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Home is where the office is

January 11, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Setting up a district office is something of a tradition for Washington County's representatives to the Maryland General Assembly.

But after a year in office, two of the eight local lawmakers have decided they can best serve their constituents by working from home.

Del. Joseph Bartlett and Sen. Alex Mooney, Republicans who represent Washington and Frederick counties, have set up offices in their Frederick County homes.

Bartlett, 30, sacrificed the living room of his newly renovated Middletown, Md., home. He moved out the Ping-Pong table and moved in two desks - one for him and one for his assistant.

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The 18-by-18 foot room, which has a separate entrance, is surrounded on three sides by windows that look out over farmland.

The office has a separate phone line for which the state pays, but Bartlett said he doesn't charge the state rent or utilities.

Constituents are free to drop in at the office, about two miles off Interstate 70 at 8927 Mount Tabor Road. Most make appointments, he said.

"They're free to stop in, and if I'm home, I'm happy to chat with them. For right now, it's working out very well," Bartlett said.

Mooney, 28, has an office in the basement of his Frederick, Md., home that works much the same way. Mooney's office, however, is open only by appointment.

Mooney said the arrangement frees up more of his budget for "stamps and staff."

Neither lawmaker planned to work from home, but each realized that office space in Frederick, where most of their constituents live, doesn't come cheap.

Both also faced one-time expenses of computers and other office equipment.

This year Bartlett expects to have a substantial portion of his $18,265 allotment remaining.

"It's going to save the taxpayers money," he said.

But the leftover money doesn't get returned to the taxpayers or necessarily even go back into the state's general operating fund.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper Taylor can decide to spend it for legislative purposes, said Thomas Fiddes, manager of finance and administrative services at the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

For example, one year it helped pay for renovations to the Senate floor that cost more than expected, Fiddes said.

During the last budget year, the 141 delegates and 47 senators left $315,740 in their accounts, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

It's not unusual for members to work out of their homes or business offices. Sometimes members from the same district pool resources and share an office, Fiddes said.

Some Washington County lawmakers said they value their independent offices.

"To have that presence in the community I think is very important," said Republican Del. Chris Shank.

One of Shank's campaign promises when he beat former Del. Bruce Poole was to set up an office in the southern Washington County district.

Poole had his office next to his law office in downtown Hagerstown. Shank's office is at 9 St. Paul St. in Boonsboro.

Delegation Chairman Bob McKee, R-Washington, said he needs the peace and quiet that his Williamsport office affords him.

"It just works a lot better for me," he said.

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