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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(11/11) I would like to begin by thanking everyone who participated or otherwise supported the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend, October 14-16, 2011. This is an annual event of national importance that we are honored to have take place in the Emmitsburg area. Mayor Jim Hoover deserves a substantial amount of credit for raising the profile of the town as well as its level of participation. Thousands of members of the firefighting community gather here annually to honor their fallen heroes over this special autumn weekend. Over the last few years we have made a much greater effort to participate in the spirit of this worthwhile event.

In regular business over the month of October, it’s obvious to me as Board President that newly elected Mayor Don Briggs is working rapidly to broaden the level of public and small business participation in town government. He is actively attempting to pull together teams focused on public safety concerns and economic development and has also been successful finding participants for a number of key town positions on the Ethics Committee and Board of Appeals. I encourage members of the community who are interested in participating in these efforts to contact him directly and look forward to moving some of these challenging, new ideas toward implementation.

In other October business, while a town the size of Emmitsburg wouldn’t normally be required to have an Ethics Ordinance for elected officials, our town has had requirements on the books for a number of years now. The State of Maryland has recently decided to standardize the requirements of such ordinances, and the Town of Emmitsburg has chosen to revise our existing code accordingly. The biggest changes surround the need to report financial, business, or property interests that might lead to a conflict of interest when acting in one’s official capacity. The requirements are now much more explicit and the penalties for non-compliance are much better defined. While I feel the reporting requirements are a bit onerous for a part time, elected official (and may wind up deterring some possible participants) it is better to have them than not. The Commissioners have also decided to extend some of the reporting requirements to senior town employees with day to day involvement in policy implementation or purchasing decisions – all in an effort to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

The Town has also taken an official position in the county tax differential versus tax equity debate. A resolution proposed by Mayor Briggs and approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners was in favor of retaining the existing tax equity structure. Your property tax bill has two main components per $100 of assessed value: 93.6 cents to the county and 36 cents to the town. Some town activities such as contracting for police protection or planning and zoning administration are managed directly by the town. The county reimburses us for the fees it also collects for these (duplicated) services through a "tax equity" payment. Some had proposed the county simply collect less tax – and require the municipality to collect more to cover the difference – "tax differential." The municipality would then purchase services directly with the extra, local revenue collected.

While this might appear to be a rationale proposal, as always, the devil is in the detail. I for one was skeptical of the county’s willingness to maintain the cost of services provided when police protection, for example, could potentially be considered a commodity to be sold as opposed to a jointly funded activity. Our tax equity payment largely covers the cost of up to two "community deputies," but not the other detective, emergency, or administrative services we also rely on from the Sheriff’s Department. Would the county then make us "buy" all of those supplemental services as well? When they started to itemized all of those costs and we had to raise local taxes to pay them, would your total tax burden wind up being even greater? The main supporters of the change were those who provided services separately – not those who already shared them with the county.

As we move into November, the Board will continue to work with Mayor Briggs on his new economic development initiatives, define the town’s planning priorities to create a platform for additional ordinance changes to promote positive growth while maintaining our small town character, and make changes to the permit and fee process in order to improve interaction with the town office. As always, I encourage your participation and feedback to your elected officials!

Sincerely, Chris Staiger

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