Residents of the divided city of Takoma Park sent a strong message to state legislators in Tuesday's election: They want to be unified as one in Montgomery County. But Prince George's elected officials maintained their opposition yesterday to shifting boundaries.
The voters' message came in referendums included on the ballots for both the Prince George's and Montgomery sides of the city. In both cases, voters overwhelmingly favored unification and rejected the option of moving the entire city into Prince George's County.
Efforts in the General Assembly to redraw the county boundaries to eliminate Takoma Park's intercounty disputes have twice been stymied by Prince George's County legislators, who oppose the loss of 1,255 acres of taxable county land.
The city is now split with about two-thirds in Montgomery County and the rest in Prince George's County, a jurisdictional difference that has been manifested in periodic disputes over fire service, trash collection and community college eligibility.
Tuesday's vote is not binding, and Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, the majority of the County Council and many local members of the General Assembly remain opposed to unification.
"It's a bad precedent because there are a lot of communities that straddle the county line," said Royal Hart, Glendening's liaison with the General Assembly. "The problems of Takoma Park can be solved without moving the boundary line."
One solution Glendening supports is a state bill granting independent zoning authority to Takoma Park. The County Council, however, voted Tuesday to oppose that as well as other bills aimed at granting increased independence for Takoma Park.
But one council member said he would abide by the vote. "I hate to see it where Prince George's County people want to go into Montgomery County," said Anthony Cicoria, the area's representative on the County Council. "But if the majority of the people feel it, I will support what the people want."
State Sen. Stewart Bainum (D-Montgomery), who with Del. Diane Kirchenbauer (D-Montgomery) is sponsoring legislation in the General Assembly to unify Takoma Park, said he hopes the bill will pass in exchange for Montgomery County support of other Prince George's bills.
"I'm hoping . . . that there will be a window of political opportunity to attach this to another issue at the appropriate time," he said. Bainum's bill would require that another referendum be held next year.
The city's newly elected mayor, Stephen J. DelGiudice, lives in the Prince George's section of Takoma Park and said yesterday he also supports unification in Montgomery. "The state legislature has to consider the will of the people," said DelGiudice.
But some, such as Republican Del. Thomas Mooney, said that they do not think Tuesday's vote changes the issue.
"The people have spoken," said Mooney. "But to be intellectually honest, I will support the referendum to get it before the General Assembly but work toward unifying into Prince George's."
Mooney said that he will also explore the option of "decertifying" the Prince George's portion of the city -- in effect, seceding from the city.