Baltimore Co. asks voters to OK new works

Along with a proposal to limit property-tax revenues, Baltimore County voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve $200 million worth of building projects and a series of charter amendments aimed at updating government operations.

Despite sentiments among taxpayer groups that the county should curb spending, the 10 major bond referendums are widely seen as necessary tools to operate a government and are expected to be approved at the polls.


At the same time, voters are expected to pass a controversial proposal limiting future increases in property-tax revenues to 2 percent annually. It was petitioned to the ballot by taxpayer groups angry about rising property taxes.

A recent Sun Poll of 579 likely county voters found voters in favor of the tax cap, 59 percent to 32 percent.


"An irony of this election is that one amendment that restricts government spending may well be approved alongside bond questions that call for some very expensive projects," said Circuit Court Judge James T. Smith Jr., chairman of a commission that reviewed the county charter and recommended most of the 10 amendments on the ballot.

The 10 referendums would finance hundreds of big-ticket items, including new schools, new fire, police, trash and detention facilities, and new parks, playgrounds and libraries. Major bond initiatives include:

* Question J, a $80 million request for bond money to complete 21 storm-drain projects, 44 street and highway projects, and 29 bridge projects.

* Question A, a $40 million request to build two elementary schools and renovate and build additions to 10 others.

* Question B, a $46 million request to build or renovate dozens of facilities and including money for construction of a $20 million fire department training and maintenance facility in Sparrows Point.

Voters also will be asked to decide on 10 charter amendments, most of which are housekeeping measures. The charter amendments include proposals that would:

* Give the ethics commission greater powers. Question P would allow the County Council to make ethics violations criminal offenses, punishable by fines and jail time, and allow the council to empower the county attorney to grant immunity to those involved in ethics investigations. It also would require county officials and employees to disclose interest in matters before the county government.

* Alter the way County Council vacancies are filled. Currently, vacancies are filled by an appointee selected by the countywide state central committee of the outgoing member's party. Question S would allow the appointee to be selected by the central committee based in that council member's district.


* Give the county power to audit private organizations that receive county grants. Question L would require any group that receives grants from the county, such as volunteer fire companies or business improvement associations, to open their books at the council's request.

"Most of these things are housekeeping matters that will have very little effect on day-to-day operations," County Attorney Arnold Jablon said.