The following is from the February edition of a monthly column written by Anne Arundel County Councilman Dick Ladd (R-5th District), a resident of the Broadneck peninsula.
Editor's note: At the time of this letter's submission, Bill 7-13 had been introduced which would have declared a vacancy in the County Executive's Office. The bill was later withdrawn as a result of John Leopold resigning from Office.
As February begins, the Council finds itself in an unprecedented swirl of events—change: Significant policy issues, leadership changes in the Health Department and County Executive’s office.
The change at the Health Department is significant as that Department provides some of the most important and personal services to County residents. We can debate what was wrong there, but there is not much debate that there was something wrong. Replacing the Health Officer, which the Council voted to support after much serious consideration, is the most important step, but not the only step, in assuring the continued delivery of high-quality health services. As a hybrid State and County agency, over which the Council sits as the Board of Health, the management roles are shared, unique, complex and, in my opinion, in need of review.
More importantly, after the County Executive was found guilty of two counts of misfeasance in office, Mr. Leopold has been suspended from elective office by operation of Maryland State law without pay and benefits. The County Chief Administrative Officer, John Hammond, will serve as Acting County Executive.
By the time you read this, the County Council will have considered and passed emergency legislation declaring a vacancy in the Office of the County Executive. This will trigger the Council process for filling this vacancy in accordance with Section 402 of the County Charter. Once started, the process could take as many as 30 days to select a Republican replacement, who will serve until the 2014 election and will then be eligible to run for election for two full terms in 2014 and 2018. This change could be profound!
The acting County Executive will have the opportunity to sign several major pieces of legislation now before the Council: the Critical Area Bill, the Storm Water Bill, a bill changing the time required to fully vest for a County pension, and soon, a much-needed update of the County retiree health care program.
With respect to the Critical Area bill, I am working to include a “grandfathering” provision which will make clear that your existing land uses and lot coverage are legal nonconforming uses. All existing structures, accessory structures, landscaping, and developed areas may remain in place without involuntary remediation. This means there are new, lower lot coverage allowances, storm water and pollutant load reductions, and forestation reduction requirements to comply with when and if one seeks to further develop, redevelop, or expand lot usage in a manner requiring a variance from these 1985 Critical Area requirements.
For residents in the Critical Area, these latest lot coverage reductions (or “takings” as some argue) have been on the books for many years. In fact, Bill 93-12 grants the County Planning Officer the authority to modify some of these limiting requirements, on a case-by-case basis, for unintended consequences from literal interpretations in unique situations. Owners with a waterfront buffer area face the most restrictive conditions where heavy forestation is desired, often required as mitigation for revised land use elsewhere behind the buffer. One should contact the Planning and Zoning Office as you develop your land use or redevelopment options beyond your existing, grandfathered situation to carefully understand the tradeoffs involved.
The Storm Water Bill (Bill 2-13) establishes the State mandated fee or funding source. Procedurally, it also establishes a dedicated account outside of the County General Fund to fund long-term, storm water management infrastructure bonds. This $1.2 billion in necessary infrastructure expenditures (includes $50 million for backlogged maintenance) is one of the steps I view as efficient and essential for dealing with the County’s “structural deficits”. It will also restore nearly all the creeks, streams and rivers incident to cleaning up the Bay.
The Bill establishes a three-tier fee structure: small, medium and large with a fee of $34, $85 and $170 respectively based on lot sizes. This fee will be included in the 2014 property tax bills.
Next month: My thoughts on proposed changes in County retirement and health care benefits which are important corner stones of total employee compensation that accounts for some 75% of the County budget.
In the meantime, if you have specific questions – of which there can be many – please email me at email@example.com or call me at 410-222-1401. I will be glad to hear and learn from you.
Read previous columns by Ladd:
- Ladd Addresses Critical Area Bill in Latest Column (January)
- Ladd Offers Information About Critical Area Law (December)
- Councilman Ladd Highlights October's Council Progress (November)
- Ladd Against Limiting County Executive's Veto Power (October)
- Ladd Reviews Charter Amendments on Nov. Ballot (September)
- Councilman Ladd: Schools Benefiting from Budget Actions (August)
- Councilman Ladd Outlines Local Budget Impacts (July)
- Ladd: Council Will Address Bylaws This Month (June)