The Maryland General Assembly begins its 2000 session on Wednesday, and Charles County commissioners want state lawmakers to give them more ability to control littering and to clean up dilapidated housing.
The requests are among 19 proposals that commissioners forwarded to the county's legislative delegation for possible action during the 90-day session.
Legislators who met with commissioners last week greeted several of the proposals with skepticism, including a measure calling for a local tax on sand and gravel mining.
"What is the purpose here?" said Del. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins (R-Charles). In an interview after the meeting, Hutchins said he was wary of raising taxes on an industry that provides jobs.
Similarly, Hutchins said the four-member delegation from Charles County would need to decide whether it could support a proposal to give commissioners power to enact housing quality standards and enforcement procedures.
Like some other non-urban counties in Maryland, including all three Southern Maryland jurisdictions, Charles County has limited powers of self-government and needs General Assembly approval for many changes in its laws.
Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) said commissioners may want to give homeowner associations more power to enforce covenants that often govern the details of property uses and structures in residential developments.
Lawyers' fees and delays during court processes deter the associations from moving against negligent homeowners, Levy said. He suggested legislation that might let an association recoup legal fees from a homeowner if it brings a successful court action.
"It really goes to the problem of housing values in neighborhoods in the development district," Levy said. "One or two dilapidated homes in a neighborhood can really cause housing values to deteriorate."
Commissioners have been seeking ways to bolster property values since state assessors in late 1997 reported widespread drops in housing values in Waldorf.
Commissioners also are seeking authority to impose a new fee on new homes, with the purpose of financing parkland purchases. According to a recent estimate, the county needs to buy about 2,700 acres for parks over the next 20 years to meet state minimum standards.
But Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Charles) said he was wary of adding yet another fee to the home construction industry.
Purchasers of new homes already pay a fee that goes toward school construction. For single-family homes, the fee amounts to $4,801. County officials have estimated a park fee would be about $600.
"I think you have to look at the total package," Middleton said.
Legislators expressed sympathy with commissioners' aim to find ways to crack down on littering. Some county roads are marred by what amount to illegal roadside dumps.
Commissioners want to pin liability for the rubbish on the person who produced it. On Monday they said responsibility for cleaning it up now rests on the owner of the land where the trash is dumped.
Legislators also said they may introduce a measure to restrict solicitation of funds at road intersections, as commissioners requested.
Other requests forwarded by the commissioners include:
* Extending to smaller companies a tax credit intended for new or expanding businesses. The credit against property tax can now be granted to companies with 25 or more workers. The change would lower the threshold to 10 employees.
* Stricter laws against drinking in public. Commissioners want to make it illegal to walk around a neighborhood with an open container of an alcoholic beverage, something that is now permitted.
* A proposal to more closely regulate trash truck traffic, perhaps through a permit system for routes. Such vehicles increasingly traverse the county since neighboring Calvert and St. Mary's counties began sending municipal waste to large landfills in Virginia.
In November, the commissioners voted against seeking legislative authority to form a citizens panel to review allegations of police misconduct, and against collective bargaining for sheriff's deputies.