Revenue authority bill to be redrawn Backers, foes call measure too vague

March 11, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

For the first time, both sides of a long-standing battle over whether the city of Annapolis needs an independent revenue authority are in agreement on something.

The bill creating the authority is "too vague and ambiguous," say advocates and opponents on the city council. They are going to vote tonight to withdraw the proposal, which has bitterly divided council members and caused an uproar among city residents.

The issue will resurface, however, as soon as Paul G. Goetzke, the city attorney, rewrites the bill to clearly define and narrow the authority's scope, size and powers.

Meanwhile, the debate simmers.

Alderman Shep Tullier, a Ward 4 Democrat, called the authority "a tool that can be used for avoiding debt" that "should be explored."

But Alderman Dean Johnson, a Ward 2 independent, likened it to a credit card that should be "cut up into little pieces until we decide exactly what purchase we want to make." City officials have tried for years to establish an independent revenue authority to generate funds for big-ticket transportation projects. After the General Assembly rebuffed city requests to create an authority, the aldermen changed the city charter to give themselves power to create one without state approval.

In January, Mr. Tullier and Alderman Carl O. Snowden introduced the bill to create the revenue authority, a small, corporate board that will be able to sell bonds and collect fees to finance projects without taxpayer dollars.

But Mr. Tullier said last week he does not believe the bill "will do what I thought it was meant to do.

"The way it is drafted now, it will not let the city remain detached from the authority," he said.

Critics say the nonelected board would be able to make critical development decisions with little public accountability. Worse, city taxpayers could be forced to bail out the quasi-government agency if it stumbled into poor investments.

"There are a large number of things the revenue authority is authorized to do, and that is a point of some concern," said A. L. Waldron, 78, a 40-year Annapolis resident who spoke out during the hearing last month. "It looks very much like an entirely new layer of bureaucracy."

But supporters say that the city would not be responsible for the authority's debt and that it would bring development to Annapolis without the red tape that surrounds many large government-sponsored development projects. The board would have only as much power as the city decided to give it, they say.

Because the authority is responsible for providing its own revenue, supporters say, it has greater incentive to manage its business more efficiently in order to pay back its bonds.

"The concept is not to put the city at risk," said Mr. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat. "The authority can be a very useful tool to us."

No matter what is in the rewritten version of the bill, critics vow to take up another petition drive against the proposal. A petition last year to put the issue to a referendum was unsuccessful.

"We're looking at a fundamental change in the structure of the city," said Dan Masterson, of the Community Association of Annapolis. "This issue needs to go on a ballot. All we're suggesting is that the council suspend action and educate the city of Annapolis and its people about what revenue authorities are. Don't put this into effect and then see if we like it."

The council will touch on several other issues at the meeting at 7: 30 p.m. today in City Hall. Among them are two proposals to revise the Historic District Commission's authority, an application from the Food Basket on Dock Street to expand into a delicatessen and a proposal for residential zoning on 12.8 acres off Bembe Beach Road recently annexed by the city. The zoning would allow Mericare Associates Limited Partnership to operate a nursing home on the property.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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