For more than 10 minutes Tuesday evening, Frederick County Council members discussed how to move forward with recommendations from County Executive Jan Gardner regarding proposals to submit to local members of the state delegation.
Initially, there appeared to be some confusion. But then, Gardner — for the first time since the new council has been seated — entered the council chambers, and clarified the process.
Council members could vote on her recommendations separately, but any no vote wouldn’t kill them, she said.
“You’re welcome to vote through the entire thing, but I do want to say that I have the ability to say, ‘I’m advancing this bill even if you don’t agree with it,’” Gardner said.
Gardner had introduced two proposals at a press conference earlier that day. One is related to a state tax credit for renters and the other would raise salaries for the county’s Board of Education members.
According to state law, Maryland offers up to $1,000 per year to renters, depending on if they have disabilities, are over 60, have children under 18 or other income levels.
Gardner proposed including up to a 50 percent match from the county, similar to laws already on the books in Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
She said the council could enact legislation to enact such a change, and that 50 percent would be the max.
“There’s a lot of property tax credits ... but people who don’t own property obviously don’t benefit from that. But they still may be paying an equal amount for their housing, so this just is a targeted renters’ credit,” Gardner said. “It can a meaningful amount of money to have $50 to $100 to pay your rent each month.”
Gardner’s other proposal was to raise annual pay for Board of Education members by $4,000. That would mean board members would be paid $14,000, and the board president would get $15,000, she said.
“I think we have to recognize the amount of time that’s devoted to it, that we want people with good skill sets and interests to be willing to come in and to get some compensation and appreciation for it,” Gardner said.
She told council members on Tuesday she would be open to a smaller raise, along with tying the raise to some sort of cost-of-living adjustment per year.
Several county commissions and organizations have submitted requests for legislation or overall position statements to Gardner. They range from asking for funding for affordable housing to education initiatives to transit for seniors and those with disabilities.
Councilman Steve McKay (R) is the only council member so far who has introduced a recommendation for the local delegation. He has proposed that the county should hold a special election for Board of Education vacancies, but only if the election is held in a midterm or presidential election year, in order to avoid costs of $250,000 to $300,000.
He added that if an appointment process is needed, the county executive’s appointee should undergo a public interview process, including opportunity for public comment.
Councilman Jerry Donald (D) noted that given the timing of people filing to fill Board of Education vacancies, there could be a one-on-one race, which would change the atmosphere of such a race.
“A one-on-one race is different, especially a competitive one-on-one race is a different race than an at-large race because it becomes a binary choice,” Donald said. “And negativity can play into those, as many of us know.”
McKay said he understood that point, but the goal of his proposal was to put the choice back into the public’s hands.
“It’s just a question of balancing those negatives against the positive of returning the choice back to the voter. ... I tend to give a lot more weight to returning that choice back to the voters.”
The council is scheduled to vote on Gardner’s and McKay’s recommendations next week. Gardner will host a public town hall regarding the proposals at Winchester Hall on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.