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The three Charles County commissioners who voted last month for an altered version of a proposed septic tier map shifting 9,000 acres of Mattawoman Creek watershed into a planned sewer area reversed course Tuesday, instead approving the plan as recommended by a six-member work group.

The commissioners voted 3-2 on March 11 to reject a tier map proposed by the work group they appointed in January to complete the task and instead adopted a revised map moving half of the 18,000-acre deferred development district spanning Waldorf and Bryans Road out of Tier IV, which is slated for preservation, and into Tier II, which is reserved for future sewer areas.

A couple of weeks later, Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Rich Hall, a member of the work group, wrote the commissioners recommending they reconsider the watershed’s designation.

A 2012 state law known as the “septic bill” required counties to adopt maps showing where future residential growth on septic systems will be allowed.

Hall’s comments necessitated a public hearing, which earlier this month the commissioners scheduled for May 13.

But at the end of the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, with President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) out sick and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) having left to attend another event, Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) recommended revisiting the issue.

Collins, who voted for the altered tier map alongside Commissioners Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D), said he did so due to concerns that placing the entire deferred development district within Tier IV might affect the subarea plan for the Maryland Airport in Pomonkey.

Collins said he later concluded that the septic bill addressed his concerns, and he no longer had reservations about supporting the map as recommended by the work group, the formation of which he proposed.

Passing the panel’s proposed map would negate the need for Hall’s comments, and thus, the public hearing. County Attorney Barbara Holtz said MDP had informed the county it would issue a “no comment” letter should the commissioners adopt the work group’s plan.

Davis, who earlier this month accused Hall of having “singlehandedly usurped” the tier map process, made a motion to adopt the panel’s map. She, Collins and Rucci all voted in favor.

Robinson confirmed via phone that the vote would have been 4-0 had he been present.

“I’m happy that my colleagues reconsidered the actions they took by adding 9,000 acres of the Mattawoman watershed to a future sewer area,” he said. “After two long years and unbelievable citizen input, the other side blinked.”

Robinson said he wouldn’t have left the meeting early had he known Collins intended to propose a vote Tuesday. Collins had told Robinson earlier Tuesday that he was willing to reconsider his vote on the tier map, but Robinson said he believed the matter would have been addressed at a future meeting.

“The end result is what’s really important as far as I’m concerned,” he added. “So I’m really pleased they took this action, but I would have rather been there.”

Kelly said she arrived at the county government building as her colleagues were coming out of closed session, and she was “thrilled” with their decision but troubled that they did not inform her that they were about to reconsider the tier map, a matter that was not listed on the meeting’s agenda.

Kelly was in her office dropping off a file when she heard the vote occur, she said.

“Bad government is bad government, even if it’s the right outcome,” Kelly said.

Davis demands sheriff’s audit

Davis singled out Sheriff Rex Coffey during the board’s Tuesday meeting, stating that she opposes any increases to the sheriff’s budget until he agrees to an independent audit of his department.

Davis (D), who has often called for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office to be audited, made her comments during a briefing on the county’s fiscal 2015 budget. She noted that Coffey (D) said during a public hearing on the budget last week that he was “willing to sit down” with the commissioners and refine his department’s $87.5 million budget request, which includes funding for 33 new patrol cruisers.

“We definitely have to follow up on that conversation, and hopefully he wasn’t talking raises,” Davis said. “I hope he was talking about chipping down. I mean, this isn’t the year to buy police cars.”

County staff have recommended a $78.8 million budget for the sheriff’s office, a 2.5 percent increase on its current $76.9 million budget for fiscal 2014.

But Davis countered that the commissioners should refuse the agency a budget increase until Coffey submits to an audit.

“If you have a budget as large as he’s asking for, and we all know he asked for $87 million, when he refuses an audit, an internal operational audit — you guys have combed through our budget line by line — and when we can’t see that budget, it is irresponsible of us to give any more money until we are allowed to know where that money’s going,” she said.

Davis added that “a 2 percent decrease could solve all the problems” and accused Coffey of refusing audits after agreeing to them publicly.

“We can’t continue to fund this without holding him accountable, as we’ve held everybody else accountable,” she concluded.

Coffey had yet to hear Davis’s remarks when asked for comment, but denied having ever refused an audit.

“We’ve told her before, ‘you can do a financial audit of our agency until the cows come home,’” Coffey said. “All the stuff is over there in their building. If she wants to audit us, then why hasn’t she done it? All she’s got to do is walk down the hall and ask [Director of Fiscal and Administrative Services] Dave Eicholtz. We have not said they couldn’t conduct audits at all.”

jnewman@somdnews.com