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Officials' first meeting stays quiet Discussion is brief of rescinded pay increase; 'Was probably unlawful'; County attorney reviews opinion issued by state


During their first public meeting on one of the most controversial issues of the previous Board of Commissioners, Carroll's newly elected leaders shied away from public comment yesterday.

A discussion of the former board's Nov. 24 decision to increase the commissioners' daily allowance 650 percent from $12 a day to $90 a day took less than 30 seconds.

The issue was addressed during a routine meeting with County Attorney Laurell Taylor. She raised the topic after reviewing an opinion issued Friday by the state's attorney general, which stated that the increase "was probably unlawful."

Taylor said she received a copy of the opinion at the close of business Friday and forwarded it to the commissioners Monday.

"I believe the attorney general's opinion is self-explanatory, but if you'd like I'd be glad to review it with you," Taylor told the board yesterday.

None of the three commissioners responded to Taylor's offer, and the meeting was then closed to discuss pending litigation matters.

"I don't feel there was anything we needed to discuss," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said afterward. "We had determined what to do before the report came in," he added, referring to the former board's Dec. 3 decision to rescind the increase.

The opinion, requested by Carroll Republican Del. Joseph M. Getty after The Sun disclosed the Nov. 24 vote, was written by Robert N. McDonald, chief counsel for the state's attorney general's office, who chided the commissioners for raising their daily bonus without allowing for public comment.

McDonald also wrote that the raise constituted a salary because it is not tied to actual expenses -- mileage and meals are reimbursed separately. As a salary, the bonus could only be increased by the state legislature, the opinion said.

The commissioners are expected to be guided by the opinion as they review the daily bonus issue. The former board called for a study to determine what would be fair compensation.

It was not clear yesterday when that study would be released.

"With the holidays, I'm not sure what to tell you," Dell said.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier declined to comment on the issue. "I haven't had a chance to read the opinion," she said.

Board president Julia Walsh Gouge echoed Frazier's remarks. "I would prefer to comment after I've had a chance to read the opinion and discuss the issue with our budget people," she said.

In separate action yesterday, the board reviewed the county's comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The report shows a surplus of $9.4 million, meaning the funds have not been allocated.

"The county's income tax revenue was much higher than we had expected it to be," County Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman told the commissioners. He credited the surplus to revenue generated by the capital gains tax.

Curfman said about half of the $9.4 million could be spent. The remainder should be kept in reserve, he said.

The commissioners discussed several alternatives for spending the money. One possibility raised by Gouge was to dedicate additional funds to agricultural preservation, a program that has been operating since 1978. To date, 28,850 acres have been protected.

The commissioners dedicated $2.2 million to preservation in the county budget this year, but additional funds are needed. The county's goal is to preserve about 100,000 acres by 2020. At current funding levels, it would take the county about 35 years to reach 100,000 acres.

Curfman and county budget Director Steven D. Powell are expected to make recommendations to the commissioners on how to spend the $9.4 million soon after the holidays.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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