This story has been corrected on Aug. 1, 2012.
The Montgomery County Council approved language Tuesday for two referendums that may appear on the November ballot: one that will ask voters to approve a change in collective bargaining with police unions and the other for potential language to challenge an ambulance fee.
A proposal to allow the county flexibility in raising its fire tax above the charter limit will not be on the ballot.
County legislation in 2011 altered collective bargaining for Montgomery’s police officers, represented by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 35, by eliminating effects bargaining — bargaining that allowed police to negotiate some management decisions such as staffing, transfers and new equipment.
The referendum language will read:
“Shall the Act to modify the scope of collective bargaining with police employees to permit the exercise of management rights without first bargaining the effects of those rights on police employees become law?”
Montgomery County challenged the legality of 34,828 signatures certified in November by the Board of Elections, enough signatures to put the issue to the public on Nov. 6. In its lawsuit, the county claimed some of the signatures might not be valid and those gathering signatures might have committed fraud.
Kevin Karpinski, an attorney for the county Board of Elections said his department is awaiting a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals over the county’s challenge of the FOP’s signatures, expected this month.
The council also agreed Tuesday on potential language for a ballot question asking voters whether to overturn the county’s latest effort to charge insurers for emergency medical transport. Volunteer firefighters have yet to gather enough signatures to put the ambulance fee to a public vote.
Margie Roher, a spokeswoman for the county Board of Elections, said opponents of the ambulance fee have until Aug. 11 to turn in 15,546 signatures to keep the issue eligible for referendum in November. Those same petitioners must submit another 15,546 signatures by Aug. 26 to get it on the ballot. The 31,092 signatures represent 5 percent of the total number of registered voters in Montgomery County.
Roher said the Board of Elections has yet to receive any signatures.
Eric Bernard, executive director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association did not return a message requesting comment Wednesday.
The language will read:
“Shall the Emergency Medical Transportation Insurance Reimbursement Act become law? The Act would:
(1) require health insurance providers to reimburse the County for emergency medical transportation provided to insured persons;
(2) specify that County residents will not pay any out-of-pocket expense for emergency medical transportation provided by the County; and
(3) require emergency medical transportation fees to be waived for non-County residents with low or moderate incomes.”
The council approved in May billing for ambulance transport, a move that came less than two years after voters overturned a similar EMS fee during the 2010 election.
Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association has begun what it called “preliminary steps” to put the EMS reimbursement to the voters again.
In a statement on its website, the association said “[t]he MCVFRA supports continuing a dialogue with the County concerning the implementation of an ambulance transport fee and endorses moving forward with the petition process to place a referendum on the November 2012 ballot to overturn Bill 17-12 until such time the dialogue with the County provides a positive outcome for all LFRDs.”
Eric Bernard, executive director of the association did not return multiple calls and requests for comment on the association’s decision to again pursue a referendum on the issue.
Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park has pulled his proposed charter amendment after it failed to gain support, he said.
In May he proposed an amendment that would exempt the tax, which pays for fire and rescue services, from the charter’s annual limit on property tax revenue.
County Finance Director Joseph Beach opposed Leventhal’s proposal during a June 28 public hearing. He was the only one to testify.
Firefighters who previously supported his proposal now are focused on a push by volunteer firefighters to bring to the ambulance fee to referendum, Leventhal said.
Earlier this month council members gave the nod to place on the ballot an amendment that would give the council power to create a special hiring authority within the county merit system for hiring persons with significant physical or cognitive disabilities.
Proposed by Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, the amendment has drawn significant public support.
The language for this amendment was also passed by the County Council on Tuesday, along with language for two amendments from Robin Ficker, a former state delegate and tax-limits advocate, on energy tax and collective bargaining for county employees.
Due to an error in editing, this story and its headline originally said the ambulance fee and effects bargaining questions would be on the ballot, when the matters are still to be decided.