Cumberland Times-News

Local News

August 3, 2013

Rural coalition looking to add members

Garrett, which first rejected joining, now expressing interest

CUMBERLAND — The Maryland Rural Counties Coalition plans a push to add at least four more counties to the current membership rolls, pushing the number of citizens represented by the organization well over the million member mark. That was one of the messages Frederick County Commission President Blaine Young delivered to an Allegany County Commission work session on Thursday.

Counties that have expressed interest in joining the coalition include Garrett, Harford, Queen Anne’s and Talbot, Young said. Garrett County initially turned down membership when the coalition was formed in 2011.

The 10 current members of the coalition are Allegany, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Kent, Somerset, Washington and Wicomico counties. That includes elected officials representing nearly a million Marylanders.

“We have enough members in MACo that we can now affect the decisions in MACo,” Commissioner Bill Valentine said in reference to the Maryland Association of Counties.

Young hopes to expand membership beyond actual government bodies to include other organizations and legislators or county council members who represent rural parts of counties that have urban centers.

“Even Montgomery County has rural areas,” Young said. The state Farm Bureau could be another potential member or supporter of the coalition, Young said.

The coalition also issued an annual report for 2012-13, which showed that lobbyist Bruce Bereano was paid $10,000 on Jan. 11, 2013. He was the only lobbyist working for the coalition for the 2013 General Assembly session. The Historic Inn of Annapolis was paid almost $3,500 for a Sine Die celebration to which legislators were invited at the close of the General Assembly session in April.

The current cash balance for the coalition is more than $16,000. “Rural counties know how to manage their money,” Young said.

Different counties made different financial contributions to the coalition to fund 2013 General Assembly activities. While Washington, Frederick and Allegany counties paid $5,000 each, other member counties paid between $1,000 and $2,000. Outside organizations also contributed funds, including the Maryland Coal Association, CBIZ and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 307.

The organization is not meant as a rival to MACo, Michael McKay, Allegany County commissioner and rural coalition chairman, has said.

Young reiterated that point, explaining that the coalition had crafted a memorandum of understanding with MACo. One key agreement was that the coalition would not take a public position of opposition in cases where MACo takes a stand on an issue or piece of legislation.

“We’re not in competition with MACo, but want to make sure our voices are heard,” Young said.

The coalition took stands on nine pieces of legislation and was successful on four of the legislative items. One of those items would have expanded sick leave rights that apply to county governments. The rural coalition opposed the bill and it failed to make it through the General Assembly.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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