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Home Rule: A greater local voice

February 03, 2008

To the editor:

The Board of County Commissioners presented the Washington County delegation with their list of priorities for the 2008 session of the General Assembly at a joint meeting on Nov. 27. The minutes of that meeting reflect a list of 13 priority issues.

The commissioners need such a list in order to request the delegation's help in getting legislation of a purely local nature passed by the General Assembly. The commissioners do not have the legal authority under our current form of local government to do so. Why? Washington County remains one of only eight counties that continue to operate under the commissioner form of government, where powers over local affairs are the most restrictive.

Assuming the citizens of Washington County approve the Charter on Feb. 12, the county council (the name of the commissioners under charter home rule) will have the legal authority to address eight of these 13 legislative priorities. Not only will the delegation not have to deal with these issues, but the county council can act when appropriate, and not be limited to those times when the General Assembly is in session.

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Examining this list through the lens of charter home rule, the council will have control over the content and condition of the county code. The council could:

· Revise enabling legislation and oversee development of regulations regarding building codes - specifically, the electrical and construction code can be kept more current.

· Act to define the duties and responsibilities of key local employees without assistance of the General Assembly.

· Adopt local laws. Thus, the issues of legislation governing special events and assemblies, commercial vehicle parking on public residential streets or sidewalks would be addressed by the county council and not the General Assembly.

· Revise laws governing our financial management practices where the enabling legislation, originally passed by the General Assembly for us, is outdated. Specifically, being able to revise some of the enabling laws thus allows the council to change procurement practices.

This is not to say that the council will have unlimited authority. Contrary to arguments offered by opponents of home rule, the council will have no additional authority to revise tax laws or raise county expenditures beyond that currently held by the county commissioners. Other legislative areas such as gaming and alcohol control remain solely the responsibility of the state.

Under charter home rule, the remaining five legislative issues would still require the assistance of the delegation, because these may be addressed only by the General Assembly. These five issues are:

· Legislation regarding the calculation and application of the building excise tax.

· Legislation to clarify and tighten the definition of tip jars.

· Support continued funding, organization and structure of local management boards.

· Monitor the impact of the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Fund on local government.

· Livery service fees for delivery of bodies to the State Medical Examiner for autopsies.

Which part of government is best equipped to resolve these matters? I argue that the General Assembly is not the place where these somewhat routine matters of a strictly local nature should be addressed. According to Del. Rick Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, the General Assembly refers to these types of laws as "nuisance" laws, since they are purely local in nature and aren't important as statewide issues.

I urge the citizens of Washington County to vote to adopt charter home rule. Charter will result in the ability to address local issues in a much more timely fashion. In addition, charter will allow these issues to be addressed locally under the eye of all of us, not just those with the time and interest to watch the process in Annapolis.

Vote yes for charter home rule. It's your government and your choice.

David Hanlin
Charter Board member
Hagerstown

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