The St. Mary's County commissioners formally adopted a new hotel tax Tuesday that they had committed to during earlier budget deliberations.
Officials project that the levy on lodging will generate about $300,000 in yearly revenues earmarked for developing and promoting tourism in the county.
The tax ordinance, approved unanimously, will take effect Aug. 1, said Steve Welkos, the county's finance director. It authorizes the county to collect a 5 percent tax on hotel accommodations. Bed and breakfast inns are exempted.
"The [ordinance] states our intention well," said County Commissioner Shelby P. Guazzo (R-Chaptico), before voting to approve it. Guazzo said that just a couple of residents -- including one who owns a hotel in the county -- had called her with concerns about the effect of the new tax.
Six of Maryland's 24 local jurisdictions, including Calvert County, do not have hotel taxes. Charles County levies a 5 percent accommodations tax.
Already, the commissioners have approved spending $100,000 from the new tax on television commercials that will promote outdoor recreation in St. Mary's.
Parran Pushes Independence on Board
Calvert County's only politically unaffiliated commissioner, John Douglas Parran (formerly Republican, now independent), continued to demonstrate this week that he has a singular view of politics. Parran, frustrated because he couldn't get two additional votes he needed to place two items on the board's agenda, proposed changing the rules.
Parran asked for a "gentleman's and gentle lady's agreement" to allow any commissioner to place any item on the board's agenda. Currently, agenda items are decided by either the board president or by agreement of at least three commissioners.
Some observers call that politics -- lining up votes and negotiating for your particular interests. "I've sat here for nine years on three different boards and I've never had a problem getting something on the agenda," said Commissioner Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard).
But Parran calls that bullying. "All the county commissioners should support one another and should be able to bring up any one issue before this board," said Parran, whose pet projects are posting copies of the Ten Commandments in every classroom and meeting with an animal welfare group to discuss a county shelter that has been spurned by previous boards.
Parran said the commissioners should write other Maryland counties and find out how they conduct business -- an idea that repulsed Commissioners President Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings). "We would look extremely foolish that we can't figure out how to run our business," she said.
But Parran said he would write his own letters, on his own stationery, and pursue the question. He said he wasn't afraid of looking foolish. "I'm not embarrassed," Parran said.
Chief Loves Police Work, Not Paperwork
La Plata Police Chief Sam Sherwell, who joined the force as La Plata's second officer and now runs a nine-man department, is retiring after 12 years.
Sherwell came to La Plata as a patrolman and has served as chief since 1993. He said he wants to exchange his desk duties for something more active.
"I like a hands-on job," Sherwell said. "I want less stressful work -- something that's more active and less administrative."
The paperwork and personnel responsibilities Sherwell dislikes have mounted considerably since he became chief, when the department only had three officers. In the next few years, the La Plata Police Department is set to grow to 15 officers, and managing them is not a task Sherwell would relish, he explained this week.
"The responsibilities have increased to the point where I don't feel comfortable with them," Sherwell said.
With the expansion of the department, Sherwell said his replacement should be someone with management experience at a larger department, not an officer who has risen through the ranks.
Sherwell has applied for several jobs as a security guard. He said he is interested in working for the Charles County Sheriff's Office as a guard at the county courthouse.
La Plata Mayor William Eckman says he is mourning Sherwell's July 31 departure. "If I were going to make a model of a police officer, it would be him," Eckman said. "He just loves police work. He's big, strong and an excellent shot. And I've never seen him excited -- he's always calm, cool and collected."
Staff writer Marcella Bombardieri contributed to this report.