Charter foes, advocates crank up the volume

November 01, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke and Greg Tasker | Kerry O'Rourke and Greg Tasker,Staff Writers

The question at the end of Tuesday's ballot in Carroll is drawing more attention as Election Day nears.

Television and radio advertisements urging residents to vote against the proposed charter government have been broadcast daily on area stations.

Billboards on three major county roads shout out the opposition of the former county commissioner who purchased the space.

Red signs have sprouted in the front yards of charter supporters.

Active supporters are phoning residents and following up the calls by mailing brochures.

To vote on the issue, residents must turn to the last page of the ballot and look for Question A, which asks: "Are you for or against Carroll County adopting the proposed home rule charter as prepared by the charter board?"

If approved, the charter would replace the current commissioner form of government. The three commissioners would be replaced by a five-member County Council elected by district. An executive appointed by the council would handle the daily business of government.

A statewide coalition of teachers, government workers and others has raised money for a TV and radio ad campaign urging voters to defeat the charter in Carroll and a proposed tax cap in Anne Arundel County, said Kathleen Lyons, communications director for the Maryland State Teachers Association (MSTA).

Tax caps "don't account for growth" and would restrict money for education and fire and police services, she said.

MSTA is the largest contributor to the coalition, called Citizens Against Restricting Essential Services, Ms. Lyons said. MSTA has 37,000 members, she added.

The ads began airing Oct. 27, she said. She would not say how much they cost.

In Carroll, teachers and other school employees oppose the charter because of the tax cap provision, said Cindy Cummings, president of the Carroll County Education Association.

Charter supporters say the tax cap is not an absolute limit. The document says that at least four of the five council members must vote for any tax increase that exceeds the current tax rate plus an increase for the cost of living.

The Anne Arundel measure, which would be an amendment to that county's charter, says property tax revenue shall not increase more than the Consumer Price Index percentage of change or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

Former Carroll Commissioner Scott Bair Jr. paid for the red-and-white billboards on routes 140, 30 and 26 that say: "Charter government is a deep tax hole. Don't touch charter with a 10-foot pole."

"It's a perversion of any democratic structure," said Mr. Bair, who served one term as commissioner in the mid-1960s. "Charter will lead to influence peddling, conflicts of interest -- something we haven't had, to my knowledge."

Mr. Bair, who owns Bair Outdoor Advertising Co. in Westminster, would not disclose the cost of the billboards. He said he paid his company for the space.

The current form of government is accessible to the people, he said. Citizens may stop by the County Office Building and see the commissioners or make an appointment to see them at a convenient time, he said.

Under charter government, council members would be less accessible because they would meet at night, Mr. Bair said.

Charter also would cost taxpayers more, he said. He estimated the price of a county administrator and his or her staff at more than $500,000 annually.

"You're also going to need staff for the five council people," he said.

Carroll's population and tax base are too small to support such a bureaucracy, Mr. Bair said.

"It's like trying to run an auto agency with the staff of General Motors," he said.

Supporters say charter will not necessarily cost more than the commissioner form of government. The charter says council members will earn $7,500 a year and the council president will earn $8,000. The executive's salary is not specified.

Commissioners currently each earn $30,000 a year, and their executive assistant earns $65,150.

Interest in the charter question has increased since a sample ballot was published in newspapers last Sunday, said David T. Duree, chairman of the Committee for Charter Government.

Residents want to know what the charter says, he said.

The committee raised $7,199 as of Oct. 23, according to a report filed with the Carroll Board of Elections.

Contributions included $3,000 of in-kind services from Public Opinion Research Inc. of Sykesville, which conducted a telephone survey for the committee in August.

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