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Letters to the Editor

February 10, 2008

Home rule has chance to benefit seniors



To the editor:

A current hot local topic is the proposed conversion of county government to home rule, via the proposed charter.

Should seniors care? Is there anything about charter government that would benefit seniors? What's wrong with the form of government we currently have in Washington County?

Washington County seniors are being taxed out of their abilities to pay.

Many possible initiatives could work toward enabling us to "age in place."

Real estate taxes are one example of the increased tax load all seniors share. Seniors share in this problem when they own a home and they share in this problem when they rent and the landlord raises the rent because the real estate tax increased.

In other counties within Maryland, upon conversion to charter government, one of the early governmental changes was to mandate that real estate taxes could only increase by the constant yield index.

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The Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation defines the constant yield rate as: The property tax rate that, when applied to new assessments, would result in the taxing authority's receiving the same revenue in the coming year that was received in the prior tax year.

The department is required to certify the constant yield tax rate each year, and local governments are required to hold a public hearing if the new tax rate exceeds the constant yield.

An operational aspect of this is that the actual tax rate would have to be decreased if the assessment was increased.

The constant yield tax rate holds increases in the tax rate to inflation and might equate to the annual increase afforded to Social Security.

Excessive increases just to provide more money to county commissioners would become a thing of the past.

Does anyone believe that seniors are better off with the status quo? Should we not try something new to make our retirement years more affordable?

Edward C. Wurmb III

Hagerstown




Don't listen to scare tactics, approve charter



To the editor:

After watching the charter home rule debate broadcast from HCC, I reflected on my experiences of the past 50-some years in Washington County.

In high school we had a civics class with a chapter on home rule. Then in college some years later, we had a governmental affairs unit, which again touched on home rule. In both instances, I thought, "What a great idea. I wonder why Washington County doesn't have this type of government?" Then over the years, the League of Women Voters championed the cause to no avail. The question was defeated on each occasion.

In the televised discussion, I was amused watching Del. Chris Shank use scare tactics to discourage voters from voting yes on the ballot question in the primary election. Every one of his responses ended up reverting back to the same response - higher debt limits and increased taxes if charter home rule were accepted. It seems strange to me that the nine counties and Baltimore City which have charter home rule don't seem to have any particular upheaval in their governmental procedures.

Does Shank fear losing his ability to hold the County Commissioners hostage (if he so chooses) by not allowing their bill to get out of committee or having to attach it to another bill supporting some other county's pet project? Our state delegates are paid by the state to conduct state business, so let's allow them to do so. The delegation's party make-up has considerable stress within its own ranks now. How would they expect a seven member county council to have any more trouble?

Shank is worried about districts. That detail can be addressed at a later date, since it is an almost impossible task presently, due to the widespread population density in our county. It seems to me that a seven-member council would give better representation and additional input on the numerous subjects to come before the governing body.

Commissioner Bill Wivell, "the voice of conservatism" on the county commission, is concerned about debt limits and higher taxation. I certainly appreciate his concerns, but if qualified people are elected to the council, what makes him think that the council will be any less dedicated than our commissioners to the best interests of the citizens of Washington County?

I can defend his viewpoint on wording of the document, but some very intelligent people put in an inordinate amount of time mulling the language as it stands and this is the best that could be had.

Even the U.S. Constitution has stood the test of time with some very ambiguous wording. It's time that Washington County came into the 21st century, as have 10 other jurisdictions within the state. We are one of only eight counties that still has the commissioner form of government.

We are no longer a rural, agricultural, isolated part of Western Maryland. We sit at the crossroads of commerce and development, perfectly capable of governing ourselves. Vote yes on the question of charter home rule!

C. Richard Miller

Hagerstown

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