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Mount Airy Town Council delays Dorseytown decision, votes to allow provisional ballots in town elections

Mount Airy Town Council delays Dorseytown decision, votes to allow provisional ballots in town elections
From left, Mount Airy Town Council members Bob King, Jason Poirier, Town Attorney Thomas McCarron, council President Peter Helt, Mayor Patrick Rockinberg, and council members Patty Washabaugh and Larry Hushour talk at the Feb. 4, 2019, meeting. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)

Mount Airy’s mayor and Town Council on Monday night pushed back a decision regarding the proposed Dorseytown annexation and adopted an ordinance that creates a procedure for casting provisional ballots in town elections.

The annexation of the roughly 12.6-acre lot in Carroll County that’s surrounded on all sides by incorporated Mount Airy, known as Dorseytown, was scheduled for an up-or-down vote Monday, Feb. 4. But Mount Airy lawmakers, weighing competing resident and developer interests, punted for another month.

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Roughly 5 acres of land are owned by Frall Developers, while about 7 acres are owned by individuals. The proposed annexation would include all of the land. Only one of the nine properties is served by Mount Airy water and sewer.

Some property owners like Sheela Cook are in favor of the annexation. Cook owns what was her father’s property in Dorseytown. The well and septic system are defunct. Without town water and sewer, the property is effectively useless — impossible to live on or to sell, she said. She’s willing to pay fees associated with connecting to the town’s water mains and sewer lines.

Others, like the Morrison family, said they have nothing to gain with the proposed annexation. Their well and septic systems work and they think it’s unfair to be forced into accruing the cost of connecting to town water and sewer.

Frall Developers tried to sweeten the deal by offering to pay for all residents’ town water and sewer connection fees. But town officials determined that a connection fee is just part of a larger cost of transitioning from well and septic to town water and sewer.

Dorseytown residents would need to pay for their wells to be capped and seal septic tanks.

Councilman Larry Hushour proposed a memorandum of understanding “that basically grandfathers the existing residents to stay on their well and septic as long as they own the property.” Hushour said he wanted Frall to pay for the property owners’ future costs associated with connecting to town water and sewer.

That proved to be too vague of a proposition for the developer. Noel Manalo, Frall’s attorney, said the developer would be willing to set aside $100,000 in a bond for other property owners to use if they decide in the future to transition to sewer.

Hushour countered, asking Frall to put up $200,000 — $25,000 per property owner — for whenever they decide to turn to town water and sewer.

Town Attorney Thomas McCarron said it was risky to negotiate in open session, comparing the record of events to a bowl of spaghetti.

Council members, after checking with Dorseytown property owners in the audience, agreed to table the deliberations until March — when the council and developer had a clear understanding of the amended provisions of the annexation.

In other business, the lawmakers took action on an ordinance that established a procedure for provisional ballot voting. A provisional ballot is cast by an individual whose voting qualification is not immediately known and is not counted until the individual’s qualification is confirmed by the board of elections.

A person is allowed to cast a provisional ballot if they sign a written statement to the town asserting that they are a registered voter eligible to vote in a Mount Airy election; that the individual’s name doesn’t appear on the election registry; an election official says the person is not eligible; or the person doesn’t have the necessary identification, according to Ordinance 2018-20.

Provisional ballots, as outlined by the ordinance, will include the name and address of the person casting the ballot; under the penalties of perjury, an oath that the person is qualified to vote in the town’s election; the name of the election official or officials challenging the person’s right to vote; and a reason why the election official is challenging that person’s right to vote, the ordinance details.

According to the ordinance, the Mount Airy Board of Supervisors of Elections has 24 hours to make a determination on whether the ballot counts — unless the applicable county board of elections office is closed during that period. The Board of Supervisors of Elections, which has three members and one alternate, must have a majority vote to veto a ballot for it to be discarded, otherwise the ballot will count.

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The ordinance explains the chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections will have the discretion to announce the results before or after the provisional ballots are counted.

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