Slow petition response endangers Crofton counseling program

September 27, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

For 22 years, Crofton has had a community counselor who helped residents deal with alcohol and drug use, marriage problems, bereavement, job searches and children's issues. But time is running out for the controversial program that has served about 1,500 families.

Unless a majority of homeowners sign a petition supporting it by early November, the money to run the program will dry up in January. And the petition drive is not going well.

Nearly two-thirds of those who have returned petition forms to Crofton's town hall have said they support the program. But those signatures represent only 32 percent of Crofton homeowners, and county law requires that 51 percent of the homeowners must ratify the program for it to continue.

"I think it's going to be very difficult" to get the signatures, said Catherine Trebelhorn, chairwoman of the Crofton Civic Association's community counselor committee and a member of the board of directors.

The forms must be turned in by early November to give the county time to verify the signatures, conduct a public hearing and take action, said Town Manager Barbara Swann.

The petition drive started earlier this year after County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. questioned whether the charter of the Crofton special tax district allows tax money to be spent for a counselor program. County Executive Robert R. Neall, who oversees the tax district's budget, said he would cut the program's funding Jan. 31 unless Crofton's charter is amended to give it that authority.

Ken Folstein, chairman of the CCA's ad-hoc committee coordinating the petition drive, said he needs volunteers to make phone calls or knock on doors to ask homeowners to return the forms. Anyone interested in helping should call the town hall at 721-2301.

Frank Sallustio, a member of the community counselor committee, took advantage of the counselor's services several years ago, when his children were teen-agers.

"It's a great resource of information for making those controversial decisions," he said. And it epitomizes Crofton's dedication to supporting community and family values. "When anyone gets help, it helps the entire community."

Mr. Sallustio, who has counseled informally for crisis hot lines and a Christian prison ministry, has enlisted a group of about 18 Crofton residents who support the counselor program.

They distributed 2,600 copies of a letter explaining the petition drive to Crofton homes and plan to begin knocking on doors to ask people to return their forms. They will hand out duplicate forms to residents who lost theirs.

He also said he will work to change the county's charter amendment process, which he believes is unfair because it can ignore the wishes of even a large majority if the response rate is insufficient.

Crofton residents also have been asked to ratify the tax district's popular recreation and covenant-enforcement programs, although neither of these programs has faced a legal challenge. As of Sept. 16, of the forms returned, about 90 percent of responses on both programs were favorable.

However, the response rate for each program was only about 46 percent, and 51 percent is needed for a valid vote.

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