Two months after Baltimore County’s new economic development director abruptly resigned, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. has nominated a senior deputy administrator to temporarily lead the department.

The Baltimore County Council is expected to vote Jan. 16 to confirm Deputy Administrative Officer Sameer Sidh as acting director of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

If confirmed, Sidh will be the fourth person leading Baltimore County’s economic development department in less than one year.

Olszewski announced Sidh was appointed in November 2022 as the county’s deputy administrative officer overseeing economic development and infrastructure. He’s held several top positions in local and Maryland governments, and joined the county after serving as chief of staff for Howard County Executive Howard Ball. As a top Baltimore County administrator, Sidh earns a $212,760 salary.

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“Under the circumstances of adding continuity to the department, you’re the right man for the job,” 1st District Councilman Patrick “Pat” Young said during Tuesday’s work session.

Oversight of the county’s economic development department has been in flux since its former deputy director Chris McCollum retired in 2022, and its yearslong department Director Leonard Howie resigned in March 2023. Olszewski’s Senior Education Policy Advisor Jennifer Lynch served as the department’s acting director until July 31, when Marcus L. Wang was appointed to lead it; but Wang suddenly resigned in an email to county staff in November 2023.

Olszewski’s press office told The Banner in November that it had replaced McCollum with Abigail Vitaliano, previously a marketing specialist in the economic development department, and said that Vitaliano would serve as the department’s de facto acting director. But her appointment never came before the County Council.

“I’m hopeful my time in the acting director role is relatively brief,” Sidh told the council, as the county prepares to start interviewing candidates for the permanent job. Sidh added he “conservatively” hopes a new director will be named by March.

— Taylor DeVille

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Reform coming to Baltimore tax credits?

Long-promised plans to reform Baltimore’s suite of tax credits are finally getting underway.

In recent years, the menu of seven tax credits available to Baltimore developers and homeowners has come under fire by city financial officials, who released a report in 2022 calling the system both inefficient and “highly inequitable.”

Following the release of that report in October 2022, Mayor Brandon Scott promised to convene a work group to evaluate the tax credits and come up with recommendations for how the city can better incentivize development.

Though getting that commission off the ground has taken much longer than many City Council members had hoped, the group could hold its first meeting as soon as next month, Deputy Finance Director Robert Cenname said at a council hearing Thursday. Invitations for membership on the commission were being prepared “this week” and would go out imminently, Cenname said.

Cenname helped lead the Department of Finance report that found a disproportionate share of the $127 million granted by the city in property tax breaks that year had subsidized development in already wealthy neighborhoods. At the same time, the report found that that the city’s tax credit system offers overly generous tax breaks, which, if even modestly reformed, could allow the city to cut its property tax rate by nearly 8%.

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The goal of the review commission will be to propose a package of tax credits that drives long-term growth for city revenues while providing “only the minimal subsidy” necessary to incentivize development, Cenname told the council. When it comes to tax credits, “that’s nearly impossible, but we want to get it so that it’s as efficient as possible so that we’re not oversubsidizing if we can avoid it.”

Cenname said the group will likely meet once a month, holding eight to 10 sessions to drill in on each individual tax credit and come up with their recommendations, which could include the creation of new credits.

That process will take some time, the budget official said, and while the group aims to release recommendations by the end of the year, it’s possible they won’t reach any conclusions until 2025.

— Adam Willis