Rejected growth bills irk officials Legislative delegation dismisses 4 proposals, raising policy concern

February 04, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Just as the County Commissioners began taking a big-picture look at growth -- the issue in Carroll -- the state legislative delegation delivered a wallop last week, rejecting nearly half of this year's legislative package and raising questions about who sets policy.

The county's two senators and four delegates dismissed four of the 10 legislative proposals sought by the commissioners.

Each was related to growth, with the most controversial a proposed referendum on a new tax to raise money for farmland preservation.

"We held a public hearing and that had some input on our decision," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican who is chairman of the county delegation. "The delegation was unanimous on the proposals that we voted unfavorably. The voters sent us a message in 1994 -- no new taxes."

The delegation's refusal to support a referendum on whether the county should impose a new tax -- a 1 percent real estate transfer tax -- also comes at a time when the commissioners are grappling with budget woes. The commissioners must trim $5 million from current day-to-day spending to meet budget projections for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The proposed tax would have generated about $2.5 million a year for farmland preservation and infrastructure improvements.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown predicts that the county's efforts to preserve farmland will be curtailed significantly. Nonprofit groups that receive county money are likely to be big losers.

"For some 25 years, growth has been the major industry in Carroll County. Those who have staked their future on the continuance of that growth could be expected to work very hard to undermine or stop our efforts," said Mr. Brown, apparently taking an indirect swipe at Senator Haines, one of the county's most prominent Realtors.

For some, the legislators' action raises questions about who really runs the county -- the delegation or the commissioners.

Consider: Lawmakers are debating the merits of a bill that would increase the Board of Commissioners from three to five members. Talk also has resurfaced about reviving a campaign for charter government -- an idea that's been bandied about since the 1960s but repeatedly turned down by voters.

"I think it's an effort to diffuse the commissioners' power," Mr. Brown said. "I think it's interesting that the year [Commissioner] Dick Yates and I do exactly what we said we would be doing, bring growth in line, we see questions arise about whether the commission form of government is working."

The delegation also turned down measures that would have given the commissioners veto authority over the planning commission; allowed the planning commission to reject site plans when adequate public facilities, such as sewer and water, are not available; and enabled the county to join the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority.

"I have been working on growth management since I was elected," Mr. Yates said. "It is why I was elected. Voters want this uncontrolled growth stopped.

"The referendum was a wonderful chance to find out from voters themselves what they want. The delegation did a disservice to the voters of this county."

Carroll's legislators didn't see it that way.

Voters plainly don't want any new taxes, they said.

Other measures, such as the membership in the waste disposal authority, were rejected because of unanswered questions.

Delegates saw the plan to give the commissioners veto power over the planning commission as unnecessary because the board already appoints its members.

"The voters have said no new taxes," said Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, explaining her decision on the real estate transfer tax. "The way that bill was worded, the amount could be changed. There was no guarantee the money was going to continuously go to ag preservation."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he didn't blame the delegation for voting against the tax.

Differences frequently have arisen between the commissioners and the delegation over the years, he said, rejecting any notion that lawmakers were trying to usurp the commissioners.

"I think it really depends on the board," Mr. Dell said. "This board is fairly aggressive in wanting to make changes. Some boards are fairly calm and accept what we have."

Ms. Stocksdale, like other delegation members, scoffed at the suggestion that legislators were trying to overstep the commissioners.

"I don't think that perception is accurate," she said. "We are all in TC favor of controlling growth and locating new homes around the towns where the infrastructure is. Carroll is not the only county feeling the crunch of people wanting to come here to live. I'm for controlling growth, but not for stopping growth."

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