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Home rule presentation planned

December 20, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A task force studying a possible change in Washington County's form of government is expected to present its findings and recommendations to the County Commissioners at the end of January or the beginning of February, task force Chairman Joe Kroboth said Monday.

Kroboth, also the county's deputy director of public works, said in a telephone interview that the task force has met three times since the commissioners formed the group a few months ago.

The task force is studying a possible switch to code home rule or charter home rule, both of which would give the county more authority to create local laws than it currently has under the commission form of government.

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Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Monday he believes charter home rule also would give voters more say over what elected county officials do.

County government is run according to its charter, which addresses legislative and executive functions and the county's structure.

Under charter home rule, voters approve the charter and have the ability to petition for a referendum to amend laws in the charter with which they don't agree, he said.

For example, Wivell said voters would have been given the opportunity to petition for a referendum to amend the rural rezoning plan the commissioners adopted earlier this year if the county operated under charter home rule.

He said elected officials might not like voters having such authority, "but it keeps us all accountable."

Wivell said he initially was opposed to charter home rule, but the more he hears about it, the more he likes it.

"It gives a lot of power to voters," he said. "If they don't like something, they can change it."

With code home rule, the county wouldn't have to go through the "painful process" of developing the charter, he said.

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

They could not enact any new tax, license fee or franchise fee that wasn't already approved by the General Assembly, according to Victor Tervala's book, "Home Rule Options in Maryland."

Ordinances approved by code counties would be subject to a referendum and voted on by the public, the book states.

Tervala, an attorney for the University of Maryland's Institute for Governmental Service, spoke at a local forum on home rule in September.

Tervala states in the book that code counties may "fix and collect development impact fees" to pay for improvements required to accommodate new construction and development. They also may impose a development excise tax to pay for school expansions or for purchasing development rights on agricultural land, the book states.

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