Public opinion sought on proposals

Adding commissioners to panel among plans floating in Annapolis

January 28, 2000|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Would Carroll County be better off with five commissioners instead of three?

Should the county be able to make loans to homeowners who want to connect to public water and sewer systems? And should adults convicted of selling heroin to county children be subject to a mandatory 99-year prison sentence?

These are some of the questions that will be asked of county residents tomorrow during a public hearing on proposed local legislation for the 2000 General Assembly.

Members of Carroll County's state delegation will hold the hearing at 9 a.m. in Room 003 of the County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

One of the most talked-about bills is Del. Donald B. Elliott's proposal to expand the Board of County Commissioners from three to five members. Elliott's bill would allow the question to be put on a referendum in the November general election.

A Republican from New Windsor, Elliott argues that two additional commissioners would better handle the workload of the fast-growing county and provide better representation. Under his plan, the five commissioners would be elected by district.

Last night, he discussed his proposal at the Finksburg Planning Area Council meeting at Sandy Mount United Methodist Church. He urged the crowd of about 50 to support his bill and said the delegation could be voting on it in about 10 days.

"The interests and needs of the different sections of this county demand representative voices on the board of commissioners," said Elliott. "The polarization will become more acute and more divisive if this is not addressed soon."

Elliott, who has proposed similar bills in the past, has received lukewarm support from other Carroll delegation members. He said at least four of the six members would have to support the measure for it to proceed. He urged residents at last night's meeting to attend tomorrow's hearing.

"I do get a number of calls from people who seem supportive of the legislation," Elliott said earlier. "Hardly a day goes by and someone calls me about it. They all seem positive." A bill would have to be approved by the General Assembly this session to put the question before voters in November. If passed, voters would elect five commissioners by district in the general election of 2002.

"I feel strongly about the fact if we don't address this now we will not make any changes until 2006. By then we could have 200,000 people," he said.

Other members of the delegation have shown little enthusiasm for the bill.

"The only support I've seen for it is just a few people. We'll have the discussion on it Saturday," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, chairman of the county's legislative delegation. "I'm not sure that five commissioners by districts will accomplish what they want it to accomplish."

Haines said that under a system of five commissioners elected by district, the interests of the five districts would be in competition with one another.

"I could see some pretty big problems. It could divide the commission on too many issues. Three commissioners elected at large represent the entire county," Haines said.

Del. Carmen Amedori, a Westminster Republican, also prefers to keep three commissioners. Still, she said, she would support putting the question before voters.

"I would support this initiative to get it on the ballot. It should go to the citizens, but I would actively work against getting it passed," she said.

Amedori has introduced a bill that would require adults convicted of selling heroin to minors in Carroll County to serve a mandatory 99-year prison sentence without an opportunity for parole.

"Heroin is a deadly drug. Oftentimes kids are snorting it. Your first snort can be your last snort. It will addict you to the drug -- that itself is a life sentence," she said. "Deterrents have always worked. If we can let adults know that Carroll County is not going to tolerate children being tempted without a strict penalty, I think it is the right thing to do."

Haines is not enthusiastic about the bill.

"Why not give them a death sentence? Would you want your 18-year-old to go to jail for 99 years?" asked Haines. "I'm definitely in support of stronger and stiffer penalties, but we have to be very careful that we don't tie a judge's hands."

The public will be invited to comment on the county's legislative proposals. One bill would allow the county to make minor revisions to local laws, and a second would allow the county to issue bonds to pay for road work and the new Westminster high school.

A third proposal would give the county authority to make loans to homeowners wanting to connect to municipal water and sewer systems. The county needs state approval to make the loans.

The county Health Department has identified three dozen Carroll communities with water or sewerage problems, or, in some cases, both. Most of these are rural villages -- older, unincorporated, primarily residential communities in agricultural areas. Among them are Detour, Union Mills, Mayberry, Lineboro and Uniontown.

Staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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