The residents of West Lanham and West Lanham Hills will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether or not they want to become a part of New Carrollton.
Like a pied piper promising more and better public services, New Carrollton has tried for the past two years to lure the Metro East industrial park and the unincorporated communities of West Lanham and West Lanham Hills into the city.
However, a group of Metro East businessmen and community organizers took the city to circuit court in March 1979 to block the move. The businessmen claimed that the city violated the state's sunshine law by excluding the public from council deliberations on annexation.
New Carrollton lost the case in circuit court, but won in the Maryland Court of Appeals last February. Now the 2,000 or so residents of the 422-acre area targeted for annexation will have their chance to vote.
"Annexation would benefit both the city and West Lanham Hills," said New Carrollton Mayor Jordan Harding. "They would get better public services and lower taxes, and New Carrollton would broaden its tax base and have more control over zoning in the area."
Harding and other New Carrollton officials have told the residents of West Lanham and West Lanham Hills that their public services, now furnished by Prince George's County, would improve if supplied by the city.
Among the promises offered are bulky refuse removal weekly instead of bi-weekly; street lighting; regular snow removal; better police service, and access to city recreational facilities.
City officials claim the prospective residents would pay less for several city services than they now pay for county trash removal. The city tax bill averages about $65 for services, while the county trash bill alone is $85.
They also argue that the annexed communities would have a greater voice in zoning matters affecting them.
Only six county council votes are required to make zoning decisions affecting unincorporated areas while eight votes are needed if the decisions affect portions of the city . . . and the city objects.
"The city would serve as a protective umbrella," said Harding. "These communities need a strong spokesman to articulate their concerns before the county government and I think New Carrollton could do the job. You know, this is the fifth largest city in the county and the 12th largest in the state. We throw around a lot of weight."
Hurding says the city would also be pleased if it could flatten its treasury by putting the multimillion dollar Metro East industrial park on its tax rolls.
According to city officials, New Carrollton would gain nearly $200,000 a year in tax revenues if it annexes Metro East New Carrollton now collects only $275,000 a year from the city's 15,000 residents.
"I'm not ashamed to say that New Carrollton will be getting significant new tax revenues from Metro East," said Harding. "They are impacing on our area and we think that we should be compensated."
Metro East businessmen feel differently, though. "I think New Carrollton is trying to get something for nothing, and trying to give us nothing for something," said Realtor James Rogers, who has led business opposition to the annexation. "They won't be giving us any new services. All they want is thousands of dollars of extra tax revenue each year."
Caught between the businessmen and the city are the two residential communities.
City residents and the city council already have voted overwhelmingly for annexation. Businessmen have condemned it loudly. But the residents of West Lanham and West Lanham Hills have not yet had a chance to express their feelings at the polls.
They will get their chance Tuesday.
One small group led by Carol Tarbox, a 12-year resident of West Lanham, has launched a campaign to stop the annexation.
"What do we need another layer of government for?" asked Tarbox. "All it's going to lead to is another form of big brotherism, more taxes and more bureaucracy. I'm very much opposed to annexation and I think the people of this area will agree."
Leaders of the West Lanham Hills Citizens Association, the largest such group in the community, disagree.
"Annexation would be one of the best things that could ever happen to this community," said association president Bronson Row. c
"Small unincorporated areas have no clout," he added.
"I can't predict how the community will vote, but I'm hopeful that it will vote for annexation and give this community a bigger hand in determining its future.