Board set to pitch bills

Commissioners will propose 6 measures to state delegation

January 21, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Carroll County commissioners will unveil a package of six bills tomorrow before members of the state delegation to Annapolis for consideration in the 2007 General Assembly session.

Noticeably absent from this package is any proposal to enact a transfer tax -- a levy on real estate transactions the previous board had lobbied for since 2002.

Instead, the commissioners are pushing for the local regulation of pawnshops, a stronger county cleanup law and tax credits for residents who renovate their properties in gateway areas near the county's borders.

The new board unanimously approved the language in all bills except one that concerned salary increases for the county's three Orphans' Court judges. The salary bill passed 2 to 1.

New Commissioner Michael D. Zimmer opposed the proposed raise, from $10,000 to $17,000, for the part-time judges.

In her more than 12 years on the Orphans' Court, which rules on hearings over family estates, Dorothy V. Utz said she has never gotten a raise.

"If the status quo continues, we'll never get a raise," Judge Herbert J. Reisig added, during a recent appeal to the commissioners.

Zimmer said the $7,000 raise seemed too steep and could lead other government workers to expect raises on the same scale. Other county officials debated whether the judges should submit their salary bill to the commissioners first or work directly through the delegation.

In a phone interview from his Annapolis office, Sen. Larry E. Haines questioned why the incumbent judges were pushing for raises so early into their new term. The increases would not go into effect until after the next election, almost four years down the road.

"It's too early for bills on salary increases," said Haines, the leader of Carroll's delegation. "We usually don't take those up until the third session of the term."

For example, Haines said, the delegation sponsored a salary increase last year for Carroll Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning -- the year before his re-election.

A bill establishing districts for the county's five commissioners, which did not pass last year, looms over the new legislative session. But the three commissioners lack the power to propose a redistricting bill, county attorney Kimberly A. Millender said. Such a measure has to come straight from the delegation, she said.

Haines also stressed that the delegation can propose bills at any point during the three-month session, though there is a courtesy filing deadline in February.

"I've introduced bills as late as two weeks before the end of session," Haines said.

The proposed bill for the local regulation of pawnshops has grown out of a Baltimore City Police Department effort to develop a statewide -- possibly even interstate -- electronic database to help police track down fenced goods, county officials said.

"Evidently, if you steal in Philadelphia, you fence in Baltimore or Washington, D.C.," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "You don't fence in the same area."

Since the other metropolitan counties have charters and county councils, they can pass such local laws directly. But as a commissioner county, the bill proposed in Carroll must be approved by the General Assembly.

Two other proposed bills deal with the maintenance and image of property in the county. Establishing tax credits for residents or business owners who refurbish their properties and put up gateway makers near Carroll's borders will grab the attention of those commuting into the county, officials said.

The bill grew out of an economic development study that said a better visual impression is needed along the county line, particularly around the Finksburg gateway on Route 140.

Haines said he would support the tax credit if it improves the appearance of county property.

The county has a nuisance abatement law, which allows the environmental health department to clean up trash and stagnant water, or mow a property where weeds run rampant, department director Edwin F. Singer said. But a newly drafted bill would streamline that process, allowing the health department to intervene without first notifying the property owner if there are two violations within a year.

These problems often surface in the spring on vacant lots left untended in the middle of subdivisions, creating conditions that can attract disease-carrying rodents and insects, Singer said.

"It's very frustrating for people who have to put up with it year after year," he said.

The remaining two bills in the commissioners' package concern the issuing of bonds for county construction projects and a pretrial release program for nonviolent offenders.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

The commissioners will present their legislative package to Carroll's delegation at 10 a.m. tomorrow. The delegation will then conduct a public hearing on proposed 2007 legislation at 9 a.m. Saturday. Both meetings are at the county office building, 225 N. Center Street, Room 003.

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