A bid to expand the Carroll board of commissioners from three to five members cleared its first hurdle in the General Assembly yesterday when a House committee raised no objections to the proposal.
The bill, supported unanimously by the county delegation, is expected to be voted upon this week by the full House of Delegates. If passed, the bill would put the board expansion to a countywide vote next year.
If approved by county voters, the expansion would become effective in 2006.
Yesterday, Del. Donald B. Elliott, who introduced the legislation, told the House Environmental Matters Committee that a three-member board of commissioners can no longer meet the needs of a rapidly growing county.
"The population's new demands deserve a more efficient governance," Elliott told the committee, which asked no questions about the bill.
An expansion would eliminate the persistent 2-1 votes that have stymied previous boards on which two commissioners could collaborate and effectively dictate decisions to their colleague.
During the previous board's tenure, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier often voted together on major issues, leaving the third commissioner, Julia Walsh Gouge, with a limited say in decisions.
State law requires that referenda on such changes to the structure of county governments be approved by the General Assembly. The Environmental Matters Committee did not immediately vote on the bill after hearing Elliott's presentation, but members were expected to support the proposal.
Members of the Carroll delegation said they expect the bill to meet little resistance in the full House or Senate.
"It's a local issue and as long as we're all on board with it, I can't see it having any problems," said Sen. E. Larry Haines.
The bill calls for a referendum on the issue in the presidential election next year. The commissioners would be elected to staggered terms and by district. After the 2006 commissioner election, two of the five winners would serve two-year terms and would run again in 2008 for full four-year terms under the legislation.
If the expansion wins voter approval, the commissioners would appoint a committee of seven - three each from the Republican and Democratic central committees and one from the board of elections - to define districts and decide which two commissioners initially would serve the shorter terms.
Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation, has opposed past efforts to expand the board. He blocked a similar proposal last year because he said he did not want it to interfere with the gubernatorial election. He said he does not think the expansion would make county government more efficient but thinks county residents should be allowed to decide.
Haines has predicted the county eventually will outgrow the commissioner system and move to a charter government with an executive and a council.
The expansion issue has made it to referendum before. Elliott, a five-term delegate who represents western Carroll County, sponsored a bill that led to a 1998 vote in which the county rejected a proposal to expand the board.
Elliott said he reintroduced the bill this year to give county voters more than a year to study the matter.