The St. Mary’s County delegation convened last Friday in a closed meeting to vote on their stance on a number of proposals that had been brought forth by the St. Mary’s County commissioners last October.
After a reporter inquired about the delegation’s decisions, Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) told The Enterprise that the three delegates and state senator representing St. Mary’s voted unanimously on several bills that would specifically impact the county, including changes to the county’s open meetings act, the decoupling of the county government’s debt from the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission debt and an increase in the public accommodations tax.
The state representatives discussed the three proposals from the commissioners related to the St. Mary’s County Open Meetings Act — to allow closed meetings for investment of public funds, legal advice and cybersecurity; to add the public library board, MetCom board and the housing authority to a list of public agencies that must abide by the act and to encourage the use of new technology; and to remove subcommittees from the definition of public agency.
The four state representatives decided to support most of the commissioners’ proposed changes to the open meetings act, but voted against removing subcommittees from the definition of public agency, not allowing them to meet behind closed doors.
“Subcommittee meetings in Annapolis are open. A lot of the times subcommittees will get together and vote … understanding the why [of their decisions] is just as important,” Crosby said, adding, “there is a strategy to cybersecurity, so I can understand why that would not be subject to the open meetings act.”
The delegation agreed to the addition of the library board, MetCom and the housing authority to the list of public agencies, a decision that the library agreed to as well, according to Crosby. Their business would now have to be conducted in open meetings, with all of the provisions that come with them, including proper meeting notifications.
Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) said in a phone interview the entire package proposed by commissioners will increase transparency overall and that he believes most people will be happy with the decision.
The delegation also collectively decided not to support the decoupling of the county debt from the MetCom debt.
“I think it’s working the way it is,” Morgan said, but noted that the delegates are willing to look at limiting MetCom debt based on revenue rather than accessible base.
Another request from the county commissioners in October was to raise St. Mary’s public accommodations tax from 5% to 7%, with some commissioners arguing that collecting revenue from outside people that are using county roads and other amenities could be beneficial.
When asked why the delegation chose not to support this proposal, Morgan said they “don’t want to discourage people from visiting the county,” and that St. Mary’s would have to compete with neighboring counties with lower tax rates.
“Commissioners already raised taxes … I don’t think they need the revenue,” Morgan said, but mentioned that it is something that might be reconsidered in the future.
“We want to see how this turns out first,” he said.
Three bond initiative requests — $812,000 for St. Mary’s County Health Department renovations, $350,000 to St. Clement’s Island Museum for renovations and expanded exhibits, and $118,150 for the St. Jerome’s Creek jetty study to pay the non-federal share — were voted on unfavorably, according to Morgan, as well as the establishment of a fee for on-site consumption permits for the St. Mary’s liquor board.
A request to allow county animal control officers to wear body warn cameras to record their encounters and activities was voted down as well, after the delegation agreed that the proposal needed more work, Morgan said.
Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) did not return requests for comment by deadline.
Any of the proposals the county’s delegation, which also includes Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), decide to move forward with will now move toward full votes in the Maryland General Assembly.