Pitch on switch to charter rule wins support of women's league Issue up for vote in Nov. 3 election

October 18, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- Residents looking for a yes or no answer to whether charter government in Carroll County would cost more than the current commissioner system won't get one.

"Charter definitely will not cost you more. It will not definitely save you money," said Barbara S. F. Pease, a member of the board that wrote the charter.

If residents vote to approve the charter in the Nov. 3 election, Carroll would be governed by a five-member County Council elected from districts. An appointed administrator would oversee daily government operations.

Currently, the three commissioners earn $30,000 each, and the county's executive assistant earns $65,150.

The charter says the council president would earn $8,000 and each council member would earn $7,500, totaling $38,000.

The administrator's salary is not specified in the charter. The charter board found that salaries for administrators in other Maryland counties range from $40,000 to $90,000, Ms. Pease said.

Even if Carroll paid an administrator $100,000, the cost for the council and administrator would be less than the current cost for the commissioners and their assistant, she said.

Ms. Pease and two other charter board members spoke about the charter Thursday at a forum at Carroll Community College. The event was co-sponsored by Carroll Community College and the League of Women Voters.

After the forum, the league's board of directors voted to endorse the charter.

The charter contains tools to control excess spending, Ms. Pease said. One is a cap on the amount of money the county can borrow, she said.

The charter states that the county cannot have bonds and other debts totaling more than 12 percent of Carroll's assessable tax base.

This would not have an immediate effect because the county currently borrows only 3 percent to 4 percent of its tax base, she said.

The charter also includes a tax rate cap that says at least four of the five council members must vote for any tax increase that exceeds the current tax rate plus an increase for inflation. "This is a very moderate tax rate cap. It will not paralyze government," Ms. Pease said.

Teachers and other school employees are opposing the charter because of the tax cap provision.

They worry that it could hinder Carroll's ability to provide services as the county continues to grow, said Cindy Cummings, president of the Carroll County Education Association.

Ms. Pease said she studied budgets for the past 26 years and found only four times when the proposed cap would have been hit. Only two of those times were in the past 20 years, she added.

"The greatest check and balance is the power of referendum," Ms. Pease said.

The charter says voters may petition any law -- with four exceptions -- to referendum by collecting signatures of 5 percent of the county's registered voters.

The exceptions are council decisions on zoning matters, laws imposing a tax rate change, appropriating money for current government expenses and re-establishing council districts.

Charter board member Walter C. Bay said the basic difference between the charter and commissioner forms of government is home rule.

Now, the commissioners must take any laws they want enacted to Carroll's legislative delegation, who must work to get them passed in Annapolis. Under charter, the council would be able to propose and enact laws.

If enacted, the charter would take effect in December 1994.

Copies of the document are available at the County Office Building, Carroll Community College, public libraries, the health department, the extension office, senior centers and the Board of Education administrative offices.

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