Becoming a municipality
Closing part of the path along GEICO
Down memory lane
Rarely in the history of an organization is there a change so fundamental that it affects the entire structure. The Brookdale Citizens' Association may be approaching such a change. The possibilities will be discussed at this year's annual meeting, and it is critical that your officers learn how you, residents of Brookdale, feel about the change.
Your Executive Committee reached this point through the belief that Brookdale must gain more control over the use of land in our community. You should already be aware of concerns about tear-downs, the controversy over "mansionization," and the political debate over restrictions on the height of houses. In all these issues, the decision makers have seemed far away, not readily influenced by what we think would be best locally. The wish to bring the decision process closer to home is not limited to Brookdale; other communities have been looking for solutions to the problems they encounter including a request for a moratorium on tear-downs.
One solution is for Brookdale to become a municipality. A bill now in the Maryland legislature would assure that all municipalities would increase control over land use. There are, of course, many implications of making Brookdale into a municipality, and the outcomes depend on the details of what path we might take. Some implications are presented by Steve Heyman in this Bugle. I urge you to read Steve's article and to think about the possibilities before the annual meeting when the issue will be discussed. This will not be the final vote on status as a municipality, but the eventual proposals will depend on this immediate discussion.
Another possibility for Brookdale depends on County legislation now being drafted. A section of Montgomery County Park and Planning has a grant to study Brookdale in depth. It believes that Brookdale "has integrity and character and has not yet been subject to the teardown trend to a strong degree." Planners are now documenting Brookdale's characteristics. The final document could be used for protective action should we seek to use it. Namely, the legislation in the works would create a number of "Neighborhood Conservation Districts." These would result in "floating zones" within which development could be limited, and there would be more flexibility than registry for "historic preservation." Neighborhoods would apply to become such a District, and part of the application would require documenting characteristics as the current survey will do. We have not committed Brookdale to applying for status as a District, but this remains an alternative.
So there will be much substance for consideration at the annual meeting. Read the box for other items on the agenda. We will try a different event this year after addressing business: We invite newcomers to stay around to talk with longer-term residents. This implies that it would be good for old timers to be available. It will be your choice on whether to continue serious discussion of Brookdale issues or to learn more about your neighbors.
I hope to see you May 17.
For the meeting agenda and a proposed amendment to the Brookdale By-Laws, please see the community page (then return to this Bugle with your 'back' button).
|THE VILLAGE OF BROOKDALE? |
- Steve Heyman
|Should our neighborhood become a municipality? That is the question that some unincorporated
communities in Montgomery County are exploring as they seek new ways to maintain the quality and
character of their communities.
Brookdale has grappled with development around our neighborhood for years. Now, like our neighbors in other parts of Bethesda and Chevy Chase, we face the threat of "mansionization" within our community. This issue, coupled with the County's seeming unwillingness or inability to add certainty to this process has led many in Bethesda and Chevy Chase including the Brookdale Executive Committee to explore ways to ensure that our neighborhoods continue to be great places to live and raise families.
One tool that several communities are actively exploring is becoming municipalities. There are currently 156 incorporated municipalities in Maryland. They range from Baltimore City the largest city in Maryland to Barnesville in Northern Montgomery County which is one of the smallest. Since 1982, five new municipalities all in Montgomery County have been incorporated.
Although it is impossible to lay out all of the issues in this article, we wanted to provide some background so that if Brookdale residents believe that this is a path worth exploring, we have the basis for starting a neighborhood conversation at our annual meeting in May.
What services can a municipality provide? The authority each municipality assumes varies widely and is based on the responsibilities that a community wants to take on. For example, most municipalities provide basic services such as trash collection, while others take on tree planting, leaf raking, snow removal, street cleaning, police patrols, street signs, monitor fence heights and make road improvements. Over 100 municipalities exercise planning and zoning authority and 83 provide police protection.
Under current Maryland law, municipalities are limited in their ability to regulate certain types of zoning activities including many of those activities that would be most helpful in blocking mansionization. Legislation is being considered in Annapolis that would authorize municipalities to assume additional zoning authority at their discretion. Should such legislation pass, this year or in the future, municipalities would have greater authority to regulate mansionization within their borders. [As this article went to press, HB1232 had passed 137-0 in the House and was awaiting action in the Senate. It has since passed without opposition in the Senate.]
Is this duplicative of what the County does? In most municipalities, the services provided either replace County services (e.g., trash collection) or supplement (e.g., additional police patrols). Most municipalities have at least one paid staff person (often part-time) who serves as a "town manager" and coordinates services and contracts with service providers in the municipality. One town manager described her role this way, "I want to be the best neighbor any of my neighbors ever had." Simply put, everyone in a municipality knows who to call when the trash is not picked up or when a curb needs to be repaired and the response time is usually relatively short.
|Will this cost me more money? No new taxes are required to incorporate. In fact, all
municipalities receive 17% of local income taxes paid by residents through the County piggyback
tax. They also are eligible to receive highway users revenue, and, where there is a local expenditure
for duplicative or complementary services, are eligible to receive funds for trash collection (which
we all pay as part of our property tax bill) or police collection. It is up to each individual
municipality to decide whether it wants to levy additional taxes as well. To give you a sense of this,
one municipality in Chevy Chase that is similar in size to Brookdale levies a tax of 2 cents per $100
of assessed value and collects only $28,000. Its overall budget is about $300,000.|
How does a community incorporate? Maryland state law lays out the ground rules for incorporation. At a minimum, a community must contain 300 residents. [Brookdale meets this requirement.] Within an 18 month period, proponents must get petitions signed by at least 20% of the qualified voters and 25% of the owners of assessed property OR 25% of qualified voters. Once the petition process is completed, the organizing committee works with the County to hold a hearing, present a charter, obtain County approval of the charter and put the new charter up for referendum by the proposed municipal voters.
What are the arguments for incorporation? There are three main arguments for incorporation. First, those of us who know people who live in municipalities have probably heard them praise the services and the sense of community fostered by living within a municipality. It's the old argument that the government closest to the governed governs best. Second, at a time when Montgomery County is growing rapidly and frequently seems unresponsive to the concerns of certain communities, the ability to regulate a community of several hundred homes (as opposed to tens of thousands in the entire County) has significant appeal to some. Finally, as the County continues debates over development and other issues, incorporated municipalities given communities stronger, more organized voices than unincorporated citizens groups.
What are the arguments against incorporation? The three major arguments against incorporation are the possible duplication of services, the prospect of a new local tax and the fact that incorporation requires committed, involved leaders to manage the municipality.
Clearly the issues surrounding incorporation are complex and require significant discussion. We plan to talk about this issue more fully at the annual meeting in May. If you are interested in obtaining more information or discussing this issue in the interim, please visit the Maryland Municipal League's website www.mdmunicipal.org or call me at (301) 654-1468.
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