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County delegation quick to sort out agenda

January 17, 2002

County delegation quick to sort out agenda



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County lawmakers charged through their legislative agenda Wednesday, agreeing to give Washington County Commissioners a 50 percent raise and refusing to toughen the county's animal control laws.

Commissioners elected in November would receive a $30,000 annual salary, up from $20,000, under legislation approved Wednesday by the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

Before granting that wish, members of the delegation unanimously shot down the commissioners' request to criminalize violations of the animal control law.

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Lawmakers said they didn't want to subject people to a penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for relatively minor infractions.

"The last thing we need to have is our constituents being taken away in handcuffs because their dog is running loose," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The commissioners' request for their first raise in 10 years easily passed the delegation by a unanimous vote. The raise has to pass the legislature before the session ends in April.

Lawmakers said they felt compelled to follow the recommendations of the independent salary study commission they created in 1994.

The study group was bipartisan and included representatives from labor, farming and taxpayer organizations.

"We ought to let them do their jobs. That's why they exist," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he had reservations about the amount of the increase, but didn't suggest an alternative.

Shank said the raise recognizes that the commissioners have done a good job cutting in half the county's water and sewer debt.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, was the only member of the delegation who was undecided about the pay raise. He didn't vote on the issue, having arrived late for the meeting.

Wednesday was the first day of the session for the delegation's chairman, Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, who spent the first week of the session recovering at home from a Dec. 27 car accident.

Lawmakers ticked through a packed agenda, joking that they might not have to meet again for the rest of the session.

The delegation agreed to introduce three other local bills this session. The bills would:

- Increase the annual salary for Orphans' Court judges from $6,000 to $7,000. Judges would get to keep their $1,000 annual expense account. When they have to travel, their daily meal expense allowance will increase from $18 to $30 and their room allowance will increase from $50 to $85.

If approved by the legislature, the changes would take effect after the November election.

- Give a tax break to the Hagerstown Soccer Club Inc., which has asked that its new soccer fields on Cearfoss Pike be exempt from county real estate taxes of about $1,159 a year.

- Limit the terms for Washington County Museum of Fine Arts Board of Trustees members. A change in the by-laws must be approved by the legislature.

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