Land preservation bill saved for last at council

February 16, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

People wanting to testify before the Howard County Council tonight about proposed changes in the agricultural land preservation law or a planned reorganization of county government had better bring a sleeping bag.

The council may not even get to those issues till after midnight. For the record, 3 a.m. is the latest the council has labored in a legislative public hearing.

So many people are expected to show up tonight to debate the merits of a bill to repeal the county's six fire districts and replace them with two new ones that the council plans to begin the hearing at 7:30 p.m., half an hour earlier than usual.

First on the council agenda is a series of confirmation hearings on County Executive Charles I. Ecker's nominees to various boards and commissions.

During a legislative session immediately following, the council is expected to approve a land swap that would preserve St. Mary's cemetery in the middle of the Turf Valley Overlook neighborhood in Ellicott City as open space.

Developer H. Allen Becker agreed in principle last August to cede the heavily wooded, 3.2-acre cemetery property to the county in exchange for two lots of equal value nearby. Finding those lots has been difficult. Residents with property adjoining the cemetery lots that Mr. Becker would surrender have applauded the transaction. Residents with property adjoining open space where the county would allow Mr. Becker to build have balked.

Negotiations have been so tenuous that the council may not know until meeting time tonight whether the county has a deal.

Following the legislative session, the council will reopen the public hearing. Among the more unusual of 26 bills the council will consider tonight is one that says all legislation passed by the council is valid whether or not the council followed its rules of procedure when enacting it. The bill would apply to past and future laws. It is intended to prevent legislation from being overturned on a technicality.

The fire bill, listed 19th on the agenda, would create two fire districts -- one rural, one urban -- and assign a separate fire tax to each. There are now six districts and six fire taxes. The bill is intended to make fire taxes conform more closely to the service provided in each district.

Volunteer firefighters object to new restrictions placed on their corporations under the bill.

The governmental-reorganization and agricultural land-preservation bills have been moved to the end of tonight's agenda. They were put there to assure that administration officials attending late meetings today in Annapolis would have time to return to the county and testify.

The agricultural bill would tighten the criteria for admission to the county's farmland preservation program and set a maximum price of $6,600 an acre for the best properties coming into the program.

Some property owners waiting to enter the program when it was put on hold in January 1992 have grumbled privately about the proposed changes and may argue against them at tonight's hearing.

The government-reorganization bill would return the land-preservation program to the department of planning and zoning, transfer central services to general services, move animal control to the Police Department and put employment and training under the control of the county administrator.

The reorganization bill would not, as some police officers first believed, make dog wardens of police personnel. The change would be purely administrative with animal control personnel reporting to a new boss, Police Chief James N. Robey. Animal control is currently under the control of the public works director.

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