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County panel to study shift to home rule

August 10, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Rather than waiting for approval from the Maryland General Assembly before they can enact many local laws, the Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday it might be time to bypass the state on such matters.

The County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to form a task force to study changing the county's commission form of government to code home rule, which would give them the power to enact, amend or repeal a public local law through a resolution without prior state legislative approval.

They could not enact any new tax, license fee or franchise fee without state legislative approval under code home rule.

The commissioners made the decision after listening to a presentation from Monda Sagalkin, president of the League of Women Voters of Washington County.

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"If a problem comes up that has to do with local issues ... you can deal with it without having to wait for the General Assembly to act," Sagalkin said.

There's another type of home rule, charter home rule, but the commissioners are not considering that form of government. A charter home rule government does not need state authority to create laws or levy new taxes, and the powers and duties of the commissioners are defined by a county charter.

Under the commission form of government in place now, local laws must be approved by the state before the county can enact them.

Local laws deal with a variety of issues, such as weed and noise restrictions.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said it would be nice for the commissioners to be able to vote on and enact a local law without depending on the General Assembly.

Because the General Assembly is in session for a few months a year, the wait could take longer than a year, depending on when the county submits the bill.

Commissioner John C. Munson, however, said he didn't support the idea of governing under code home rule.

"I have no interest," Munson said. "I don't see any advantage to it."

Munson said he didn't have a problem with the state oversight under the commission government.

"I personally like the oversight," he said.

The commissioners directed County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop to draft a list of names of people to sit on the task force.

If the commissioners decide to pursue code home rule, County Deputy Attorney John Martirano said they would have to hold public hearings and then approve a resolution. The matter would then be put on the ballot in the next election and voted on by county residents.

The change in government would not need the approval of the General Assembly.

Two years ago, the commissioners rejected a home rule proposal from the League of Women Voters of Washington County, the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

Kercheval said Tuesday he didn't think there was a plan in place to move forward at that time. He also said the public should be educated about code home rule.

"The Board of County Commissioners will continue to function in a similar fashion, it's just that the role will be different," Sagalkin said.




Charter, code home rule differences


  • Code home rule would give the Washington County Commissioners the power to enact, amend or repeal a public local law through a resolution without prior state legislative approval.



They could not enact any new tax, license fee or franchise fee without state legislative approval under code home rule.

  • A charter home rule government does not need state authority to create laws or levy new taxes, and the powers and duties of the commissioners are defined by a county charter.



The County Commissioners function under the commission form of government, which means local laws must be approved by the state before the county may enact them.

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