Wal-Mart Keeps Tampa Police Really Busy; Did Maine’s Governor Kill a Reality TV Show?

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail is coming; a raccoon causes a Seattle blackout; and lawmakers eye a takeover in Jackson, Mississippi.

TAMPA, FLORIDA
LAW ENFORCEMENT | Responding to calls at Wal-Marts is taking up a sizeable amount of time for police agencies in the counties around Tampa. Law enforcement agencies recorded close to 16,800 calls at the stores across four counties in the region in one year. Wal-Mart locations, on average, accounted for about four times as many calls as local Targets. According to law enforcement officers, responding to Wal-Mart-related calls is eating into time they could be spending on neighborhood patrols and crime prevention. “They’re a huge problem in terms of the amount of time that’s spent there,” said one Tampa police officer. Critics say the company is effectively offloading its security needs and costs onto taxpayers. [Tampa Bay Times]

AUGUSTA, MAINE
REALITY TV | Gov. Paul LePage wants credit for his part in the cancellation of reality TV show “North Woods Law,” featuring the Maine Warden Service. A Maine Today Media report accused undercover wardens of committing crimes to encourage suspected poachers of doing so as well. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife disputes the article but opted not to sign another contract with the show’s producers. “I might have had something to do with that because I got hundreds of complaints about the show,” LePage said. “I had more to do with that being canceled than any sting operations.” [Bangor Daily News]

HOUSTON, TEXAS
HIGH-SPEED RAIL | A private firm that has proposed a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line said it’s poised to break ground in 2017 or early 2018. Some officials in Houston would like to see the line linked to the city’s downtown. Texas Central Partners, the private entity that is pushing to build the line, briefed the City Council there on Monday. Cost estimates for the rail project are roughly $12 billion. That money would come through private investment. But running the line into downtown would likely require public dollars. Houston Public Works has issued a request for proposals to study the possible downtown connection. [Houston Chronicle]

SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS
CONSOLIDATION | DuPage County’s government consolidation model is being viewed as a success story by some in Illinois, and now a bill already passed in the House would expand it statewide. H.B. 4501, scheduled to be heard by the state Senate Committee on Local Government today, allows counties to dissolve certain local government units via referendum—so long as those bodies have county-appointed governing boards. Estimates have DuPage saving its taxpayers more than $100 million over 20 years. "There's been a great deal of talk over the past several years about streamlining local governments to create efficiencies," said the Illinois Municipal League’s executive director. "We certainly need to identify and eliminate service redundancies at the local level and pass the cost savings on to local taxpayers.” [Chicago Tribune]

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
TRANSPARENCY | Amid reforms aimed at improving transparency, the state’s transit authority is planning to close committee meetings to the public. Matters before the authority are typically hashed out in committees and then frequently approved by its full board without much debate. "When you want to make the public think that you are pulling a fast one, UTA knows how to hit a homerun," said a board member with the Utah Transit Riders Union. A first amendment attorney believes closing the meetings would run afoul of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act. "The public deserves to hear the full discussion and debate on issues of public import and not just the vote on those issues once they reach the full board," he said. [Salt Lake Tribune]

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND
REORGANIZATION | Gov. Larry Hogan appointed former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert Neall to reorganize Maryland state government—recommending efficiencies, performance benchmarks and customer service improvements. Maryland government’s last major reorganization occurred in the 1970s. "There is still a great deal of work to do to rein in, right-size and reorganize a sprawling bureaucracy, which has not been performing at peak efficiency for far too long,” Hogan said. [The Baltimore Sun]

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
POWER OUTAGES | A raccoon that tampered with electrical substation equipment was responsible for a power outage that impacted around 39,000 homes in the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to Seattle City Light. Power was restored for most customers by around 5 a.m. Though it was said to be dazed by an electrical shock, the raccoon is believed to have survived and was photographed leaving the substation. [KIRO-TV]

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI
GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER | How likely is a state government takeover of Jackson City Hall? Republican state Rep. Mark Baker wants to draft legislation this summer to make it happen, much like the state of Michigan has done with emergency managers for municipal governments like Detroit and Flint. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant isn’t keen on the idea, however. "I don't see any universe in which I would take over responsibility for the city of Jackson," he said. [WLBT]

WINONA COUNTY, MINNESOTA
JAIL | The National Institute of Corrections will help this southeastern Minnesota county improve its jail starting with alternative measures to reduce the number of inmates rather than constructing new facilities. Winona’s Board of Supervisors also approved up to $250,000 in federal grant funding for a program to reduce the number of people with mental illness entering jail through early interventions. Long-term inmates will be transferred to neighboring Houston County. [Winona Daily News]

ATHENS COUNTY, OHIO
FARMLAND | Ohio’s Senate is considering legislation that would exclude appreciation and equity buildup from Current Agricultural Use Valuation, while valuing conservation land at the lowest rates possible based on soil type. School districts and local governments stand to lose $30 million if the bill becomes law, and homeowners could expect a tax hike up to $70 million. “We cannot dispute, and the example illustrates, that values have increased significantly in recent years,” said the county’s auditor. “However, is the problem that taxes are too high, or that the volatility of the modeling the CAUV formula after the farm economy just doesn’t make sense?” [The Athens News]

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