Charter draft is finished by board Panel kills provision that would restrict property tax increases

January 11, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Charter Board has finished writing the document that could change local government from three commissioners to an executive and council.

The County Commissioners, responding to nearly 5,000 charter petitioners, appointed the nine-member panel in May and gave the board 18 months to write a charter.

It took six months to complete the 40-page draft, which borrows language from neighboring jurisdictions and from a 1992 charter initiative that failed at the polls.

"We have a good framework for the amount of detail that had to be presented," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin, who wrote the draft with New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.

The board, which met Thursday for a final edit, made minor changes to the text and voted 5-4 to rescind the requirement of a "supermajority" -- four-fifths of the council -- to enact a property tax increase. The proposal would have limited the new government and could have affected the county bond rating, Gullo said.

"We were setting the framework for government by saying that it can't raise taxes without a four-fifths majority," Gullo said. "We were automatically putting on a hindrance."

Nevin, board vice chairman, has forwarded the document to the Institute for Government Service at the University of Maryland, College Park and expects a reply by the board's next meeting, Jan. 29.

"We are asking them to look for legality, consistency and any outright mistakes," Nevin said.

Four faculty members at the institute, including an attorney, are independently reviewing the draft at no charge.

"We are all experienced in charter efforts," said Jeanne Bilanin, project administrator for the institute.

The reviewers are looking for consistency throughout the draft and assurances that the elements vital to government are included, she said.

The institute, which has worked closely with several Maryland counties considering charters, will not comment on a proposal's political feasibility. Each county tailors a charter to its needs, Bilanin said. It is not the institute's role to determine what succeeds with voters, she said.

"All charter efforts have failed in recent years," Bilanin said. "It is 00 hard to point to one reason or another. What has been reasonable for one jurisdiction may not be for another."

Carroll's most recent charter effort lost at the polls in 1992. Last year, similar efforts in Cecil and Caroline counties also failed to win enough voter support.

Carroll's 1992 charter included a tax limit, which many say contributed to its defeat. The new board eliminated the limit from its proposal. Members also provided for an elected, rather than an appointed, county executive in its draft.

Members have one more issue to tackle before signing the document and delivering it to the commissioners. County officials must publish the document in local newspapers and schedule an election within 120 days of receiving the draft, unless a general election took place within that time.

"When we hand the document to the commissioners will determine the timing," Nevin said.

The draft deals with the transition of government but makes no recommendation for the election. The charter should provide an election date, and the institute will discuss the provision, Bilanin said.

Romeo Valianti, charter board member, has vowed to withhold his signature if a special election is scheduled.

"We will have the best turnout ever in November," Valianti said. "That is when I want charter to come up on the ballot."

Neal Powell, his board colleague, urged cooperation.

"You can fight the good fight for your point of view and do all you can to influence others, but in the end, majority rules," Powell said.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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