A plan by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s office that addresses fee waivers for development projects has raised concerns among some residents that the measure could lead to favoritism for certain developers at taxpayer expense.
In response to criticism of the legislation, the County Council on Monday postponed a scheduled vote on the bill until July.
The county charges a variety of fees for permits and inspections as part of the development process. The bill would require the county administrative officer to give the County Council notice of any request to waive such development fees. While county code requires notifications of certain fee changes, it does not address waivers.
Officials with the Democratic county executive’s administration said the notification requirement will add transparency to the waiver process.
But critics’ concerns include a lack of criteria about when the fees can be waived.
To address that feedback, the county executive’s administration introduced a last-minute amendment Monday to require the county to develop guidelines for waiving the fees. Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said members wanted more time to analyze the issue, and the council delayed its vote.
The bill is now scheduled to be discussed again by the council June 28, with a vote set for July 5.
A White Marsh-area community group was among those speaking out against the legislation in recent days, saying development fees should be applied equitably to all developers.
“Why are we waiving developers’ fees?” asked Heather Patti, president of the White Marsh-Cowenton Community Association, in an interview. “They have enough money. It just seems like for whatever reason, our county government can’t stop bending over backward to please developers with our money.”
The measure follows a report released in January by Inspector General Kelly Madigan determining that over a decade, beginning in 2011, the county improperly waived millions of dollars of inspection and permit fees and so-called performance securities for the Metro Centre at Owings Mills. Developers pledge money as performance securities to provide assurance that they will complete a project.
The fee waivers for the Metro Centre began under the administration of the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, but Olszewski’s administration continued to waive certain fees for the project developer, Howard Brown.
The county stopped waiving fees for the Metro Centre on April 29, a spokeswoman for Olszewski told The Baltimore Sun on Monday.
Reached by phone Monday, Brown declined to comment.
At a County Council work session last week, County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers cited the inspector general’s report as a reason for the legislation.
Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for Olszewski, said in an interview the bill would give the County Council oversight, as it creates a process in which a council member could ask for a public meeting about a request for a fee waiver.
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She called the bill “an effort to bring more transparency to a process that was not historically required to be transparent.”
On the contrary, critics said the bill presents opportunities for corruption and favoritism because it doesn’t specify standards for waiving fees.
County resident David Plymyer, a former county attorney for Anne Arundel County, called the bill “an open invitation for abuse” in a June 2 letter to the council.
In Baltimore County, he wrote, “laws are often deliberately crafted to preserve the opportunity to afford special treatment to the favored few. Such laws invite corruption, and Bill No. 41-22 falls into that category.”
At a work session last week, County Attorney James Benjamin said that current county law allows the county administrative officers to set certain fees — and “inherent in the ability to establish” those fees, the county administrative officer also may waive them.
Plymyer took issue with that notion, writing in his letter to the council that the county administrative officer has no such authority.
“It is Bill No. 41-12 that is giving the [administrative officer] the authority to grant fee waivers, and that authority must be accompanied by standards to guide the [administrative officer’s] discretion,” he wrote.
This article has been corrected to say an inspector general’s report about development fees at the Metro Centre was made public in January. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.