County di­rec­tors in hold­ing pat­tern as dis­cus­sion con­tin­ues on WCD

Eco­nomic im­pact un­clear, but ci­ti­zens still want an­swers

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

While still in the hands of the Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, the Water­shed Con­ser­va­tion District is still an un­known to most in the county — in­clud­ing the county’s var­i­ous di­rec­tors.

Just like ci­ti­zens, the di­rec­tors and Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers are wait­ing to see what hap­pens at the plan­ning com­mis­sion level. And af­ter that, the var­i­ous county di­rec­tors will have to wait un­til the county com­mis­sion­ers re­view and pass it be­fore any pol­icy de­ci­sions are made.

At last week’s town hall meet­ing be­tween ci­ti­zens and com­mis­sion­ers, many ci­ti­zens had

ques­tions about how the district would im­pact the county fis­cally and whether the county’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment depart­ment will even­tu­ally take a po­si­tion on the district.

Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor Dar­rell Brown said the depart­ment is still wait­ing for con­crete poli­cies to come from the county be­fore any de­ci­sion is made.

The depart­ment is an in­de­pen­dent body from the county govern­ment, Brown said, but they must fol­low the poli­cies and pro­ce­dures set by com­mis­sion­ers. As it re­lates to the district, he said, “the com­mis­sion­ers have given us a great deal of lat­i­tude.”

“We ex­er­cise our in­de­pen­dence ju­di­ciously,” Brown said. “At this time, we don’t want to get ahead of the plan­ning com­mis­sion and we cer­tainly don’t want to get ahead of the com­mis­sion­ers.”

When the time is “ap­pro­pri­ate,” Brown said, the depart­ment will pro­vide in­sight on the plan and how the county could be im­pacted eco­nom­i­cally. But they must work within the frame­work of what­ever comes from above, he said.

There has been no eco­nomic or fis­cal im­pact study done on the district to this point, but Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said the county is in good eco­nomic stand­ing — in “the best fis­cal shape in 11 years.” There should not be any rea­son to raise taxes on ci­ti­zens in the fu­ture be­cause of this plan, he said.

“We’ve been able to give our teach­ers, our sher­iff’s of­fi­cers and oth­ers mod­er­ate raises. Some­thing that wasn’t hap­pen­ing be­fore,” Robin­son said. “We’re pro­jected to have a sur­plus this year. We’re not an­tic­i­pat­ing any fis­cal prob­lems over the next year and a half to two years.”

Di­rec­tor of Plan­ning and Growth Man­age­ment Steve Kaii-Zei­gler said that de­spite there be­ing no fis­cal im­pact study on the Water­shed Con­ser­va­tion District to this point, there have been a “host of other stud­ies” done on the district.

There is “no re­quire­ment” to do an eco­nomic im­pact study on the zon­ing text amend­ment, he said, and it is also “some­what un­usual” to have one.

“That’s not to say that it couldn’t,” Kaii-Zei­gler said. “But at this stage of the process it hasn’t been done.”

The va­ri­ety of stud­ies re­lated to the cre­ation of the district have been pub­licly recorded and posted on the county’s web­site, he said, which could help peo­ple bet­ter un­der­stand the goals of the district and its start.

David Bass­ford, a Mar- bury cit­i­zen who owns com­mer­cial prop­erty in In­dian Head near the Mary­land Air­port, said he still has not re­ceived an an­swer on how his prop­erty could po­ten­tial- ly be im­pacted fis­cally by the Water­shed Con­serva- tion District.

Bass­ford said the citi- zens in Charles County have a right to know the an­swer to how their fu­ture will be im­pacted, and the county should be able to tell them. It may be best, he said, if ci­ti­zens take a vote on the fu­ture of the zon­ing text amend­ment.

“We should be able to choose,” he said. “I’m still wait­ing for an an­swer on my prop­erty. There are peo­ple just like me try­ing to get an­swers.”

Some ci­ti­zens would like to see the district be brought to a ref­er­en­dum vote, but it is un­clear what the process would be to lead to that at this point.

County At­tor­ney Rhonda Weaver said the process nor­mally works two ways, but it is un­clear how the zon­ing text amend­ment would make it on the bal­lot.

“I don’t know off the top of my head, the spe­cific process. The com­mis­sion­ers could make the de­ci­sion to put some­thing on ref­er­en­dum or it could be a pe­ti­tion,” Weaver said. “Gen­er­ally, it works one of those two ways.”

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