Alan Dwyer has been mayor of the Prince George's County town of Cheverly for just eight months, presiding over a community of detached houses, tree-lined streets, 5,751 residents and a $650,000 nest egg of tax money squirreled away in several accounts at Community Savings and Loan.
Over coffee and his morning newspaper last week, Dwyer discovered that the town might lose a substantial portion of the money invested in the crippled thrift because of a bill pending in a House of Delegates committee that would reduce the state's liability for insuring deposits of more than $100,000.
The town's money, which has been frozen in the Bethesda-based thrift since September, was to be used to pay for a six-year street repaving program. The loss of the funds, Dwyer said yesterday, "would set our street program back 10 years."
Legislators who are sympathetic to the liability bill sponsored by Del. R. Terry Connelly (D-Baltimore County) say the state cannot afford to assume responsibility for covering the $1 billion in deposits still frozen in Community, First Maryland and Old Court savings and loans. The state, they have argued, should adopt a statute insuring accounts up to $100,000 per depositor instead of $100,000 per account as Gov. Harry Hughes has pledged to do.
The defunct Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp. used an emblem similar to the state seal in advertising that all separate $100,000 accounts would be insured. When MSSIC collapsed during the state's savings and loan crisis last year, Hughes said the state would keep MSSIC's promises even if it was not legally bound to do so.
Dwyer and 2,500 other account holders counted on that promise. But Connelly and a majority of the members of the House Economic Matters Committee have taken the view that insuring accounts that exceed $100,000 means that the state is protecting investors rather than simple depositors.
"Cheverly taxpayers are not fat cats, and this is their hard-earned tax money," said Dwyer, who along with his town administrator and members of the town council has been lobbying committee members in writing and by phone.
The Montgomery County town of Somerset also has $160,000 of its capital reserve fund frozen at First Maryland Savings and Loan, an amount Barbara Marbleston, the town's assistant clerk-treasurer, said yesterday it expects to recover.
William S. Ratchford II, the legislature's director of fiscal services, said about $1 million in funds of state agencies also have been tied up in frozen thrift accounts at various times since the crisis began in May.
If the Connelly bill were to be enacted, he said, depositors such as the town of Cheverly would still be reimbursed above the $100,000 amount on a pro-rated basis of roughly 70 cents on the dollar.
Under the Connelly bill, Cheverly would lose the balance of that -- $165,000.
One committee member who originally thought the bill was a good idea said yesterday that the Cheverly problem may force him to change his mind.
"When [Dwyer] called me, I was utterly appalled to find out one of my own municipalities had almost $700,000 in these damn S&Ls," said Francis J. Santangelo Sr. (D-Prince George's).
Efforts by House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) to kill the bill and the threat of a gubernatorial veto may have only a limited effect on how the measure fares in the committee. "Looking around the room" after Cardin spoke against the bill, Santangelo said, "I don't think he changed . . . a lot of minds."