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Some delegates are rethinking positions on debt reduction

March 08, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Some local lawmakers wanted to take a new vote Wednesday on their plan to raise money for the county's water and sewer debt as well as economic development and tourism.

The move failed for lack of support by a majority of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

But the question reopened debate about the plan and spurred a clash between Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, said she wanted to withdraw her support for changing the Washington County Gaming Commission's distribution formula.

Although she voted in favor of the plan last month, she now feels uncomfortable with reducing charities' share of the gambling revenue by an estimated $250,000 a year.

The plan would give a larger portion of tip jar gambling profits to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association, enabling the county to cut its contribution to the association by the same amount. That in turn would free up money for the Washington County Commissioners to put toward a $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

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"We have, in effect, stolen $250,000 from the charities and given it to the county to spend it on whatever they want to," Bartlett said.

Shank said he resented Bartlett's characterization of the plan, which he said was designed for debt reduction.

"We're not writing a blank check to the Washington County Commissioners," Shank said.

Bartlett asked the delegation to take a new vote on the debt reduction part of the plan.

Bartlett said he now can't support debt reduction because he doesn't agree with the source of the money - the cut to charities as well as an increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 6 percent.

For a second time, the delegation voted 4-3 in favor of taking a new vote. Delegation Chairman Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said the motion needed five votes to pass.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, was not present for the vote.

The three-bill plan must still be approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

Although local bills are often given courtesy approval by the Maryland General Assembly, this package might not pass easily because it was introduced so late in the session, said McKee.

"I have real concerns about how successful we'll be, but we'll give it the old college try," he said.

The delegation also voted Wednesday to withdraw several other recently filed local bills, reasoning the issues could wait until next year.

One of the withdrawn bills would have made several changes to Washington County liquor laws. Another would have allowed a homeowner to remove a tree buckling the sidewalk without getting a permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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