Cumberland Times-News

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December 4, 2013

Commission seeks help from delegation

CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners on Wednesday offered their top legislative priorities for 2014 to members of the delegation that represents the county in the Maryland General Assembly. While some of the requests may require legislation, at least one major request only sought advice on financial accountability for volunteer fire and rescue services.

The No. 1 county priority was seeking an exemption from some state laws and regulations linked to the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

“We realize we are essentially preaching to the choir,” said County Administrator David Eberly. “The real red flag issue we want to talk to you about ... is a one-time fee,” Eberly said. The fee, designed to slow housing growth and therefore pollution going into the bay, could be expensive. In some cases, it could add $15,000 to the price of a new home in the county. The cost could be $30,000 for a home on a septic system, Eberly said.

“We respectfully request that the delegation advocate for an exemption option for slow/no growth counties as additional development regulations will have an adverse impact on construction jobs and negatively impact our real estate tax base,” county officials said in a prepared document for delegation members.

County officials have already sent a letter to staff at the Maryland Department of the Environment hoping to convince them to exempt or modify the growth limit rules for Allegany County based on steps the county has already taken to protect the bay and the area’s declining population, Eberly said.

Delegation members present were Sen. George Edwards and Delegates Wendell Beitzel, Kevin Kelly and LeRoy Myers Jr. Commissioners present at the meeting were president Michael McKay, Bill Valentine and Creade Brodie Jr.

Kelly suggested a copy of the county letter be forwarded to the delegation so its members could also contact the department in support of the exemption proposal before introducing legislation.

Commissioners also asked legislators to make another effort on increasing the monies from highway user funds being returned to local government. Over the years, there has been a sharp decline in those funds, which have been diverted by the state for other purposes, including mass transit in urban areas. In 2009, Allegany County received just over $4 million in highway user funds from various state revenues for use on county roads and bridges. For fiscal 2013, that number was down to a little over $400,000, county officials said. Edwards said increasing the money for localities would be a tough battle.

“We need every county and municipality down there to fight for that,” Beitzel said. Kelly said the situation showed a “contemptuous attitude towards rural areas” by many in state government.

“Allegany County in partnership with the Maryland Association of Counties respectfully requests that the delegation seek an incremental restoration of HUR back to local governments,” county officials said in the document submitted to legislators.    

 Helping volunteer fire and rescue services develop improved financial accountability practices was another item on which commissioners requested help from the delegation. The request originated from financial problems at a couple of departments that recently came to light.

“Our board respectfully requests that the members of the delegation solicit input from their colleagues in the General Assembly or from appropriate state offices to support this important effort — an initiative designed to provide our dedicated volunteers and the citizens they serve with tangible recommendations and strategies to preserve their organizations and strengthen trust in each community,” the document prepared for legislators said. The county has already begun a process seeking proposals for a study of the fire and rescue association’s financial practices with recommendations for the future.

“The fire and EMS services are 100 percent behind this,” Dick DeVore, the county’s emergency services chief, said. Myers suggested DeVore consult with Washington County fire and rescue officials, who have faced similar issues in the recent past.

Commissioners also notified legislators of a $250,000 bond request from the Allegany County Animal Shelter Management Foundation to help fund construction of a new animal shelter.

The meeting took place at the county office complex on Kelly Road.

 Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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