a member of Healthy Howard as including:
  • Public recognition of membership in Healthy Howard from the Health Department
  • Increasing employee morale by committing to their well-being
  • Eligibility to win an Innovations in Wellness Award
  • Business listed in print, and in online publicity
  • Healthy Workplaces plaque for display
  • Worksite wellness-related newsletters and resources from the Health Department
  • Health Department support of efforts and plans for activities and policy development
  • Improved employee health and productivity resulting in cost savings

The website also provides a toolkit for initiating healthy workplace policies, a manual for assessing your business's policies, and a list of healthy alternatives for workplace vending machines.

November 20, 2011

Urban Farming

The ABA has a great article on urban farming and the zoning issues that affect it:

November 14, 2011

Green Tax Credits

Howard County is considering implementing tax credits for LEED certified homes. The Baltimore Sun reports:
Under the bill, owners of newly built homes that meet the "silver" standard in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification, awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council, could receive up to a 25 percent discount on their county property tax bill, while homes with the highest LEED rating could earn a 75 percent discount the first year.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED certification indicates that the building being certified achieves sustainability by meeting criteria in the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, locations and linkages, awareness and education, innovation in design, and regional priority. Buildings are scored on a scale of 0-100; the higher the score, the better the property meets sustainability standards under the LEED rubric. The resulting scores are then classified as silver, gold, or platinum.

The proposed tax credit in Howard County would provide homeowners who have achieved different levels of certification with different tax credits. According to the Sun,
"The legislation would give homeowners in Howard who have a LEED-certified silver rating a 25 percent tax credit. Those with "gold" certifications would receive a 50 percent discount, and "platinum" ratings would yield a 75 percent discount against county property taxes.... After the second year registering for the credit, a homeowner would have a 25 percent decrease each year, lowering their tax credit allotment. After four years, the credit would expire."
USGBC has a Maryland branch, which can provide individuals with more detailed information about LEED certification in Howard County.

November 7, 2011

Zombie Ground Rents

Just when I thought Halloween was over, zombie ground rents seem to have risen from the dead.

The Baltimore Sun had a great article detailing the recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling which overturned the method of extinguishing ground rents created by the Maryland Legislature in 2007. Ground rents are a tenure, created by a grant in fee simple, where the grantor reserves to himself and his heirs a  rent, which is the interest of the money value of the land. Ground rents apply to the real estate, but not the structures attached to the land, such as a home or outbuilding. Zombie ground rents are those with no active - or in some cases known - ground rent owner.

Ground rents in Maryland are often vestiges of colonial America, with some dating back to the 1600s. The fees associated with the ground rent are often nominal. Some ground rent owners do not attempt to collect the fees, as the costs associated with the collection are deemed too high compared to the actual rent. Additionally, some ground rent owners do not know that they have the right to collect at all, as they received the right as an inheritance. Absentee ground rent owners can make selling property incredibly difficult for homeowners, especially those seeking a mortgage from an out-of-state bank unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Maryland's ground rent system. Additionally, in Maryland, the owner of the ground rent can place a lien against the buildings if the ground rent is not paid. This has led to many difficulties for homeowners who are looking to sell their home, only to discover that a lien was placed upon the building.

In 2007, the Maryland State legislature attempted to remedy these difficulties by passing a law requiring ground rent owners to register their right with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. If the ground rent was not registered, a homeowner whose property was encumbered could pay a fee and have the property released from the ground rent. On October 25, 2011, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that this provision of the ground rent legislation was invalid. The case, Charles Muskin, Trustee v. State Department of Assessments and Taxation, No. 140, September Term, 2010, held that not registering a property did not eliminate the property rights held by the ground rent owner. The Court held that the legislation provided for a taking without just compensation of the property rights of the ground rent owner, and noted that the legislation provided no method for appeal once the rights were extinguished. The court also noted:

Real property and contractual rights form the basis for economic stability, such as it is, has been, and will become again hopefully. Allowing the “mere will of the Legislature” to shift drastically the fee simple ownership of land or cancel contractualobligations will shake further the confidence of citizens in their constitutional protections from government interference.