Maintaining a statewide forest preservation program is among the legislative priorities Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner hopes to see lawmakers in Annapolis tackle in the upcoming session, Gardner announced Thursday.
The plan for the preservation program, which would also lengthen the time period granted to local governments for spending conservation funds, is part of a collection of proposals from Gardner (D), the County Council and community organizations that the county’s eight-member delegation may bring to Annapolis for the upcoming General Assembly session.
Gardner's proposals for the county's legislative agenda include:
- The plan to keep the state’s program to preserve existing forest — known as forest banking — in place until 2024. Forest banking has preserved more than 2,500 acres in the county, Gardner said, though the program was halted last year, leaving some property owners unable to finalize their conservation plans.
- Legislation to allow property owners ages 65 and older, or those with physical or developmental disabilities, to designate a third party to receive duplicates of their property tax bills and any notices of unpaid taxes. Supporters hope this would ensure vulnerable homeowners don’t forget to pay their bills.
- Directing to Heritage Frederick a portion of fees from marriage ceremonies performed by the county’s Circuit Court clerk. The heritage society keeps some marriage records, and directing part of the $25 ceremony fee would support the organization in doing so.
- Returning to cemeteries the ownership of burial lots that have been unused or vacant for 50 or more years.
- Support for authorizing the town of Mount Airy to work with building owners to address vacant, abandoned or vandalized properties.
Among the County Council’s proposals, as previously reported, are:
- Legislation from Councilman Steve McKay (R) that would change the process by which vacancies are filled on the county’s Board of Education. Currently, the county executive appoints a replacement who serves until the end of the existing term. This bill would include Board of Education vacancies on ballots in the election nearest to the seat opening up, giving voters a say before the end of the term.
- A recommendation from Councilman Jerry Donald (D) for the county to support legislation that may clear up confusion about the constant yield tax rate. If the rate remains unchanged, and it’s determined that a property’s value has increased, the county’s tax bill also jumps. State law requires the county to call this a tax increase, despite the rate not changing, according to county documents. This proposal would give county officials the authority to change the wording.
- A request from Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) for the county to support legislation containing efforts to combat climate change similar to those in the Climate Solutions Now Act, sections of which passed during the 2021 session but the bulk of which may return to Annapolis in some form during the upcoming session. Among the act’s provisions was changing the state’s approach to reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions.
Gardner said Thursday she plans for the legislative package to be finalized and presented by mid-November to the county’s delegation, which comprises Sens. Ron Young (D) and Michael Hough (R) and six delegates.
Members of the public can comment on the proposals during a virtual town hall Wednesday at 6 p.m.
“Public input is essential to providing good government,” Gardner said in a news release. “Frederick County is unique among charter governments with our process, which ensures everyone has an opportunity to weigh in on our legislative package.”