So, where have I been?
In my last article on TheTentacle.com, entitled Pushing the Envelope: Taxes and Leadership, I expressed concern with Frederick City alderman for what I misunderstood as an effort on their part to increase certain taxes to supplement the city's revenue stream.
Well, after a couple of friendly rebuttals from Aldermen Carol Krimm and Karen Young, I went back and did my homework and actually learned a few things.
First, the aldermen were not proposing an increase in recordation and building excise taxes. Speaking for Frederick's 12 municipalities at a joint meeting with the county commissioners, they offered up for discussion the idea of sharing in a portion of the revenue from the county recordation and building excise taxes. Of course, the idea went nowhere. But "My Bad" for not researching more than just reading a related article in The Frederick News-Post.
The second and more interesting thing I learned was that our Board of County Commissioners and representatives of the 12 municipalities have a regular "forum" at which they discuss matters of joint concern among the 13 different jurisdictions. These meeting have been going on for four or five years, but not until this year have they really taken an encouraging form.
This gathering has sort of phased out a previous periodic gathering known as the Frederick County Council of Governments (COG) meetings. The difference between the two forums is that the current meetings are more county commissioner-driven verses the Council of Government’s format being one of peers.
After viewing the 2010 meetings on the county website (http//bit.ly/9dn26L), it appears that this typically monthly meeting does generate a good opportunity for the elected leaders of the 13 jurisdictions to air matters of overlapping interests and concerns. Much of the time taken up in the earlier meetings was focused on updates of the county’s comprehensive plan, the new storm water management regulations; and, more recently, the June meeting was devoted to an update on the National Academy of Sciences Study of the Health and Safety Risks of the new facilities at Fort Detrick.
Lively conversations bubbled up during the months of April, May and July over the issue of property tax equity, as well as the lead up to the controversial tax bill insert and billing matter.
While I am excited to learn that these meetings have been taking place, it appears to me that the existing structure and format allows the commissioners to dominate the conversation. Frankly, they do come across a bit more patriarchal (or matriarchal as the case may be) with the municipalities.
My observation is that with Commissioner President Jan Gardner presiding over the "forum" (as she has referred to the gathering), it appears at times that several of the representatives of the municipalities are speaking before a high court; especially when the wise ol' sage John L. “Lennie” Thompson, Jr., responds to a speaker.
My hope is that while the consensus of the group has been to let the local Council of Governments meetings to go by the wayside, the members may want to reinstate the old format, as it would likely help in keeping the commissioners' judicial setting from taking over.
With that said as the meetings have evolved over the last seven months, occasional encouraging comments and discussion have surfaced over the idea of working "collaboratively," "together" and "saving by doing things more jointly." While much of this talk seems to be driven by the difficult economic times that our governments are experiencing of late, there appears to be some real sincerity.
The July meeting yielded an agreement among the participants to form a committee of eight to 12 members, which will focus on the issue of proper allocation of property tax equity dollars between the county and the municipalities. Alderman Young summed it up well by saying that "the end goal is for the taxpayers to feel that they are getting value for their tax dollars," without having the feeling that they are being double taxed added Alderman Krimm. This seems to be a good first mini-step in building better collaboration between the county and these other jurisdictions.
While "working together" is a good thing, my hope is that this body can find a means of looking at more collaborative approaches like commissioning a study to look at the value of combining several different over lapping services. Since it has been done in many areas around the country, ideas like this could save taxpayers real money. Among all these elected officials it will only take one or two of them to put such an idea on a future agenda and get the ball rolling.
Last week I launched a poll on the MacRo Report Blog (http://bit.ly/dqzrrc) asking county residents what they believe is the top issue in the upcoming election for our new Frederick Board of County Commissioners. While there is still time to cast your vote, thus far the dominate concern is that of "Taxes and Government Spending." Now this is not a scientific poll, but with a few hundred responses from various sources, it tells me that the voters are looking for better leadership in addressing their taxing concerns in these difficult times.