Crofton's Counselor Controversy

January 25, 1994

The Anne Arundel County attorney's opinion about the legality of the "Crofton counselor" has less to do with the merits of the position than it does with Crofton's excessively broad budgetary powers.

The counselor, a taxpayer-supported psychologist who provides free services to anyone living in the special tax district, has been a source of controversy for 20 years. Some civic leaders argue -- persuasively --that if residents of the county's fifth richest neighborhood need a couch to lie on or a shoulder to cry on, they ought to foot the bill themselves. Perhaps Crofton is ahead of its time in looking after its citizens' emotional health, but, frankly, we tend to side with the critics who believe government cannot pay for everything for everyone -- or that at the very least, counseling services ought to be subject to a sliding scale based on one's ability to pay.

But whether Crofton should be providing psychological services is beside County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr.'s point, namely, that the county law governing Crofton's spending powers is too broad. That law says local tax money may be spent for basic services such as police and maintenance -- and for any other services the board of directors of the Crofton Civic Association chooses to include in its request to the County Council. Theoretically, the board could budget a "Department of Fitness" with a town aerobics instructor knowing that the council, which traditionally rubber-stamps Crofton's budget, probably would approve it.

As absurd as that seems, there is not necessarily anything wrong with it if Crofton agrees as a matter of policy that town fitness is a priority for which it is willing to pay. But matters of policy should be decided through legislation, not through the budget process -- which is how board members currently justify the creation of the counselor and the human services department of which she is a part.

Crofton should settle this controversy by asking the county for specific legislation authorizing a human services department. Let the proponents and opponents take their case to the council, and let the council decide. The council should take more interest in Crofton's budget, anyway. Crofton is not a municipality. It derives all its power from the county, and the county ultimately is accountable for how money is spent there.

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