Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Council approves charter amendments for November ballot

Transgender referendum appeal still awaits judge’s decision on petition signatures

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The County Council unanimously approved the referendum language to go on the Nov. 4 ballot, should opponents of the county’s transgender anti-discrimination law prevail in court.

Tuesday’s vote followed the introduction of the referendum language last week.

The tentative ballot question will ask voters whether the act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity should become law.

Whether the referendum will appear on the ballot is still awaiting a decision from Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg, who must determine if Citizens for Responsible Government, which opposes the law, has collected enough petitions to put the repeal on the ballot.

Attorneys representing Equality Maryland and other gay and transgendered rights groups, who back the law, allege the state Board of Elections erred. The elections board had told opponents of the county law that they needed 5 percent of active voters to get referendum placed on the ballot instead of 5 percent of all registered voters.

Challengers also claim many of the signatures on the petition appeared to be signed by the same person as the petition taker, had incomplete information and included people not registered to vote, making the signatures invalid.

Also Tuesday, the council approved two charter amendments: One allows voters to decide whether to repeal three provisions in the charter that violate the state constitution, including using county money to operate a landfill in a residential zone, to trench sewage sludge on residential land and to contract with the now-defunct C&P Telephone Co.

The other, proposed by Robin Ficker, lets voters decided whether all nine council members must agree to override the county’s charter limit on property tax collections. Seven votes are currently required.

The council voted to exceed the limit in the fiscal 2009 budget, which began July 1.

The council rejected a third amendment that would have exempted property taxes collected in certain taxing districts from being included in the charter limit levels.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) wanted more discussion on the rejected amendment before placing it on the ballot.

Bonds sold

The county retained its AAA rating from all three of the major Wall Street rating agencies this month, allowing the county to borrow money at a lower rate.

The designation helped the county sell $250 million in general obligation bonds at 4.18 percent on Tuesday. The bonds pay for construction projects such as roads and schools.

‘‘Despite some challenges in balancing the county’s fiscal 2009 operating budget, retaining the coveted triple-A rating provides strong confirmation that on Wall Street, the county’s policies are seen as sound ...,” Leggett said in a statement.

The county, with its high rating, saves about $5 million over the life of a 20-year bond, compared to jurisdictions with AA ratings, said Patrick K. Lacefield, Leggett’s spokesman.

A greener county

On Monday, Leggett announced his nominees for a working group that will develop a comprehensive strategy to meet the county’s environmental goals.

The 26 nominees include a number of regional environmentalists, civic leaders and climate change experts. County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase, who successfully sponsored a number of environmental bills this year, is also part of the group.

The council is expected to approve the nominees next week. The group’s first meeting is scheduled for September.

Coming up

*The council holds its last legislative session before summer break on Tuesday. The day will include public hearings on zoning regulations for the Silver Spring music hall project in downtown Silver Spring. The fun begins at 10:45 a.m. in the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Call 240-777-7900.