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Emmitsburg: The Municipal Corporation 

Joseph S. Welty

Part 3

In glancing over the updated and completed town charter as set forth in Article 11 of the Code of Public Local Laws (1930 Edition), it became apparent to me that the 1910 charter amendments brought a subtle change in election laws. The charter no longer states that white male citizens over the age of twenty-one have the right to vote, but that "male citizens" have the right to vote. The 1930 codification also notes that Chapter 137 of the 1922 Session of the General Assembly gave female citizens the right to vote alongside their male counterparts.

Once again the corporation was forced to go to the public for funds in order to provide the citizens with improved public services. On April 25, 1935, the General Assembly gave the burgess and commissioners authority to issue up to $10,000 in general improvement bonds if these bond issues were approved by the voters of the town in a general election to be held on May 6, 1935. Town minutes and records indicate that the election was indeed held on May 6, 1935, and that the citizens of the town approved the issue of bonds by a vote of 231 for and 104 against. The commissioners acted quickly and, with a unanimous vote on June 3, 1935, authorized issuance of $10,000 worth of bonds to the highest bidder above par value of each bond at the rate of three percent interest for a term of twenty years.

In 1955, certain municipalities were given the power of home rule or self-government. The burgess and commissioners of Emmitsburg first took advantage of this new law in 1958 under the direction of Burgess Clarence G. Frailey and Town Attorney Edward D. Storm. The first two charter amendments passed by the town without approval of the General Assembly involved the issuance of bonds and borrowing money, and the tax rate that could be charged on assessable property.

Charter Amendment Resolution No. 1 gave the burgess and commissioners power to borrow $5,000 from any source as needed for operations. The burgess and commissioners could now issue bonds automatically forty days after so advertising unless they are presented with a petition for referendum signed by twenty percent of the qualified voters in the municipality. Charter Amendment Resolution No. 2 raised the amount of tax which the burgess and commissioners were authorized to levy on property in the corporate limits from $.45 to $1.50 on every one hundred dollars of assessable property in any one year. This gave the commissioners more flexibility with respect to property taxes.

Charter Amendment Resolution No. 3, which became effective July 4, 1960, effected a complete overhaul of the town's charter. The town attorney, Edward D. Storm, recognized that many of the provisions of the existing town charter were old-fashioned and archaic. Since the charter is the enabling legislation for every action taken by the burgess and commissioners, an outdated charter might tie the hands of these officials when they need to take action in meeting modern problems.

It was this set of charter amendments that bestowed its modern name on the municipal corporation, when it officially became known as "The Town of Emmitsburg." The legislative powers of the town, which were vested in a board of three commissioners, were reaffirmed with the citation of specific powers included in all past charters. However, these powers were expanded by the inclusion of very general language in the new charter amendments. One provision retained by the charter was the designation of the burgess as a justice of the peace, with the power to hear and try cases involving violation of the town's ordinances, the power to impose fines for violation, and the power to direct incarceration for non-payment of fines.

A commissioner was required to be a qualified voter, a resident for one year prior to election, an owner with $1,000 worth of assessed real property, and a resident during his or her term in office. The burgess had to satisfy the same set of requirements, with one exception: he or she had to be a resident for two years prior to election. To be a qualified voter in Emmitsburg, a person had to be eligible to vote in state and county elections, had to be a resident for one year prior to election, and had to be registered.

Article V of these amendments, entitled "Finance," very clearly takes a conservative approach toward fiscal responsibility. This article requires the burgess to formulate a budget for municipal operations for each year and mandates that "the total of anticipated revenues shall equal the total of the proposed expenditures." The taxing and borrowing power of the municipality was again increased and broadened. With respect to taxes, the Town of Emmitsburg was given "the power to levy annually on assessable property in said town and collect such taxes as in its judgment may be necessary to pay all the debts, obligations, and expenses of the town government." In addition, the town could levy a general tax on assessable property to construct and improve public utilities provided by the town or institute a tax to cover this cost on any other basis deemed equitable. The town was authorized to borrow up to $20,000. For projects over that amount, it would have to issue bonds.

Charter Amendment Resolution No. 4, which became effective on November 25, 1963, increased the term of the burgess from one to two years. Charter Amendment No. 5, which became effective at the same time, changed the fiscal year of the town to July 1 through June 30 of the following calendar year, instead of January 1 through December 31, as had been the previous practice. The next significant change came with Charter Amendment Resolution No. 7, which increased the number of Commissioners from three to four, each with a three-year term. Charter Amendment Resolution No. 9 gave the burgess a regular vote on the board of commissioners. From this time forward, he or she was considered a member of the board and could help make up a quorum. The burgess retained his veto power; however, a veto could now be overridden by a majority vote of all members of the Board.

Except for the annexations which modified the boundaries of our municipality, there were no major changes in the Charter of the Town of Emmitsburg until September 9, 1974. On that date the burgess and board of commissioners adopted into law the official text of the Charter of the Town of Emmitsburg and the Code of the Town of Emmitsburg. This re-codification was needed to further modernize the Charter, the town's enabling document, and to compile in one place the ordinances which were to govern the town. The general language contained in the 1960 amendments with respect to the legislative powers was retained; but, for purpose of clarity, the specific powers of the corporation were expanded to include the following:

"29. To establish, equip, regulate, and fund a police department; and to appoint town officers thereto in order to establish and maintain the peace and order of the town, and to insure compliance with all town ordinances and actions passed or taken pursuant to this charter.''

"31. To operate, maintain, supervise, plan and further regulate all public recreation and park services."

"32. To plan and zone the town with the general purpose of guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted, and harmonious development of the town. Among other things, this zoning and planning authority may he used to promote the health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity, and general welfare of the town within its police limits; to provide good civic design and arrangement; to promote wise and efficient expenditure of public funds; to make adequate provisions for traffic; to prevent the over-crowding of land and prevent undue concentration of population; and to provide adequate light and air."

Most of the powers of the burgess were retained, but he or she was no longer given the powers of a justice of the peace. Thus the burgess no longer had the power to hear and try cases involving violation of town ordinances, to impose fines, or to direct incarceration for non-payment of fines. These violations were now under the jurisdiction of the District Court of Maryland for Frederick County, or, where a civil remedy would be appropriate, to the civil courts of this state.

At present the burgess appoints all employees working for the town in every office, department, commission, or agency with the advice and consent of the board of commissioners. The employees and appointees serve in their capacities at his direction and control and may be discharged without board approval. Today the board of commissioners can take almost any action it believes necessary to solve an impending problem with near total confidence that it is acting within the scope of its powers as set forth in this all-important enabling document, the Charter of the Town of Emmitsburg.

Changes were made in the charter document immediately after its passage in order to modernize it further, granting the right to vote to every person who is eligible to vote in state and county elections, who has resided in Emmitsburg for at least thirty days preceding any town election, and who has registered as required. For the first time, the Charter states that citizens may register to vote at any time during normal business hours in the town office with the town clerk, unless the policy is changed by town ordinance. Section 13 of the Code of Emmitsburg reaffirms this policy of open registration.

The legislative function of the town of Emmitsburg has increased remarkably over the last few years. Much of this increased load was initiated by the Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Ordinance passed by the board of commissioners. Most of the initial work on planning and zoning legislation is performed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, which carefully studies the relevant ordinances. After many hours of study, legislation is presented in polished form to the commissioners who also scrutinize its provisions.

It may seem difficult to believe that self-government could be more complicated and time-consuming than the procedure which this town had to follow for the first 130 years of its existence, when it had to obtain authority from the General Assembly every time the town wished to borrow money, close an alley, get stray dogs off the street or enter into contracts. However, this indeed is the case. Perhaps self-government in Emmitsburg today has become more time-consuming and complicated because of the increased awareness and needs of the town's citizens, and the complexity of modern life. It would be unfortunate if the town's citizenry reserves its participation in local government only to criticism and complaint, and fails to exercise its right to participate freely in self-government.

Read Part 1, 2

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