Elkton Town Meeting, Dec., 15, 2010 – Over a year ago trouble started for Elkton officials as they rushed into a precedent setting agreement that involved waiving major utility hook-up fees, which alllowed the bank receiving the waiver to transfer the financial credit to another party. It was a controversial decision from the moment it took place and legal wrangling over the rushed decision continued for months. Eventually two taxpayers hauled the town into court, and with the trial underway the municipality admitted it exceeded its authority.
At the December 15th meeting, the commissioners were once again considering another, more straight-forward request for a waiver from the local fire company, one that wasn’t associated with the transfer of money between independent parties and clearly involved public interest, the town’s fire department. When they finally got around to discussing the request, they’d just wrapped up one closed meeting that caused the public to disperse as they were shut out of the meeting. But moments after returning Commissioners Jablonski asked, “Can we close the meeting a second time?” “Sure you can do anything you want,” the town administrator Lewis George replied. However he also advised that that the decision should be made in public. As they were mulling over whether to go back behind closed doors to discuss this public matter, the town attorney added, go ahead and discuss it. “There’s no one here anyway.” Earlier there had been a number of people in the audience, but they’d left after the commissioners adjourned originally, shutting the public out from the discussion. Of course, the video-camera was running so there was a record of the discussion.
Once they sorted through where to discuss the request, the next thing they examined was whether they had to authority to waive utility hook-up fees, considering the legal troubles they’d had over the past year. The previous reason the town had to settle for waiving fees was much more complicated, involving precedent setting actions that allowed the transfer of financial interests between parties, something that had never been done before. At that time, they rushed into that decision despite warnings from the professional staff , some members of the board, and the public. “I think we should have the right to make these decisions,” Commissioner Jablonski said. “We need something that’s in writing that gives us the right. We need something because we get questions like this and it puts us in a bind, when schools, the fire companies and others want the waivers.”
Lewis George, the town administrator, reminded the elected decision-makers that beyond the legal issues the town needed the fees because it has “a lot of debt.” Waiving these fees put pressure on everybody else, including the people right here” as the money has to come from somewhere, he stated.
Eventually they agreed to waive building permit assessments amounting to $10,288 and receive payment for the major utility fund amount to $60,000 in five installments.
This is the video of that portion of the Dec. 15th meeting.