UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Council Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee (GOFP) voted on an act that would change the name of Columbus Day to Native American Day and a real property tax credit for people with solar panels at the meeting on June 27.
During the meeting, the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee first took a look at their agenda item titled CB-008-2019, which seeks to recognize the history, culture and accomplishments of Native Americans in Prince George’s County and across the nation. It would change the name of Columbus Day to Native American Day in Prince George’s County.
All committee members voted to favorably recommend that the full county council approve the agenda item. Before the meeting, the board had also received input in a letter from the Piscataway Conoy Tribe advocating for the item to pass.
“This legislation is pretty straightforward. It is to elevate the recognition of the Native American community and Native American people who have a history of thousands of years in this region and regions across this country,” said Councilmember Mel Franklin (At-Large) who sponsored the bill.
“It will recognize the need to change Columbus Day to Native American Day to more properly represent the legacy that we should be celebrating.”
During the meeting, the committee heard from Rico Newman, a representative of the Piscataway Convoy Tribe and a former historian with Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Newman has done a lot of research with the museum on Christopher Columbus and said, “a lot of things we were taught in school as kids were fake, false and need to be corrected. By starting by changing the name is this day, it’s one of the things that will start getting the ball rolling.”
“I’m glad to see this done,” Newman said. “I think that it’s the tip of the iceberg in getting information out about a lot of the things that need to be changed.”
The committee’s approval also included a legal amendment to the section of the county code that gives county employees the day off for the Columbus Day holiday to ensure that county employees have the day off for Native American Day as well.
Following the favorable vote, Councilmember and Committee Chair Derrick Leon Davis (District 6) commended the council for their decision calling it a “long overdue” decision.
The second bill that the committee considered serves to have the county provide more money for the solar tax credit program.
Legislation for the solar tax credit program was passed back in 2008 and provided a maximum of $250,000 out of the county budget to go towards tax credits granted for solar or geothermal energy conservation devices, such as solar panels that people put on their houses.
As the country was in a recession during that time, the maximum was placed at only $250,000 and was never changed. Currently, there is a backlog of applicants, and if the amount of money were to remain at $250,000, the backlog would not be paid off until fiscal year 2030, provided the number of applicants does not increase, according to the Office of Finance.
Also, according to the Office of Finance, the county receives an average of 147 applicants for the solar tax credit program per year.
The new legislation would raise the maximum that the county can provide to $500,000.
That would reduce the time the backlog would be paid off from fiscal year 2030 to fiscal year 2025. However, the backlog would continue to grow if more than 100 applicants were approved annually.
According to county documents, an analysis concluded that it would take $27 million for the entire waitlist to be paid off in fiscal year 2020.
For the rest of the meeting, the committee debated on what to do about the issue and whether keeping the program was worth it in the first place.
“This has been something that we have been looking at for the last six years, what our tax credit portfolio does, what it doesn’t do, what we should continue to do and what maybe we should discontinue doing in the future,” Davis said.
The committee received input from Joseph Hamlin, a member of the County Charter Review Commission, who said the problem with the bill as it stands is that although the increased annual maximum will address the existing backlog, it will not eliminate a new waitlist that will continue to grow beyond that.
“The bill as presented deals with the existing backlog but a new one is going to come along right behind it,” Hamlin said. “I think there is a decision both on whether to approve the proposal, but also whether now is the time to deal with what might come after by either reducing that per credit cap or phasing it out all together as different jurisdictions have done.”
Councilmember Tom Dernoga (District 1) said that investing in solar power is a good thing as it is essential to the county’s commitment to investing in clean energy in the future.
The amount of backlog says that this is something that people want, so it is a great investment in the future, Dernoga added.
“We have a backlog not because the program is failing but because the program is successful,” he said. “Why would we want to stop a successful program?”
Councilmember Dannielle Glaros (District 3), the bill’s sponsor, agreed that having a lot of people put solar panels on their home is wonderful. However, she said she saw it as a fairness issue wondering if the long wait time for residents to get their tax credit is worth it.
“I think most importantly we’ve got to be fair to our residents who expect a tax credit,” she said. “So this backlog, in my opinion, is just not acceptable. It doesn’t feel fair to the resident who purchased this and thought that they would be getting a tax credit in a reasonable length of time and now they’re hearing it might not be until 2030.”
In the end, the committee unanimously voted to move forward with the agenda item but also seek advice from County Executive Angela Alsobrooks on further financial enhancements over and above $500,000.