Large-scale annexation is opposed Some officials fear incorporation would be a tax 'nightmare'

'Go smaller at first'

If effort succeeded, city would become biggest in Carroll

October 05, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

A Maryland Municipal League official and the mayor of New Windsor gave some surprising advice last week to a group looking to make Eldersburg a city: think small.

The group had been doing anything but.

It had posted a map on a blackboard showing an area that, if incorporated, would make Eldersburg the largest city in the county -- both in geography and population.

The outline was not intended to be an actual proposal, said Carolyn L. Fairbank of Eldersburg, who set up the meeting, but was tacked up to offer an idea of what an incorporated city of Eldersburg might look like.

It was huge, following the borders of the Carroll portion of ZIP code 21784 -- a vast area bordered by Klee Mill Road in the north, the Patapsco River in the south, Liberty Reservoir in the east and Woodbine Road in the west.

With a population of more than 30,000 -- nearly twice that of Westminster, the county's largest city -- it would be "way, way too big" for a successful incorporation effort, said Linda L. Meara, staff associate for membership and public services at the Maryland Municipal League.

"Bigger does not mean better," Meara said.

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr., who presides over a city of about 1,200, agreed.

Delivery of services, especially police protection and water and sewer hookups, is what incorporation is about, Gullo said. The smaller and more densely populated an area, the less it costs to deliver services, he said.

The map that supporters displayed of an incorporated Eldersburg is "a nightmare of a taxing district," Gullo said. "Go smaller at first -- then later, that corporate body can annex other ,, areas," he said.

It is a peculiarity of Maryland law that county officials can veto incorporation efforts, but they cannot stop a town, once incorporated, from annexing county territory.

Getting incorporation on the county agenda is not easy, Meara and Gullo said. Supporters would have to get 25 percent of the voters in the target area to request incorporation -- another reason to go small at first, the speakers said.

More than 30 presentations for incorporation have been made in Maryland in the past several years, Meara said, "and without question, [advocates] overestimate the groundswell of support for it." Similarly, they underestimate the formidable opposition it faces, she said.

County governments usually oppose incorporation within their borders because they would lose money and power, Meara said. Some voters fear incorporation, she said, because they are scared about creating a body that has taxing power.

"If you know an area is not going to be supportive, don't make that part of the incorporation," she said. When a district seeking incorporation is unified, "ultimately, there is a big negotiation" between the county and a community.

"Politically, [county elected officials] are going to listen if they see a unified community," she said. "And secondly, [they're going to listen because] you're going to be taking over some of their burden."

That burden is not trivial, Gullo said. His city provides a Planning and Zoning Department, a Parks and Recreation Department, police protection, trash collection, snow removal, and water and sewer service, he said.

"The county is going to have less money to provide services [after incorporation], and you're not going to have enough" to offer them, Gullo said.

In order to make up the difference, an incorporated town would have to charge a property tax over and above the county property tax, he said.

"Incorporation gives you the power to decide for yourselves what you need," Gullo said, but "it costs a little extra to have that autonomy."

Gullo's suggestion that an incorporated town could use its autonomy to determine who gets public water and sewer service -- and thus control growth -- was what many in the audience of 26 people wanted to hear.

Their main reason for wanting incorporation, they told Gullo and Meara, was to slow growth in the Eldersburg area. "We've had too much growth too fast and we have no voice," one resident said.

Eldersburg businessman Gene Edwards agreed. "Incorporation has got to happen," he said. "Eldersburg is too big and has grown too fast not to be incorporated. It's time to get the ball rolling."

He, for one, was intrigued by the suggestion to start small and annex more later, Edwards said.

"If we targeted 1,000 homes, we could incorporate right away," he said. "I believe once an incorporation effort began, people would take it seriously. As far as I'm concerned, we're on the right track. It's a no-brainer."

Eldersburg resident Hoby Wolf, a member of the county Board of Zoning Appeals, is not so sure.

Those supporting incorporation "want ice cream without spinach and broccoli," Wolf said. "The ice cream is the ability to control zoning with water and sewer service. The spinach and broccoli is the effort needed to build and maintain that water and sewer service. They have no idea of the cost."

Fairbank, who called the group together last week to hear Gullo and Meara, sees that point still a long way off. She is taking seriously Meara's reminder that incorporation is "a long, arduous process," requiring detailed preparation and clarity of purpose.

The issues in many failed incorporation efforts were good, but "the legwork, the preparation wasn't there," Meara said. "You've got to tell your neighbor why you want to do it. You've got to think about what you want to say and in the briefest way possible."

Her group's task now is to do exactly that, Fairbank said. "We need to get our thoughts together about how to present the information" to the public, she said.

"We haven't selected a spokesperson and we haven't formed a committee to work out the details. We need to decide where boundaries for incorporation make sense and we need to get charters from other towns.

"We have a lot of work to do."

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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