Crofton leadership candidate says budget could provoke lawsuit

April 05, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Katherine Richards contributed to this article.

A candidate for Crofton Civic Association president says a group of residents is threatening to sue the special tax district if the county executive approves the community's budget.

Martin A. Szostek contends the half-million spending plan for fiscal 1995 is illegal.

Mr. Szostek, currently the board's secretary who is challenging incumbent President Edwin F. Dosek, said that giving residents a choice in how their tax money is spent will be the central part of his campaign.

"For too many years, the taxpayers have had to fund services that the [county attorney] has said we have no right to legally fund," Mr. Szostek said. "We intend to give the taxpayers an opportunity to voice their opinion."

He added that if County Executive Robert R. Neall approves the budget, "he may face a court challenge." When pressed, he would not elaborate on the suit or name the people who may file it.

Mr. Dosek said the charge of illegality is "erroneous," and added, "I don't know where he gets the authority for making that statement. Everything we have done so far is according to the rules of the budget process. We've done nothing illegal."

All legal opinions on the matter so far, Mr. Dosek said, including those of the county attorney, have indicated that while the budget may be open to a court challenge, nothing was done illegally.

Mr. Dosek, who was elected president in a bitterly contested race in 1990 and ran unopposed two years ago, said last week that he hoped the election campaign would focus on issues important to the future of Crofton. He cited the community's struggle to get more park space for ball fields, its fight against a proposed rubble landfill and its efforts to obtain more clout in county zoning decisions.

But the budget issue could overshadow those concerns, especially if the county executive vetoes the plan. Elections are scheduled for May 23.

In January, County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. cautioned that Crofton leaders may be spending money beyond their authority.

Legislation that established the special tax district spells out what programs the community may pay for, such as a five-member police force and maintenance of public areas. But the legislation also includes a catch-all phrase that gives community leaders broad budgeting powers.

Mr. Garrett says using this language to pay for programs not specificly authorized by the County Council may be illegal. If so, it would jeopardize the Human Services Department and the community counselor who provides free psychological help to Crofton residents. The controversial position has barely survived several attempts by board members and some residents to end the practice.

If the board wants to keep the community counseling program, Mr. Garrett said, it should petition the County Council to amend Crofton's charter so it spells out that tax money can be collected and spent for that purpose.

Mr. Szostek released a copy of Mr. Garrett's opinion to reporters just days before the $586,000 budget, approved by the board 6-5, was presented to the community in January.

In February, Mr. Szostek was called to task over a letter he wrote to a local newspaper in which he asked Mr. Neall to veto the new budget. He signed the letter using his title of board secretary.

Several board members chided Mr. Szostek, and one, Jim Collett, said, "I wish you'd resign, because I think you need to."

Mr Dosek called the letter "reprehensible" and said Mr. Szostek had not been given the authority to speak as a board officer. Mr. Szostek walked out of the meeting.

Yesterday, he said he wants taxpayers to be active in the budget process.

"We basically have to take a look at what we're funding," he said. "Many people in the community would like to see more money go for ground maintenance and covenant enforcement."

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