Becoming a town may get easier Legislative proposal could aid Eldersburg incorporation effort

Md. Municipal League plan

County's authority to veto eliminated in modified process

October 27, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A legislative proposal sponsored by the Maryland Municipal League could ease the efforts of Eldersburg residents in their bid to incorporate as Carroll County's ninth municipality.

As part of its 1998 legislative package, the league is proposing modifications to the municipal incorporation process, making the often cumbersome task of becoming a town less arduous and eliminating the county's veto authority.

The proposal is one of four league bills that could have implications for Carroll County. The league chose to push those bills -- from 14 possible issues -- through the legislature at its convention last week at Solomons Island, Calvert County.

During the General Assembly session, the league acts as a lobby to advance the causes of 156 Maryland towns and cities. Any municipality can submit a proposal to its Legislative Commission, chaired by New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.

"All the proposals addressed real problems, but some were more feasible to accomplish in Annapolis, especially during an election year," Gullo said. "Those chosen have the blessing of the membership."

Eldersburg in South Carroll is taking tentative steps toward incorporation. Residents of the county's most populous area often feel they lack a voice in their government.

But the county has the right to veto any incorporation initiative without appeal, preventing the issue from going to referendum. The league's proposal also would offer guidelines encouraging counties and prospective towns to work together. Members are working closely with the Maryland Association of Counties on the legislation.

Del. Ellen L. Willis, the sole Democrat in Carroll's delegation, said she would support the bill. She has been working with Eldersburg residents on possible incorporation.

"I am in favor of any citizen effort to look at their form of government," Willis said. "It is just good government. If citizens want to go through a cumbersome process, they should have the right to write a charter and have it go to referendum."

If incorporated, Eldersburg -- with 27,000 residents -- could become the county's largest municipality, surpassing Westminster, which has a population of about 15,000.

The league also is trying to make property taxes for town residents more equitable and uniform throughout the state, Gullo said. In Carroll, residents of the eight towns often pay municipal and county taxes for the same services.

They could benefit from an elimination of double taxation, which the league is proposing.

"In some areas, towns are not getting their fair share of tax moneys and some are getting more than their share," Gullo said. "If passed, the legislation could determine the impact of dollars made at the local level."

Carroll's town-county agreement, which repays municipalities for many duplicated services, has been a model of a good working arrangement.

The proposed legislation would strengthen that pact and help implement similar agreements in other counties.

"This is a real nutshell issue and a way to look at tax equity in several counties," Gullo said. "It is not meant to be divisive, but town citizens should be reimbursed for parallel services."

The state's Smart Growth initiative, enacted last spring, directs growth to existing towns.

"Why penalize people who choose to live in towns with more costs?" Gullo asked. "We should give them credit."

Willis said she would have to take a long look at the legislation before deciding to support it. She is concerned with the fiscal impact, particularly on education funding, she said.

"I would really have to look at the numbers," she said. "It is a matter of choice. People choose to live in towns and purchase town services."

The legislation was introduced last year and led to the formation of a task force to study it and related fiscal issues. Gullo has been appointed to the 14-member task force, which has only recently begun to meet, but must report its findings to the General Assembly by Dec. 15.

The league is also reprising a "bounty bill" for improperly registered vehicles.

New residents are legally bound to register vehicles with Maryland and pay the state sales tax. Registration also places those residents on local tax rolls.

Vehicles that remain registered out of state pay no Maryland tax but use its services. It often takes a fine before the owner contacts the Motor Vehicle Administration. Towns are asking for a larger share from fines that could pay for police overtime hours. The league proposes that the fines go into one fund, administered by the Maryland State Police.

"Enforcing this law takes local police officers a lot of time," Gullo said. "But town citizens don't directly benefit."

The league also would eliminate architectural endorsements from minor renovations to existing commercial buildings, a formality that often adds as much as $1,000 to revitalization projects in downtowns. Members have yet to determine what is considered minor.

"The situation now does not encourage renovation," Gullo said. "An architectural seal does not mean a building is safe or the plans are OK. The work must meet county and town building codes."

The local league chapter will meet with the county delegation Dec. 2 to review the proposals.

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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