Two groups gathering signatures to place a charter amendment on the November 1992 ballot that would expand the Baltimore County Council to nine districts from seven say they now have more than half the names they need.
They plan to wrap up their efforts by Jan. 1, according to Del. E. Farrell Maddox, the Essex Democrat leading the drive.
The advocates of council expansion are so sure they will get the question on the ballot that they are already preparing to counter what they believe will be the most likely voter objection to expansion -- the cost.
Maddox said his Essex-based group has more than 3,000 signatures and hasn't yet begun to routinely work shopping malls and other public places.
On the county's west side, former council candidate Harold Gordon said his group has 2,100 names. A total of 10,000 names must be submitted to the county elections board by March, and Maddox said the goal is to submit 15,000 names by January.
The names need not be turned in to the county election board until five weeks before the election.
But, if getting the issue before the voters sounds easy, getting voter approval in a year of deep budget cuts and an anti-tax atmosphere may be harder.
The county budget office said an outside estimate of the expansion cost is $300,000, including two new rented district offices, furniture, salaries and renovations of the Towson headquarters to provide office space.
But council secretary Thomas J. Peddicord Jr. said the estimate was on the expensive side because only two of the seven current council members have rented district offices now. The others have quarters in county buildings.
Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, an advocate of expansion, argued that an expanding population and increasing constituent workload might force council members to add new staff even if no council expansion takes place.
Should each of the seven council members get one new staff aide, for example, it would cost as much in salaries as two new council members with two aides each.
County Council members now are part-time and are paid $30,900 yearly. Besides a free county car or mileage reimbursement, each gets $53,000 for staff salaries. Three members now pay their chief aides $32,000 or $33,000 to work full time.
The total County Council budget this year is $951,000, almost all of which goes for salaries for council members, aides, central office staff or legal help.
Peddicord, for example, a lawyer who helps draft some legislation, is paid $67,600, while other office staff are paid under $36,000 a year. The council's total budget has increased 50 percent since 1986, when it was $616,199.
To comply with federal and state election laws, the ideal County Council district now must have 98,876 people in it. Under a nine-district system, however, the number would drop to 77,000 people per district.
Two groups are pressing now for a larger council, and for two different reasons.
On the west side, a group of black political activists wants to create more numerous but smaller districts so that the fast-growing black community will have a better chance to elect one of its own.
The current 2nd District, for example, which covers Randallstown and Pikesville, now contains 39,321 blacks and 56,492 whites. In a redrawn 77,000-person district, 39,000 blacks would have more clout than 38,000 whites.
On the east side, angry Essex residents want more districts to reclaim their political independence from Dundalk.
Councilmanic redistricting following the 1990 census resulted in Dundalk's 7th council district moving east to absorb old Essex to make up for population lost during the 1980s.
Essex residents and politicians want their own council representative again, and see more council districts as a way to push the 7th District back across Back River and into Dundalk again.