Status quo is goal for most Counties seek little legislation

January 08, 1991|By From staff reports Monica Norton, Larry Carson, Bruce Reid, Norris P. West and Jay Merwin contributed to this story.

Suburban officials generally have short wish lists for the General Assembly session that convenes tomorrow.

"We have no package, no bills," Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall said. "I'm just looking to support the delegates in ways to keep the wolves away."

With most jurisdictions struggling to balance their budgets after years of high growth and fat surpluses, and sensitive to the state's own impending budget shortfall, officials say they'll be happy just not to lose ground, in most cases.

Neall said his main objective during the three-month session is to minimize the damage to county coffers. His county is projecting a $15 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ends June 30, its smallest surplus in years. He already has imposed a hiring freeze and spending controls.

In Baltimore County, the biggest wishes from the legislature are leftovers from past years.

They include $14 million as the state's share for construction of the 200-bed addition to the main county detention center in Towson. The county share would be $3.8 million.

The county also wants guarantees that the $1.5 million given the county as half the cost of a new 100-bed drunken-driving detention center will remain intact, and that previously begun programs for shoreline enhancement will continue with another $4 million state appropriation this year. The drunken-driving center was approved, but never built. The county is still searching for a proper place to build it.

The new administration of County Executive Roger B. Hayden also is seeking enabling legislation to allow sharp increases in business license fees to match similar fees in Baltimore. That would mean, for example, that the $150 fee now paid to county government for a video poker machine license would rise to $450 for each machine to match the city fee. If approved, the increases would bring in $1.2 million in additional revenue, said county lobbyist Fred Spigler.

The county also wants permission to keep $400,000 worth of real estate title recordation taxes per year that now go to the state, $2 million to develop the Benjamin Banneker Park in Catonsville and $1 million for a recreation center for disabled people somewhere in the county.

Under consideration is another bill that would allow local governments to shut a business merely by applying for an ex-parte court injunction based on a government allegation that the business violates county laws. That bill, if introduced, is an attempt to give the county power to shut places such as Body Talk, the Rockdale nude dancing club, which is still operating despite heavy fines and threatened jail terms for the owners. The county now must prove that allowing a business to operate will cause irreparable harm or irreversible damage to get an immediate injunction to shut the business, even if it is operating illegally.

Another bill would prohibit owners of mobile home parks from abandoning old trailers on public lands, while still another would tighten laws against making false reports to the police.

Sounding a similar note in Harford County, Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said the big job for local governments this year is to maintain funding levels despite the state budget situation.

Harford County is seeking state money or trying to ensure earlier commitments for several projects, she said.

That includes about $1.5 million worth of state road improvements in the Perryman area to support the construction of a new production and distribution center for Clorox Co., the bleach maker, and a $250,000 state bond issue for renovations at the Harford Equestrian Center near Harford Mall. The center is the site of annual county Farm Fair, an event attended by as many as 50,000 people.

During her campaign, Rehrmann advocated impact fees -- one-time charges on new construction -- as a means to raise revenue to support new building projects, but she and other county officials said the county will not seek the necessary state authority to impose impact fees this year.

Instead, county officials said, Rehrmann will concentrate on developing local legislation to require building projects to be in line with public services, such as water, sewerage and schools.

In Howard County, however, enabling legislation to impose impact fees will be up for consideration a year after being tabled.

Del. Robert L. Flanagan, R-14B, chairman of Howard's delegation, said he wanted the delegation to approve bills that would allow county officials to impose impact fees as well as a 5 percent tax on hotels and motels.

The delegation declined to take action on an impact-fee bill last year after Flanagan and Robert H. Kittleman, R-14B, introduced the measure in the middle of the session. The bill was opposed by then-County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, but Charles I. Ecker, who defeated Bobo in the November election, endorses the new bill.

Ecker has said that he would not necessarily impose fees on developers, but said he wants to have that option if the county needs the money.

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