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Charter government plan up for last round of public comment


Carroll residents will have one last chance tomorrow night to ** comment on the proposed county charter before it goes to the county commissioners for consideration.

The county's charter board, which has been working on the proposal since last spring, has scheduled its final public hearing at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Agricultural Center in Westminster.

Board members plan to give their completed document to the commissioners Thursday.

Jon R. Buck, co-chairman of the charter board, said the panel is not likely to change major provisions that were considered at three previous hearings and debated at length.

"What we're looking for are any major, gross errors," he said.

The charter -- a constitution that would replace the current commission form of government if it is approved by voters -- outlines the structure, powers, duties and limitations of government. It would allow the county to enact certain local laws without approval from the state legislature.

According to a draft of the document, a five-member county council would replace the current three-member Board of County Commissioners. The council members would be elected by districts.

The draft document provides for a county administrator,

appointed by the council, to manage daily government functions rather than an elected county executive.

Charter board members plan to vote on a final version Tuesday night after having worked on the document for nearly nine months. It is expected to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The charter is available at all county libraries and the county attorney's office, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

Here are key aspects of the proposed charter:

Administrator: Appointed by the county council, the administrator would oversee daily government operations, among other duties.

Amendment: The county council could propose an amendment to the charter with a four-fifths vote. Voters could petition for an amendment. And voters would decide the issue at the next regular election.

Appointments: The county council would appoint and remove at its discretion the county administrator, attorney and internal auditor, and members of all boards and commissions.

Bill: Any county council member could introduce legislation. A public hearing subsequently would be scheduled.

Budget and finance: Guidelines for forming spending plans, handling reserve accounts, borrowing and setting a construction program.

Charter Review Commission: The county council would appoint a panel every 10 years to study government and make recommendations.

Compensation: $7,500 annually for county council members; $8,000 for the council president. A Compensation Review Commission will recommend salaries for subsequent councils. The county council would set the salary for a county administrator, attorney and internal auditor. Salaries for other employees would be established through a personnel system.

County Council: Five members, each elected from a different council district.

Districts: Northwest-west central, northeast, southeast, southwest, Westminster. Broken down by voting precincts, each district would contain roughly 24,000 residents.

Effective date: Dec. 5, 1994.

Executive power: The county council would be the chief executive authority -- instead of an elected executive -- and would make policy decisions.

General provisions: Mandates adoption of an ethics code, a public disclosure law, conflict of interest laws and a right to public information provision.

Legislative powers: Vested in the county council.

Meetings: The first three Tuesdays of each month, each Tuesday in May, and additional days as determined by the county council, to 45 annually.

Personnel system: Requires a law establishing policies and procedures of personnel administration.

Purchasing: Requires a law establishing a centralized system of purchasing and contracting for goods and services.

Redistricting: County council districts would be redrawn in the year 2002 and every 10th year thereafter by an appointed commission.

Referendum: Voters could petition any law to referendum by collecting signatures of 5 percent of the county's registered voters, except those laws that: impose a tax rate change, appropriate money for current spending, establish council districts, adjudicate a zoning matter.

Tax cap: The county council would be prohibited from increasing the property tax rate by any more than the percentage increase of the Baltimore Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation.

Terms: Four years for council members, with no limit on the number of terms.

Termination: The county council could propose a return to the commission form of government with a four-fifths vote. Voters also could petition for a return to commission. An election would take place.

Veto: The county council, which would enact all legislation, could also veto legislation it previously enacted. The veto would require a four-fifths vote of the entire council.

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