Conflicts between state, county and municipal officials over revenues, land control and plain old political clout were aired this week at the Maryland Municipal League (MML) convention in Ocean City.
"It is time to talk ourselves up - to get our fair share of revenues, of power," said Louis N. Phipps, former mayor of Annapolis and past president of the MML.
"The municipalities represent the level of government that the average citizen feels free to talk about his problems," said William E. Hanna, mayor of Rockville. "When was the last time they called up the county executive or lieutenant governor? We have the greatest impact, yet we have to face a serious inequity with the taxing situation."
More than 360 mayors, council members and adminitrators attended the convention to discuss the major concerns of municipal government - revenue sources, environment, pollution and planning.The consensus expressed by a number of officials interviewed was that municipalties have not received their fair share of state and county support.
In Maryland, municipalities often provide street lighting, police protection, refuse and leaf collection, street cleaning other basic services for those living within the incorpoarted limits. Yet much of the revenue to pay for these services must come from tax rebates from the county or from the individual city's "piggy back" property tax. Some rates are as high as $1.80 per $100 of assessed valuation over the county tax rate.
For several years the municipalties "were dependent on whatever revenues they could raise or what they could share," said Herbert W. Reichelt, ex-mayor of Mt. Rainer and past president of MML. But in the '60s, said Achilles M. Tuchtan, ex-mayor of Rockville and another past president, municipal leaders became more militant.
This increased "militancy," through lobbying efforts on the county municipal association level and then on a state level, has produced legislation favorable to the municipalities. And the leaders said they want more.
The municipal leaders said were happy over recent victories at both the state and county level. The municipal assocaition lobbied successfully to defeat a proposition that would allow counties to condemn property around Metro stations. The municipalities felt that this this condemnation power could create "many Rosslyns" - cluster groups of high rise buildings - in the middle of their community. The county governments supported the proposition but lost.
The municipalties in Prince George's County persuaded the county to set a minimum rate for a tax differential on the same services the municipality, provides its citizens that the county provides the unincorporated areas.
"This group seems to be a lot happier than last year," said Prince George's County council member Frank P. Casula. He and council member Parris N. Glendening won awardds for their participation in municipal government at a Prince George's delegation awards breakfast on Tuesday. That delegation, with 28 municipalities, is the largest in the state.
Glendening in a speech, talked about the conflicts between the county and its municipalties and called them "fruitless and silly."
"We all serve the same people, and if these people are unhappy and upset, we all, as local elected officials, are on the front line. We dissipate our strength when we fight each other. I extend a hand of cooperation from the county. Let's work together," he said.
Cheverly Mayor Robert W. O'Connor, president of the Prince George's chapter, said he was looking forward to more cooperation with the states and county governments. "This has been a successful year for our government," he said. "We are coming into an era of better feeling between the two, municipality and county. We are cooperating instead of being adversaries," he said.
"But," he added, "maybe it's because next year is an election year."
The aura of pre-election year politics did hang heavily over the workshops, meetings and social gatherings. Baltimore County executive Ted Venetoulis and State Sen. Steny Hoyer mixed with the crowd. State Comptroller Louis Goldstein attended an afternoon crab feast. Former Prince George's County Executive William Gullet made the rounds of several gubernatorial candidacy or even another crack at the county executive seat. Attorney General Francis Burch dropped in as did Sen. Paul Sarbanes who quipped "the fact you've elected me doesn't mean you'll never see me again."