GAITHERSBURG — Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council heard recommendations from City staff Monday night as to the city’s priorities in the 2019 legislative session, which will begin in January.
During the 2018 session, staff brought to the Council’s attention a bill sponsored by the chairs of the House Economic Affairs and Senate Finance Committees, which would essentially remove all local authority over the construction of small cell facilities. In July, the city identified maintaining local control over small cell regulation fees as priority.
“The wireless industry has aggressively advocated at the national level to promote 5G methods,” said Monica Marquina, Gaithersburg’s Legislative Affairs Manager. “The FCC has moved swiftly to preempt local authority over small cells. On August 3, they issued an order that capped the rental rate for small cell facilities at $270 per year.”
Marquina said that legislation restricting local authority in an even more stringent matter was already in consideration for the upcoming session.
“City Attorney [Lynn] Board has seen early drafts of the bill and she says it’s very favorable to the industry, unsurprisingly,” Marquina said. “MML [Maryland Municipal League] continues to pursue options has to how best to respond, including legislation.”
Marquina said that that the MML had identified small cell authority as its sole legislative priority for the coming session. Additionally, MML advocated a strategic legislative initiative aimed at maintaining local control over other matters.
“Currently, a municipality has to wait five years before they make a substantive change on zoning in any land annexed by the municipality unless expressly approved by the county. We want to go ahead and repeal that. That’s a pretty big lift, but we can wish big sometimes,” she said.
“I think it’s very telling that MML chose as its one and only legislative priority for the coming session the small cell towers,” said Council Vice President Ryan Spiegel, who also serves as chair of MML’s Legislative Committee. “I think it’s a really powerful message to the legislature that this is such an important issue. It’s an issue that touches on a lot of priorities for municipalities: the ability to regulate our own revenue, to control our own property and protect our people.”
Other legislative priorities included capital funding for the construction of the city’s new police station, ensuring equitable distribution of stormwater-management fees and working with Montgomery County and Montgomery County Public Schools to ensure funding for school construction.
Marquina was joined by Barbara Zektick, a recent addition to the staff of the lobbying firm Cleveland and Alexander, which represents the city in Annapolis.
“I come from the Maryland Association of Counties as their legislative director, where from the last several years I lobbied on behalf of county governments on fiscal issues, procurement issues and a number of other issues, including transportation,” Zektick said.
“I also served as a deputy mayor of Baltimore City for several years, where I worked on our small cell agreements, so I’m very familiar with those issues,” she said.