Charter board turns to next phase Panel to mull tax cap, executive, write plan for new government

September 03, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After five public hearings, the Carroll County Charter Board returns to writing the document that could change the county's form of government from three commissioners to an executive and council.

The nine-member board reconvenes at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Ag Center in Westminster to review issues -- some controversial -- that arose during the hearings. Most notably, they must decide whether the document should include a tax cap and provide for an elected or an appointed executive.

The board also will determine whether a special election is needed.

"The hearings were a necessary element of the process that gave people a chance to express their viewpoints," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. "Now that the preliminaries are over, I hope we can make the decisions needed to write a charter."

Chairwoman Carmen A. Amedori said the board knows the importance of the charter issue to the county.

"I expect different points of view," she said. "There will be compromise, and we expect to be productive."

On the controversial elements, the board will follow majority rule.

The hearings drew as few as five people in Mount Airy -- the only area of the county that supported a charter five years ago -- and as many as 75 to Eldersburg, where many favored a special election with charter the only issue on the ballot. A special election could cost the county about $110,000.

"A special election would give charter the opportunity to be heard on its own," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, who spoke Thursday at a public hearing. "In the general election it will be lost at the bottom of the ballot, with people voting 'no' because they don't know what it is."

Amedori would place the issue on the general election ballot in November 1998.

"It is elitist to think the average voter cannot discern and cast a vote because there are too many issues on a ballot," she said.

Board member Lynn R. Pipher said his only disappointment in the hearings was the lack of charter opponents.

"Have we heard from a majority of the county?" he asked.

Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, a board member, said many residents remain undecided and used the hearings to educate themselves.

"I think a lot of people are still on the fence, waiting to see what the final document says," Nevin said. "I heard good comments that will give us much to talk about when we meet next time."

Nevin helped lead a petition drive that collected nearly 5,000 signatures and forced the County Commissioners to appoint the charter board. From hours of collecting petitions and listening to comments at the hearings, Nevin said he knows what most people want in the charter.

"I think the majority want an elected executive, accountable to voters in Carroll," Nevin said.

The board began meeting in June and developed a preliminary framework. Hearings were held to gather input on the proposals.

"Now that the hearings are over, we can get right back on task and get everything done in a timely fashion," said board member Ann M. Ballard.

Most members expect to complete the charter by the end of the year "if we use our time wisely," Gullo said.

"We do a disservice to the citizens by not nailing down the issues as expeditiously as possible," he said. "The longer the writing process goes on, the more the county is in limbo about what the charter says."

Amedori wants to continue the board's education process and has arranged for three experts on tax caps to address members Sept. 11.

"Most board members are not experts on tax caps," Amedori said. "We need to become as well-educated as possible on the issue."

Many charter supporters attribute the failure of the 1992 initiative to its inclusion of a tax cap and an appointed executive.

"I don't think it was any one issue that led to charter's failure," Amedori said. "Our job is to make a charter that is unique to Carroll County and not by rubber-stamping another charter."

Pipher said the key lies in "simple language."

"We must write it so that the choices remain in the people's hands," he said. "If we make it restrictive, it is no better than what we have now."

The schedule calls for meetings every other week, starting Sept. 11. At that meeting, Nevin will urge the board to set an agenda, one that will determine how quickly members can write a charter.

Gullo said he prefers to start writing now and that he opposes further presentations.

"I know what I want in the charter, and we have all heard what the citizens of Carroll County want," Gullo said. "I am ready to write."

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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