Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski outline how the county can pay for his proposed budget cuts. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Baltimore County Council will discuss extending the lifespan for proposed bills and resolutions to give lawmakers and residents more time to review potential changes — and delay votes if necessary.
The resolution on the schedule for Tuesday’s work session would extend the time the council has to approve legislation to 65 days from 40 days. The goal is to vote on most bills within 40 days, as the council does now, but to have more time if needed.
The proposal also would allow county council to delay a vote, but there’s a catch — council has to approve the delay by vote, and council must have a regularly-scheduled meeting within the 65-day deadline from the bill or resolution’s introduction.
The county’s charter review commission first proposed the 65-day deadline in 2017. Council approved the change in a 2018 bill and Baltimore County voters agreed last November.
The resolution comes after the council voted in May on new fees imposed on homebuilders and other developers to help cover school and road expenses. The council made several last-minute changes to the fees, adding delays and exemptions that prompted some residents to criticize the council.
Councilman David Marks said the resolution is a response to what voters approved last year, which predates the impact fee legislation. But the Perry Hall Republican acknowledged the resolution will address complaints council has heard about the impact fee bill.
“Legislation is like making sausage” in that it’s sometimes “not very pretty,” said Marks, who sponsored the original impact fee bill. Amendments sometimes come up at the last minute, and Marks said that was the case with the impact fee law.
“I was very transparent with the original legislation, but the bill was imperiled,” Marks said. “The bill was not going to pass without those last-minute amendments. Legislation is not perfect.”
After council approved the new fees in May, residents expressed their disapproval at July’s meeting.
Towson resident Liz Brown told the council at their July 1 meeting she was “shocked” to read that the council introduced amendments, changed the bill and passed the bill in the same session. Towson resident Cheryl Gottlieb said amending bills that are given final approval during the same meeting “harms the well-being of Baltimore County.”
“I’m putting you on notice that if things don’t change, we’ll invest all of our blood, sweat and tears into voting you out,” Gottlieb said at the July 1 meeting.
Catonsville resident Shelia Ruth called the fee bill a “particularly egregious example,” saying the amendments made it “essentially a new bill that the council voted on with no public input.” Ruth said the vote on the bill could have been delayed because the amended bill doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2020.
Efforts to reach Gottlieb, Brown and Ruth about the proposed voting changes were unsuccessful.
Four council members sponsored the impact fee amendments, which the council voted on as one item — Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, Councilman Julian Jones, Councilman Izzy Patoka and Marks.
Marks said Tuesday’s resolution would give councilmembers an opportunity to delay voting on proposed bills if there are last-minute changes to the legislation. Patoka, a Pikesville Democrat, said by phone that a caveat to the resolution is a councilmember — to avoid delaying a vote — could share amendments for colleagues to consider prior to the bill’s vote.
Patoka, however, said he also would share the amendments with his constituents “for a level of transparency.”