Garrett’s bills to go to state Assembly
CUMBERLAND — Legislators met Thursday to review requests from Garrett County and determine which bills to take before the Maryland General Assembly in its current session, which began Wednesday.
Several would expand the powers of the county commission, including one bill that would enable county officials to hold a public sale of the homes of residents who are 60 or more days delinquent on payment of their water and sewer bills.
Linda Lindsey, director of the county’s Department of Public Utilities, said as of November the county was owed $282,000 in unpaid water and sewer bills.
“The county needs some mechanism to be able to collect that,” Sen. George Edwards said in a phone interview from Annapolis. “The commissioners requested this legislation, and we’ve agreed to introduce it.”
The legislators said they will also submit a bill to enable the county commission to adopt local ordinances establishing minimum setback requirements for commercial wind turbines. It would allow the commission to require turbines to be placed a minimum distance from a property line.
“The main purpose of that is if a turbine would fall down, or a blade would fly off,” Edwards explained. “You want them back far enough that if they fall down they’re not on someone else’s property.”
Another bill would allow the commission to require companies to make provisions for decommissioning wind turbines and restoring turbine sites to their original condition in the event that the turbines go out of operation.
“There might come a point where they reach the end of their life and they just sit there,” Edwards said. “In mining, you have to have bonds or some other kind of instrument to provide for reclaiming the land if the mining company stops operations. This would be the same scenario.”
The commission also requested legislation that would enable it to increase the existing hotel rental tax if needed. Currently, that tax is set at 5 percent. The draft legislation would enable the commission to increase it as high as 8 percent, though the commission has stated it would not implement a 3 percent increase all at once.
Legislators will also follow up on a bill requested by the commission granting it the ability to establish a county emergency services board.
Delegate Wendell Beitzel said he and Edwards also intend to work on a legislative solution to an ongoing problem with the availability of OB/GYN services in Garrett County.
Currently, a handful of general practitioners delivers babies in the county. If a doctor delivers more than 30 per year, the cost of medical malpractice insurance can increase by about $100,000 because of insurance stipulations. Previously, legislation was in place that subsidized the gap between the general practitioners’ malpractice insurance costs and the increase, but that has expired.
Beitzel said they also plan to reintroduce legislation called the Dormant Mineral Act, which would provide a process for landowners to recover the mineral rights to their property if it was impossible to trace the current owner of the rights.
“We put in the bill last year and it passed the House and went to the Senate, but got stuck in committee,” Beitzel said. “This year, we’ll be dropping the bill earlier to try to get it through.”