Becoming a town is an uphill struggle

Edgewood effort to incorporate would entail years of effort

November 18, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

Ten years after a failed incorporation attempt, leaders in Edgewood are reviving efforts to make a town out of the area that is home to 23,000.

About 40 people gathered to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of incorporation at an Edgewood Community Council meeting last week.

For a lesson from the past, they watched an hourlong video of a 1997 Harford County Council meeting during which community activists proposed incorporating Edgewood and council members overwhelmingly rejected their proposal.

The tape showed council members grilling the activists and striking down their arguments. The majority of citizens who had gathered in council chambers for the hearing opposed incorporation.

The video convinced many at Wednesday's meeting that an incorporation effort would be a long, uphill process.

"It isn't going to be that easy," said Jerome Foster, an Edgewood resident of 28 years. "Eventually, it could pass. It could take a while, and I don't mean 18 months. It's more in the realm of five years."

Incorporation would give the citizens of Edgewood, a populous area along the U.S. 40 corridor, more local control over tax dollars, planning and zoning and other issues. An incorporated Edgewood would become Harford's fourth and largest municipality.

But opponents questioned whether Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace are faring better than unincorporated communities.

Robert Coomes, who was part of the opposition that quashed the effort 10 years ago, argued that incorporation would bring more bureaucracy and taxes.

"I still feel the same way. Property owners can't afford city taxes," he said. Incorporation is "not going to happen."

Edgewood Community Council Chairman Jansen M. Robinson said he hopes to assemble a fact-finding committee of about two dozen volunteers, with an equal number of those for and against incorporation. The committee will break down into subcommittees that look at specific aspects.

"The purpose of the committee is to gather the data. We want to give the public accurate information, so they will be informed, rather than hearing rumors, gossips and opinions," Robinson said. "We know how we should proceed; we want to know if we should proceed."

Discussions of incorporation have swirled around Edgewood for years. Rather than dismissing them outright, Robinson said he wanted to explore the pros and cons.

Only five Maryland communities, all of them special taxing districts in Montgomery County, have successfully gone through the arduous process of incorporation since 1954. Communities often explore the possibility but usually do not proceed, said Jim Peck, a research director at Maryland Municipal League.

In recent years, several incorporation attempts have failed to make it past their county councils.

In July, the Montgomery County Council unanimously rejected a petition to bring the incorporation of Rollingwood to a voter referendum.

The Prince George's County Council also unanimously struck down a request for a voter referendum regarding the incorporation of Largo in 2003.

Counties have a financial reason for opposing incorporation: An incorporated town receives 17 percent of the income taxes generated by its residents, "so the county would stand to lose certain revenues," Peck said.

Supporters also have to gather signatures from 25 percent of the total registered voters within the area for incorporation.

"It's a substantial hurdle to the extent that individuals aren't able to get at least 25 percent," Peck said.

madison.park@baltsun.com

INCORPORATION PROCESS

To proceed with the incorporation process, Edgewood residents must:

Obtain a petition-of-referendum form from the Board of Elections and acquire signatures from 25 percent of registered voters residing in the area of the incorporation referendum within an 18-month period.

Have the elections board validate the signatures and then submit the petition to the County Council.

Schedule public hearings, present a report regarding incorporation and submit a proposed charter to the County Council.

When all that is accomplished, the council votes on whether to hold a referendum on incorporation.

Only registered voters within the proposed incorporated area may vote on the referendum.

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