Left to right, County Attorney John Norris and Department of Public Works Director Rai Sharma address the Calvert County Commissioners during a legislative presentation.

Prince Frederick, MD – The Calvert County Commissioners revisited a proposal from staff that could impact the timing of crucial roadway projects should it become law. Time is also the crucial component in a new measure presented by another county government department during the same segment of the board’s Tuesday, Nov. 25 meeting.

The previously discussed proposal involved granting county officials authority to condemn property for road construction and widening through “quick take.” The commissioners requested staff to conduct further research on the procedure.

“The power to condemn real property for the widening, repair and maintenance of existing public roads will require an amendment to the Maryland Constitution,” County Attorney John Norris stated. The state constitution stipulates “the General Assembly may not enact any law authorizing private property to be taken for public use, without just compensation, as agreed upon between the parties, or awarded by a Jury, being first paid or tendered to the property owner.”

The constitution does allow for exceptions, however. County officials must request the legislators pass a bill mandating a voter referendum on granting quick take authority. Currently, Baltimore City, along with Baltimore, Cecil and Montgomery counties; the State Roads Commission and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission have quick take authority. Three jurisdictions—Anne Arundel (1988), Harford (1996) and Prince George’s (200) counties have a quick take authority proposals voted down in referendums.

The Department of Public Works is seeking the quick take authority in order to move crucial road improvement projects forward. “I had three projects on the books the last four years that citizens would not agree on,” said Department of Public Works Director Rai Sharma, who noted the balking residents wanted to obtain a higher than market-value price for their land which was needed for a project designed to address dangerously narrow roads. “How to make the county’s roads safe—that is where I am coming from.”

“We know how badly something like this is needed,” said Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark [R], who has been a strong supporter of one the projects Sharma referred to—the widening of Dowell Road.

Since obtaining quick take authority would be submitted to Calvert’s voters, Commissioner Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R] noted there would need to be an effort to get residents to buy in to the measure. Slaughenhoupt and the other commissioners agreed it would be necessary for the commissioners and county government staff to sell the plan to the public before the referendum occurs.

Commissioner Susan Shaw [R] made the motion to move the issue forward to the Dec. 2 meeting with the Calvert County Delegation to Annapolis, “based on the fact that it is a public safety issue when there is a delay.”

The new legislative proposal was submitted by the Department of Budget and Finance. It calls for a bill allowing county government to increase its competitive bidding level from $15,000 to $100,000; amend the notice provisions of Title 6 to allow a choice of publication to a local newspaper’s print media or internet-based advertising and allow bid opening to immediately follow the end of the two week advertising period. Informal bidding procedures would still be followed for purchases of goods and services less than $100,000.

Department of Finance and Budget Director Tim Hayden said the changes would “allow the awards of contracts to happen quicker.”

“Nobody likes red tape,” said Purchasing Officer Roberta Baker, who noted the currently bidding rules predate many of the major advancements in technology. She added the change could reduce the competitive bidding process from 11 weeks to three to four weeks.

Hayden called the county’s current bidding system the epitome of “slow government.” Currently, contract awards that, the department’s opinion, staff could handle, end up on the commissioners’ agenda. “The toilet paper contract always gets laughs,” said Hayden.

“I think we want you to make the decision when it’s clear-cut and straightforward,” said Slaughenhoupt, who added that there should still be a precedent for the commissioners to consider the issue if a decision became complicated.

“We can come up with a way to warn you,” said Hayden.

“All bids are vetted,” said Baker, who added advertisements on eMaryland Marketplace has benefitted both the county and potential vendors looking to bid on projects.

When asked by Shaw about the dramatic $85,000 leap in the competitive bidding level, Hayden replied “we hope to not have to go through this process again.”

The Dec. 2 meeting between the county commissioners and local legislators is open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m. It will be held at Calvert Pines Senior Center Auditorium.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com