SYKESVILLE — When residents cast their votes for three Town Council seats next month, they may be determining the direction the town will take in several vital areas, officials said.
Major issues include growth and annexation, budget woes and services, historic preservation, charter amendments and recycling.
Three council members who make up half the governing body are up for re-election. They are Council President Charles B. Mullins, Councilman Charles H. "Tim" Ferguson and Councilwoman Maxine C. Wooleyhand.
The incumbents have become known as "the Gang of Three" for their frequent voting as a bloc, which has deadlocked the council on major issues such as the budget and historic preservation.
Recently, atie vote between the three and the rest of the council almost killedplans for the Raincliffe Business Center, which is expected to provide 25 percent of the town's tax base when completed.
Last year, Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. became so frustrated in trying to pass the budget -- which wasn't approved until shortly before the fiscal year began July 1 -- that he suggested adding himself as a seventh council member to avoid future deadlocks.
The idea went down to defeat in onemore tie as the "Gang of Three" voted against it.
"The personalities of the 'Gang of Three' in combination are destructive to the spirit of the town," Helt said. "They react to issues in a negative manner. They have no vision of where they want the town to go and no goalsexcept power."
The incumbents are facing four challengers, all ofwhom say the internal conflict is hurting the town and its residents.
"The 'gang' is not focusing on the town's needs," said Walter R.White, a Second Avenue resident. "They're not addressing the individual citizen's needs. The 'gang' has lost touch (with the town)."
Candidate Carole Norbeck said more people need to become involved in town government, whether they have here only a few months or all theirlives.
"I'd like the new people in the developments to feel a part of the town," she said. "I'd like more participation and more community involvement."
Running on a ticket with Norbeck are Jonathan Herman, Planning Commission chairman, and William R. Hall of Maple Avenue. Norbeck described the group as "moderates who see both sides of an issue and are running together because of our common interests, not because we're a team."
The incumbents deny that they vote as a bloc and insist they have the town's interests at heart.
"We don't vote as a body," Ferguson said. "I vote for things Charlie (Mullins) votes against, he votes for things I'm against. Nobody tells me how to vote. I vote my conscience for the good of the town."
Residents who attended Candidates Night April 8, however, noted that Mullins was nominated for a third term by Wooleyhand; Ferguson for a third termby Mullins; and Wooleyhand for a second term by her husband, William.
Other town residents nominated the challengers.
Sykesville runs its election differently from most other towns. Candidates are nominated by one registered voter and seconded by another at Candidates Night one month before the election.
Council and mayor are electedto staggered four-year terms. The three council members elected nextmonth will serve till 1995. The mayor and the other three council posts are up for election in 1993.
Many candidates don't do much campaigning, simply because there is so little time between their nomination and Election Day.
Also, few residents vote. In 1989, only 135residents -- out of 312 registered -- voted. But in 1990, the Universal Voter Registration law went into effect, meaning that when a resident registers with the Carroll County Board of Election Supervisors,he automatically is registered to vote in the municipal election.
The system has swelled Sykesville's rolls to 928 registered voters for next month's election, out of a population of 2,433.
It is those additional voters who the challengers are counting on to make a change in town government.
Much work remains to be done on the town'sbudget, which became critically short in February when the council passed a spending freeze for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Norbeck suggests keeping the town's tax base where it is, but with betterdistribution of services to all residents.
White said the councilhas cut the tax rate as much as it can for now.
"You can only cuttaxes down so far," White said. "You have to consider salaries, growth, etc. I don't think any resident wants services to go down any further."
The incumbents point to a drop in the property tax rate every year since 1988 as a major accomplishment.
But Mullins admitted"we may have to ask for more money this year, because state revenuesare cut and we've lost some grant money."
Another major issue is updating the town's charter, which Ferguson called "the worst charterin Maryland. It just doesn't work efficiently."