Commissioners' proposals for state legislation include school funding rule and more

Issues high on the agenda for the Carroll County Commissioners as they prepare to meet with the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly include a proposal to require the state to spend as much or more per student in each passing year, whether teacher teacher pension payments should be made by the state or counties, a process for replacing vacancies among the commissioners, and a requirement for quantification of global warming mitigation regulations.

The issues were highlighted when the commissioners met Thursday. The commissioners will be meeting with the delegation Sept. 22.


The commissioners normally wait until later in the year before discussing legislative priorities, but problems have arisen in the past from delaying the discussion, said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5.

"It made it hard for legislators to distinguish between what an individual commissioner wanted and what the board as a whole wanted, so we will be voting on whether to support these proposals now," Howard said.


Education issues

The commissioners voted unanimously to support two pieces of legislation proposed by Howard. One would require the state to maintain its funding level for school systems throughout the state.

Maryland already requires local governments to maintain their funding levels to school systems, Howard said. This would just hold the state to the same standard, he said.

"They would provide funding at the same level as three years ago and would maintain at least level funding from then on," he said.


Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said a three-to-five-year window would be more reasonable and have a better chance of passing in the next session of the General Assembly, which opens in January 2016. County Administrator Roberta Windham said the state is preparing to re-evaluate its funding formula and expects changes to be implemented by 2017.

To reflect both comments, Howard amended his proposal, which now calls for the state to maintain funding levels three years back or — if the bill is passed next year — two years forward to account for changes in the funding formula.

The second proposal from Howard would shift responsibility for teacher pension payments back to Maryland.

During the previous board of commissioners term, the state shifted responsibility for teacher pension payments to local governments. Previously, the state government had been responsible.

"These [payments] were thrust on us," Howard said. "The prior [governor's] administration, rather than dealing with the issue responsibly, they just passed it on to us. All we got was a greater share of the cost, which has escalated. It gave a little relief to the state but didn't fix the problem."

Windham said the transition has taken four years and Howard's proposal would implement a similar period to phase the payments back to Maryland.

"This has prevented us from funding schools appropriately," Howard said. "We could've given several step increases or raises."

Replacing a commissioner

The board of commissioners also unanimously voted to support legislation, proposed by Frazier, that would amend the process for filling a vacancy on the board of county commissioners.

Currently, if a commissioner's seat is vacant, the party central committee corresponding to the former commissioner's affiliation selects the commissioner's replacement, subject to approval by the governor.

Under the proposed change — one that would apply in counties that don't have charter government — the remaining commissioners would be given power to name a replacement.

"This would be in the place of the Republican Central Committee and a special election," Frazier said.

This was met with opposition by other commissioners.

"You want four commissioners from different districts to select a replacement?" asked Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4. Howard echoed Rothschild's comment and said it would not be reasonable to enable four people with little or no ties to the vacant commissioner's district to appoint a successor.

"My personal inclination is an election," Howard said. "I know there are costs, but they are minimal."

Rothschild suggested an alternative that would empower the party central committee to appoint someone temporarily until a special election could be scheduled; Frazier agreed and amended his motion to allow for a 90-day replacement so that an election could be organized.

Global warming regulation

Legislation proposed by Rothschild that would require the state to quantify the expected results of any regulations intended to prevent climate change received the support of the commissioners, but by a vote of 3-2. Frazier and Weaver opposed the measure.

In 2009, the General Assembly passed the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, which places a cap on the level of carbon emissions in the state.

Rothschild's bill would prohibit any new regulations unless data can be provided that identifies the exact temperature impact and passes the federal government's regulations outlined in the Data Quality Act.

"If we are going to spend $17 billion, which was proposed by [former Gov. Martin] O'Malley, I want to know what this is going to achieve," Rothschild said.

Howard agreed with Rothschild and said he would like to see some evidence to show there is a return on Carroll's potential investment in reducing carbon levels.

"If we aren't moving the needle then we aren't going to spending money," Howard said. "This is true on everything; if you can't prove it's doing something, how can you ask for these astronomical sums of money?"

Frazier said he could not support such legislation. Identifying an exact temperature change is impossible and that shouldn't prevent the funding of regulations to curb global warming, he said.

"Manmade events are causing changes and this just sticks our heads in the sand," Frazier said. "I can't say that by smoking I'll definitely get cancer. Some [people] do and some don't. But I can say it will affect me. You can't say to what degree, but it does affect you."

Septic amendment

Separate legislation proposed by Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, and Rothschild that would allow for alternative solutions to prevent the leaching of nitrogen from home and commercial septic systems were both unanimously supported by the board.

As of 2013, any home or business septic system must utilize Best Available Technology, as identified by the Maryland Department of the Environment, for removing nitrogen. Such equipment can be costly.

Weaver said there are other methods of neutralizing the amount of leached nitrogen that are often far less expensive.

"If trees were planted near the septic system, this would more than offset the nitrogen leaching into ground from a family," Weaver said.


Weaver's proposal would require the MDE to identify comparable alternatives to its solution, while Rothschild's proposal would give local governments more autonomy in identifying and allowing such alternatives.


Rothschild's proposal would authorize county health officers — once receiving an opinion from the Planning and Zoning Commission — to grant people an exception if three conditions are met: if it's in a noncritical area, if a practical difficulty exists and if a proposed alternative is sufficient.

Police in Mount Airy

The board of commissioners unanimously supported proposed legislation that would allow Mount Airy to contract either the Carroll County Sheriff's Office or Frederick County Sheriff's Office to provide law enforcement services in town limits, even though the town is in both counties.

"This would enable them to hire one county to have jurisdiction in the entire town based a majority vote of the town's residents," Rothschild said. "It would enable them — but not require them — to hold the vote."

Rothschild said he had not discussed this with Mount Airy as of Thursday but will do so prior to the commissioners' meeting with delegation Sept. 22.

This type of agreement is not atypical, as there is already a mutual aid agreement for fire and emergency medical services in the town, Wantz said.

The commissioners' support of the proposal was subject to review of it by Mount Airy's mayor and Town Council.

Staff proposals

County staff also proposed three pieces of legislation Thursday.

The first, proposed by the Department of Public Works, would amend a section of the Code of Maryland and Regulations and remove the requirement for property owners to meet certain standards when a site undergoes a change in use.

"It causes a great deal of pressure on small businesses with limited capital and creates another barrier in that process for them," Zoning Administrator Jason Green said.

Frazier said certain requirements, such as ADA compliance, might be necessary for changes in use, which is why this is outlined in the state's code. Green said other issues, such as fire regulations, are also included in these requirements. Howard said even though the use might be different — such as if a retailer replaced a law firm — the needs could be the same.

"So the trigger should be the change in need not in use," Howard said.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to support the proposal, with Frazier in opposition.

Another proposal, unanimously supported by the commissioners and put forth by county Comptroller Rob Burk, would do away with a state requirement that all of Carroll's contractual bid notices be formally advertised in a newspaper.

As technology has evolved, Burk said, the primary means of notifying potential bidders is via the Internet and the state's eMaryland Marketplace. In recent years, the county has surveyed bid respondents to ascertain how they became aware of the bid and more than 90 percent say it was from an online source, he said.

"This would result in financial savings and less of a burden on administration," Burk said.

This legislation would only apply to Carroll, as many other counties have already had legislation passed doing away with the newspaper legal advertising requirement, he said.

"If we felt this would help we would do so but it just wouldn't be a requirement," Burk said.

The Department of Land and Resource Management also proposed a bill that would exempt Carroll from contributing to a stormwater remediation fund if the county is undertaking projects to improve its mitigation efforts. The commissioners unanimously supported this proposal as well.

"We are required right now that if we don't serve [certain] waters we must either do a project or pay into this fund," said Tom Devilbiss, director of the department. "This is at the state level. The federal government also has the same type of process so we are proposing that at some time in the future we can expand this to [federal] levels."



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