County directors in holding pattern as discussion continues on WCD
Economic impact unclear, but citizens still want answers
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.”