Leonardtown, MD – The Tuesday night, Dec. 6 meeting between St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners and State Delegation bought a rather interesting floor discussion about potential new legislation. Main topics of discussion: a) Changing the process of removing appointed Metropolitan Commission (MetCom) Board members, as well as having the ability to approve the MetCom operating budget, b) Request for $26 million in debt authority for the next year and c) A 12 percent pay increase for commissioners and other increases for Board of Education members and the county treasurer.
County Attorney George Sparling presented 27 legislative items to the delegation for consideration.
Starting with MetCom board members, Sparling stated that the commissioners want to have authority to “remove someone from the MetCom board for incompetence or misconduct.” This all will be done without a judicial review. Legal authority and jurisdiction of the County Commissioners to act in this capacity was intently questioned by Delegation members.
Delegate Deborah Rey [R-District 29B] asked ,“where and how are incompetence and misconduct defined in the County Code to support these changes?” Attorney Sparling could not provide her with specific codes or statutes to support the proposed language pertaining to incompetence and misconduct.
Delegate Jerry Clark [R-District 29C] made it clear that he would not support legislation of this type. Clark said, “I have a real problem when we limit a person from being able to participate in a judicial process that so many people in our country have fought and died to protect.” The legislative proposal by the county commissioners would eliminate any type of judicial review proceedings before removing an individual for misconduct or incompetence. Clark said, “that sentence alone would not have my support of this.”
“We have to get the opinion of the State’s Attorney General on this issue before proceeding,” said Rey.
Next issue, $26 million in debt authority (not necessarily borrowing) for the next year to fund proposed building projects. Delegate Matt Morgan [R-District 29A] said, “Currently, the county is in debt approximately $82 million.”
Noting a prior debt authorization of $45 million given to the county commissioners, as far back as 2005, Morgan said ,“if we approve this $26.3 million this year, this session, the debt authority given to this board of county commissioners will be $71 million.” After gaining this authority, it gives the commissioners forward funding ability.
Morgan pointed out how “I am glad to see this number has reduced from when it first showed up in the newspapers as $53 million,” he said, adding, “$53 million would have been the largest amount of money in the history of St. Mary County.”
The delegation has a few “sticking points about the way these types of funds are used,” he said. Prudent responsibility to the residents of St. Mary’s County by the commissioners was questioned during the discussion at this point.
Morgan pointed out that in 2018 a newly elected Board of County Commissioners could decide to do something completely different with the money this body procured. He said, “I trust that this Board will do what is says, but that leads me into how we reconcile this. With greater authority, comes greater responsibility,” he said.
That opened the discussion to cutting taxes for St. Mary’s County residents as promised. Morgan then led the discussion to ask each commissioner by name if they would like to comment on tax relief for county residents.
“Energy tax is one of the most regressive taxes and the delegation would like to see it go away,” said Morgan. St. Mary’s County is the only county in Southern Maryland that collects this tax and everyone in the county pays it, he said. “The Energy Tax is one-half percent of the general fund budget of St. Mary’s County, and it was previously discussed that we would like to see it eliminated.” Morgan asked for commissioner comments on this issue and why “we are not allowing people to leverage their own money.”
Commissioner John E. O’Connor [R – District 3] specifically stated, “I am not in support of lowering taxes.”
Commissioner Michael L. Hewitt [R-District 2] said, “I support cutting it, and I think we can afford to do it without raising taxes.” Hewitt also pointed out that the Maryland State Legislature may frown upon lowering taxes while asking for debt authority.
Commissioners’ President Randy Guy [R] said, “I have never liked the energy tax, but we are pretty low on our other taxes.”
Commissioner Todd B. Morgan [R – District 4] didn’t feel the energy tax would make that significant of an impact on citizens to cut it. He was more concerned with making sure the commissioners had the ability to fund projects.
The next topic was Compensation Review Board, commissioners’ recommendations. Rey was very interested in exactly what the Compensation Review Board ‘reviewed’ to determine their recommended figures. She asked Sparling if there “were any findings forwarded to the review board prior to their review?”
It was noted that the Compensation Review Board members were instructed not to review the salaries for the county sheriff and judges of the Orphan’s Court, as instructed by Sparling, it was not in their “scope” as a committee.
However, Sparling denied any contact with the Compensation Review Committee or instructing them in this manner. O’Connor felt the conversation was out of order and was not an agenda item to be discussed. Rey further questioned the legislative process taken by the commissioners, and further clarification will be sought from counsel by the delegation in Annapolis.
Contact Shertina Mack at s.mack@TheBayNet.com.