Home rule left to voters

If passed, Assembly approval not needed to enact most laws

October 15, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Carroll County voters will weigh in on a simple referendum question on the Nov. 7 ballot: "Do you support the adoption of code home rule status for Carroll County?"

If passed, Carroll's government structure would be retained, but the commissioners would no longer be required to seek General Assembly approval to enact most local laws, as they do now. Code home rule is a step short of charter government, which involves an elected county executive and county council.

But the home rule movement, which gained momentum amid dissatisfaction with the state delegation this spring, has fizzled and failed to mobilize since the September primary, one local political observer said.

"Usually, something like this, if it hasn't been in front of people for a while, doesn't succeed," said Tony Roman, an adjunct political science professor at Carroll Community College. "If there's not a big motivating push out in the public eye, people tend to not change the status quo unless they have a big reason to."

Either voters have already decided on the issue or perhaps they will start voicing more interest at the last minute, county officials said.

To clarify the issue, the county sponsored five workshops on code home rule. At the first meeting in Taneytown Oct. 5, only one person - Dennis E. Beard, a Democratic candidate for commissioner - attended.

County officials expect a better turnout at the last two home rule meetings in Westminster and Eldersburg, where residents had expressed the most support for the measure.

Patricia K. Matsko, director of Carroll County's board of elections, said that the state doesn't require a certain threshold of voters to pass the referendum.

However, for the general election, Matsko expects a turnout of at least 60,000 voters, more than double the voters in the primary election. Absentee ballot requests are up for the gubernatorial election, she said.

South Carroll Del. Susan W. Krebs, who has differed with other members of Carroll's seven-member state delegation, helped gain support for the code home rule this spring.

"The conservative principle of local control is one of the most fundamental principles of the Republican Party," Krebs said. "Let's give the county government and those of us in unincorporated areas the same powers that our towns have."

But some conservative Republican candidates and activists have argued that code home rule would give the commissioners the power to raise taxes.

The commissioners would be able to enact up to a half-percent transfer tax on new homes sold, said County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender.

For three years, the commissioners have unsuccessfully lobbied the state delegation for a 1 percent transfer tax so that new residents would help pay for future schools, parks and roads.

One GOP commissioner candidate, Michael D. Zimmer, said he opposes transfer taxes and is against code home rule.

"You have fewer checks and balances" under the system, he said.

Millender said some might be confused whether excise taxes and impact fees could be enacted.

Both powers are granted to code home rule counties. But a county under code home rule can implement only one or the other to pay for schools and preserved land, she said.

Carroll already collects impact fees on residential - not commercial - development to pay for growth.

"It's kind of a wash for us because we already have the authority to do impact fees," Millender said. "Excise taxes are more flexible in terms of how you spend the money. But we would not have both."

Other new taxes would have to go through the General Assembly for approval under code home rule, according to Victor K. Tervala, a consultant with the Institute of Governmental Service at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Tervala has conducted all the home rule information sessions for the county.

Although all three current commissioners supported putting the code home rule question to referendum, they say that isn't the same as endorsing the measure.


Code Home Rule Workshops

Thursday, 7 p.m., Mount Airy Senior Center, 703 Ridge Ave.

Thursday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m., Carroll County Office Building, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

Thursday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m., Oklahoma Road Middle School, 6300 Oklahoma Rd., Eldersburg.

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