Calvert County commissioners asked state lawmakers for $19.8 million in bonding authority Tuesday at a legislative hearing in Prince Frederick.
About half the funding would be used for the county's new leveraged financing plan to speed up land preservation, with the other half paying for office space, courthouse renovations and other capital projects. The request was one of five legislative proposals presented at the annual League of Women Voters forum.
Several Calvert residents also attended the session, either asking questions about the commissioners' legislative requests or suggesting additional items--such as measures to address the population increase in southern parts of the county and problems with telecommunications in Dunkirk--for the board to consider in the coming year.
By law, the county needs state legislative permission to incur debt. Of the $19.8 million in bonding authority requested for the coming year, $10.3 million would finance the land preservation program. Under the leveraging plan, the county buys development rights on farmland at today's prices, but won't pay the full amount until 15 years from the purchase date. Until then, the farmers would receive an annual tax-free interest payment. The county hopes to lock up development rights on 9,400 acres by 2003 under the program, which received support Tuesday night from Calvert Farm Bureau President Buddy Hance.
"We need to preserve the land now," Hance told the audience. "Leveraging is not for everybody, but it's another tool."
Some audience members questioned the commissioners' emphasis on slowing growth and worried that not enough attention was given to the needs of children in the county.
Pat Elder, president of Calvert Crusade for Children, asked the board to reconsider the $2,800 per acre--the going rate for development rights--it would spend on slowing development and redirect it to programs for children.
"We urge our delegation not to allow the commissioners to put us into debt at the expense of our children," Elder said, his comment eliciting applause.
Stephanie Iszard, a former teacher, agreed with Elder and compared the commissioners' requests with the seven issues--including services for children--that the Calvert League of Women Voters will focus on for 2000.
"The league is more in tune to the real people of Calvert County," Iszard said. "It saddens me to sit there and see that for the year 2000 our children weren't listed. I applaud the League of Women Voters that our children are still important for you."
Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) pointed out that broader issues such as school class size and child care are decided at the state level, not by county boards. He called the leveraging plan "proactive" and said land preservation is better in the long run than taxpayers shouldering the costs of more schools in Maryland's fastest-growing county.
Board President Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings) also defended the list of legislative requests, saying the major items reflect a make-good on campaign promises of slowed growth.
"This is the delivery of that promise," she said as audience members clapped.
The other requests on the list were:
* Authorizing Calvert County to establish special taxing districts for developing and financing infrastructure improvements in commercial areas. O'Donnell was the only delegate to openly oppose this request, saying the move would open areas to a rapid expansion of sewerage that would "destroy the character of those communities." This request has failed to win approval in the last two General Assembly sessions, County Administrator Joe Allman said.
* Streamlining the law regarding the opening of bids for county projects.
* Authorizing the county to enact a false alarm ordinance. Allman said 98 percent of alarm-related calls to the sheriff's office end up being false. If approved, this proposal would allow a local ordinance stricter than the state's and could provide for fining residents who are the cause of false alarms. Allman said the measure would "encourage people to maintain their security systems, and to penalize them if they do not."
* Changing the wording of the county's property laws to require that all properties be first certified by the county treasurer to ensure that all taxes, assessments and charges have been paid.