By John Culleton
9:24 PM EDT, August 18, 2012
I know I've said it before, but it's more true than ever:
It's time to revisit the question of Code Home Rule for Carroll County. The Board of County Commissioners can propose such a change, then the voters can approve it in the next general election. Easy as pie.
What would this mean? Well, for one thing, all those Carroll County local bills in the State Legislature would no longer have to be submitted. Instead, the commissioners could enact or repeal any bill which applied only to Carroll County.
It is a shift, and a massive one, of power from the legislative delegation for Carroll County to our locally-elected commissioners. And it streamlines the management of our local affairs.
Why is now the time? The new map for delegates for Carroll County ensures only three seats in the county delegation for Carroll residents. The other seats will almost certainly be filled by individuals from other counties (because the county will share some districts with Howard and Frederick counties — and those areas will have the bulk of the population).
So, like it or not, some control of our county delegation will shift to "outsiders." And local bills will still be subject to the priorities of a legislature dominated by other counties — and by the Democratic Party.
The way things already are, our local bills are crowded out during the three-month legislative session.
With Code Home Rule, the current system — in which our commissioners propose bills to be passed by the legislature — will be changed to one where they can pass these same bills themselves. Thus they will have no more work to do than at present. A bill can be voted on at any time of the year, as needed.
There will still be limitations on the commissioners with respect to new types of taxes.
For instance, a current impact fee on new home construction is used for building new schools. It cannot be used for upgrades or renovations to existing schools, teachers salaries and the like.
It is my belief that under Code Home Rule, the commissioners could retain these fees which already exist but divert the money to other needs within the school system.
That's important, because I feel our schools are slipping in comparison with other counties in the state. We need to keep those fees and expend them where needed to maintain a high level of achievement in our public schools — the most important function of local government.
The impact fees, by the way, provide another benefit to local residents. Commissioner Robin Frazier has pointed out that the impact fees raise the costs of buying a new house in Carroll County. That tends to increase the value of existing homes (yours and mine) as an alternative to new housing.
Too many homeowners in Carroll County are under water on their mortgages. This limits their ability to upgrade to a larger house, if needed, or go to a smaller home when their children leave the nest. As home prices rise, the number of our neighbors who are under water on their mortgages will decrease.
So I put two proposals on the table for our County Commissioners:
First, increase the commissioners' own ability to manage local affairs locally by passing a Code Home Rule ordinance. (You can do it — it's provided for in Maryland Constitution Article XI-F.)
Second, retain the existing impact fee on new housing to restrain growth of the housing supply, and in the bargain you'll increase the value of existing houses and providing a nest egg for the future of our schools.
I believe neither step has any downside for residents who live in Carroll County. And the benefits of each will be significant.
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