Making Confusion Clear

Readers write

September 22, 1991

From: Hammond S. Carr

President

Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce

The press reports regarding the recent Benfield Road (so-called) sign "sweep" have engendered confusion about the role of the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce relevant to this county action. Permit me to clarify.

At our May general membership meeting, the chamber voted to work with theGreater Severna Park Council and the county in a Sign Improvement Task Force to stimulate voluntary compliance with the sign ordinance and examine the proposed sign law changes.

The county, in response to complaints from Severna Park residents, planned a sign enforcement "sweep" initially with Benfield Road, from the west side of I-97 to Ritchie Highway.

At meetings with zoning enforcement officials, task force members insisted that this pilot program "sweep" be done withgreat sensitivity to the businesses.

We made many specific recommendations to the county, including a meeting of all businesses found to be in violation.

While there has been considerable press mention of the use of videotape in the "sweep," taping has not been done. Still photos of signs believed to be in violation were taken by the county.

Task force members were invited to observe the Aug. 29 "sweep." We thought zoning officials would be discussing violations with business owners, and we did not know that the standard violation notice that alludes to jail sentences and possible fines for non-compliance was the method to be used.

There were obvious problems with the way the "sweep" was conducted. The task force has made these problemsknown to the county at a called meeting and appropriate action is being taken.

Extensions are being granted as requested and a meetingis being scheduled of business owners along the Benfield corridor. The county has pledged to assist business with compliance.

The Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce must focus on local business interests. The Severna Park economy is fueled by resident spending. Signpollution is now a hot topic among residents and has the potential to escalate into a major economic force.

The county wants to take astrong stand on sign enforcement in Severna Park, and we recognize this will be done with or without chamber cooperation.

The chamber board discussed this matter in some depth at its Sept. 11 meeting. The following recommendations were adopted and will be forwarded to thecounty and the task force:

* Future enforcement "sweeps" should be by industry within a market area.

* Enforcement "sweeps" should not be limited to Severna Park.

* A special non-threatening noticeoffering a period for voluntary compliance should be developed for this project.

* The amount of time before penalty for non-compliance should be scaled based on the cost of the change required.

* Thecounty should offer assistance to business owners with the removal of unwanted, non-complying signs. The chamber is establishing a signs committee to provide input to the task force and to review pending legislation.

RATE INCREASE ANGERS

From: Mike Serabian

Citizens Against Utility Taxes Association

The Citizens Against Utility TaxesAssociation (CAUT) went public at the redistricting hearing at the Arundel Center in Annapolis after months of deliberating the true meaning of the county utility rate increases over the past several years.

To the attendees, 250 one-page fliers were handed out. Utility rates have steadily increased, water bills in particular, and residentsof Anne Arundel County have become more verbal about their discontent.

CAUT believes that county utilities constitute public goods andservices and are owned by the people, and, therefore, rate increasesshould be governed by the consent of and vote of the people.

While door knocking in Severn, I looked for sign locations for the election last summer. Much dissatisfaction was expressed about rising waterbills.

Citizens began asking questions about how much and who raised water bills. No one seemed to get adequate notice or a plain explanation about why, when and how and who decided what each household should pay.

All expressed concern that efforts to gain a better understanding of their bills were met with answers which seemed confusing.

Finally, CAUT took a look at the county code and related countyordinances through 1990.

A closer look revealed that the County Council unilaterally transferred authority from the people to the director of utilities without the consent of the people. The director of utilities was then permitted to raise utility rates an arbitrary percent for an undefined reason.

For further information, phone Mike Serabian at 766-1699.

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