Commissioners discuss bills, concerned businesses will say, 'See ya, Maryland,' if minimum wage increases

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners weighed in on various bills coming out of this season’s legislative session at their Thursday, Feb. 14 meeting — including the $15 minimum wage and septic systems.

Legislative Liaison Mike Fowler told the board that he felt the bill to increase minimum wage to $15 would pass this year, especially with the progressive shift in the legislative body and its widespread support from unions.


“It would go to $11 per hour in [20]19,” he said, “and then it goes up by a dollar per year to the maximum of $15 in 2023.

“The direct impact to the county from that is probably minimal,” said Fowler, “but I think the major concerns are not really addressed in the bill. That's the upward wage pressure created across the board, not only in the counties but the private sector as well.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said the risk of businesses leaving Carroll if the bill passes is a major concern.

“They’re concerned [in Washington County] because they’ve got a lot of businesses that could easily go to Pennsylvania or West Virginia,” he said. “We’re in the same boat. These small businesses, they can’t afford to get to that level of minimum wage — and many business owners in the areas where they can move easily have said, ‘See ya, Maryland.’ ”

As a business owner himself, Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said he also opposed the bill, agreeing with Wantz that Carroll would lose business.

“I believe it’s going to have an extremely negative impact on the local economy,” he said. “Naturally, as a business man, I know what’s going to happen. The cost of everything is going to go up and the initial gain, whatever they get from this, they’re going to lose.”

Fowler said that much of the argument for the minimum wage increase is that when employees are paid more, more money goes back into local economies.

“I think all we can do now is make our concerns known, but there is an awful lot of momentum,” said Fowler. “This is an issue that's come before the General Assembly for the past however many years. This is something really put together in the interim, and unions are behind this, so it’s got a lot momentum — but on the other side, a lot of people came out opposed to the bill as well.”

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked if there was anything the board could do to fight the bill.

“This is going to be shoved down our throats,” Rothstein said. “It’s being pushed by the cities, for all the right reasons.

“But like Commissioner Bouchat said, it’s going to affect us,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to take too long to affect us once those wages start going up. Small businesses aren't going to be able to afford those employees.”

Fowler said the best thing the board could do is compile data, which is something Human Resources Director Kim Frock is already working on.

“I can’t stand up and say, ‘I'm against it,” Fowler told the board. “We’ve got to come through with some data. Prince George’s and Montgomery County have done it on their own in the last couple years — and the body has moved left, the progressive caucus has grown, so it doesn’t look good.”

Other bills

Another one that has a lot of folks concerned is a bill revising the definition of a “failing septic system,” which includes cesspools, Fowler said.


“As it stands now, the issue of cesspools is still in there, considered a failing system,” he said. “It’s hard to argue in favor of cesspools.”

Rothstein, who sits on the MACo land use subcommittee, stated his opposition to the definition.

“The challenge is we have folks in our community with cesspools, and they are functional,” he said. “If they need to transition to a septic tank or get onto sewer, it costs a lot of money. So within this bill, the approach should be recognition of how do we fund or get these folks the moneys to do this.

“Let’s continue to let it work, instead of saying we don't like it and it’s a failing system,” Rothstein said. “It’s in my community and I know it’s around the county. That's my opposition to this.”

Fowler said on the plus side, one of the changes in the bill would make it so failing systems require repairs instead of complete replacements — but that he would dig into the issue more and see what existing programs can help citizens.

Other bills include: making information on disciplinary action in police forces available through the Public Information Act; same-day voter registration; adding bladder, kidney or renal cell cancer to occupational diseases covered by Workman’s Compensation; and others.

The entire Feb. 14 Board of County Commissioners meeting can be viewed online through the Carroll County Government Meeting Portal and Video Archive, YouTube channel, and the county Facebook page. In addition, all meetings will be replayed on Comcast Channel 24.