By Liz Brown.
Early this month, I was compelled to speak (my first time doing so!) after a Baltimore County Council legislative session—not about legislation that was pending, but about legislation passed last month: Bill 16-19, which dealt with the issue of so-called “impact fees” for developers. Like many, many people in the County, I was and am very much in favor of impact fees. I think that developers need to pay their fair share.
Thus, I was following this bill. I knew there were some differing ideas on how to implement impact fees, so I was happy to hear that there was a good compromise between two different bills. However, I was shocked to read in the Sun that the bill ended up including a lot of delays, reduced charges, and exemptions, which were added through an amendment that was introduced and voted on in the same session in which the bill was passed.
Compromise is fine and expected. And, I understand that developers wouldn’t necessarily want to pay impact fees and would want to lobby for a better deal for themselves. That’s also fine and part of the process.
But to significantly alter the bill at the last minute without County residents having the chance to know about, much less give input on, the changes propelled me to get off work early and head to the old historic Courthouse in time to sign up before the 6 PM Council meeting.
The Baltimore County Council routinely amends and then votes on bills in the same session. In some cases, the changes may be minor. This case, however, just happened to be a bit of a “hot potato.” With a widespread perception that developers control the County, and right after Council passed a transparency reform package of laws, the way this particular amendment was made is not what I would call good “optics.”
I asked that the Council consider ways—procedures—to conduct its business that will afford County residents the ability to review and give feedback on all bills in their final forms, even budget-related bills that might have a stricter timeline. After all, Council members would certainly want to make sure that they are keeping their constituents appropriately informed.
I’m happy to report that, after hearing a second resident testify on this very topic the very same night, the Council discussed implementing such a procedure. With the recent approval of a longer time period for Council to act on bills, internal discussions about making changes to the procedure have already started taking place. I plan to continue to make my voice heard until such changes come to fruition—and I encourage other residents to join in!