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Commissioners discuss possible legislative proposals for 2017 session

Carroll County's Board of Commissioners took a preliminary look at possible legislative requests at its Thursday meeting.

The 12 potential requests generated by staff, commissioners and citizens address issues ranging from tax credits to disability access to Highway User Revenues.

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The Department of Land and Resource Management is requesting three pieces of legislation.

The first proposal asks that the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation board process for review of exceptions for non-agricultural eased properties and the conditions for review of exceptions be revised to allow more flexibility.

Another proposal from the Department of Land and Resource Management, along with the Department of Planning, seeks to establish a program, to be administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, that would reward leaders in resource conservation with an annual appropriation to those jurisdictions.

The Department of Land and Resource Management's third request is for legislation that would authorize local governments to provide relief on property taxes to private commercial and industrial landowners who voluntarily participate in stormwater mitigation efforts for their impervious surfaces. The legislation would also offer mitigation credits to jurisdictions that could be used toward permit compliance.

The Department of Planning is requesting that the commissioners ask the delegation to put forward a bill that would cut the amount of time the Maryland Department of the Environment has to review local water and sewer master plan amendments. Currently, MDE has 90 days for review and can extend that time an additional 90 days if it wishes. The county planning department would like to see that changed to an initial 60-day review period with a possible extension of 30 days. Thirty more days could be granted if the state department provides a rationale for the delay.

Phil Hager, the county's director of planning, said the change would help the county get its plans reviewed in a more timely manner.

"I think this would shed some light in a very dark corner of the review process," he said.

The county's Department of Public Works has proposed a request for a bill that would address compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Under current state guidelines, a change of occupancy of a building triggers a requirement that the owner undergo ADA upgrades, said Jason Green, county bureau chief of permits and inspections. Green said that the requirement places a prohibitively expensive and undue burden on small businesses that move into existing locations. The proposal would eliminate "change of occupancy" language from Maryland Building Rehabilitation Code.

Several bill proposals were generated by the commissioners.

The board is seeking to resubmit legislation submitted late last session that would eliminate a reference to the county's former public transportation contractor in its definition for the county's public transportation authority. It is also considering a request for legislation to restore Highway User Revenues from the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees that would be used to fund maintenance and construction on local roads.

Another proposal sponsored by the board would eliminate a local law that requires peddlers of fruits and vegetables to be licensed by the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, submitted a proposal that Del. Haven Shoemaker unsuccessfully proposed in 2015. The legislation would change the amount of time a disabled law enforcement officer or rescue worker would qualify for certain property tax credits. Currently, those eligible must have acquired their home within two years of being found to be disabled. The proposal would increase that time to 10 years.

Another proposed request from Wantz would increase the tax credit available to those restoring historical structures within historic districts from a maximum or 10 percent to 25 percent of the amount spent by the owner on the restoration. The increase, according to a summary of the proposal, would aim to encourage people to improve and restore historic properties.

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Wantz is also requesting legislation to prohibit vaping in areas in the county where smoking is banned.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he wants more information on vaping and negative health effects before deciding whether he would be in support of the request.

"For me, I don't care if it's vaping, smoking, whatever. I don't necessarily want to inhale what somebody else is exhaling," Wantz said. "I'm trying to get ahead of the game here, that's all. I think it's all unhealthy."

Frazier said he would like to see the delegation put forward a bill that would address how the county fills vacancies on the Board of Commissioners, something the delegation declined to take up in the 2016 session.

Instead of relying on central committees to fill vacancies on the board, Frazier said he would like to see the board given the authority to select the replacement or else give the central committee 30 days to nominate a selection of its own. Either way, Frazier said, the replacement would come from the same party as the individual who vacated the seat. The matter of a special election — something that led to concern among some delegation members — would no longer be an issue, he noted.

The board will discuss the proposals ahead of its Sept. 15 meeting with members of the county's Annapolis delegation.

After the commissioners determine which proposals they would like the delegation to take up in the 2017 General Assembly session, the delegation will vote on which proposals will get sponsorship by the delegation.

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