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HometownAnnapolis.com - Debate expected on veterans hiring preference, zoning changes - A busy County Council agenda tomorrow includes a contentious zoning bill, a disputed plan to give a hiring preference to veterans, stricter rules about where signs can be placed near roads, proposals to charge a fee to fight stormwater pollution, and approval of the county's fourth cable television provider.

The pallet of issues have drawn passionate citizen testimony in the past, setting the stage for another round of it tomorrow night.

Battle for preference

A clash over a bill designed to help more veterans get jobs in county government may generate the most contentious debate.

An amendment proposed by the county executive expands the veterans who could receive a hiring preference, but would apply the preference to only public safety jobs.

The idea met angry criticism and left the bill's sponsor, Councilman Jamie Benoit, fuming, arguing that the proposal could discriminate against disabled veterans.

"If we have a three-star, decorated veteran who wants to pick up trash, his service doesn't matter. That's what the administration is saying," Mr. Benoit said.

Loosely modeled after a federal policy, the bill Mr. Benoit, D-Crownsville, introduced aimed to ensure disabled veterans and those who served in combat or hostile situations would be selected over otherwise equally qualified candidates - including over veterans who served during peacetime.

The policy outlined by County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, would extend the preference to all honorably discharged veterans and apply it by adding extra points to jobs that are filled through a testing process. Only jobs at the police station, fire department and detention centers require testing, so the policy narrows the veterans preference to only public safety jobs.

"We feel it's more appropriate and practical," Mr. Leopold said, later adding he wanted the bill to explicitly say it was intended to help disabled veterans.

Mr. Leopold said his amendment will "put some structure and substance to the bill" and later said Mr. Benoit's proposal "is a public relations statement without any substance.

And I would refer to the bill as bamboo legislation - shiny bright on the outside but hollow on the inside. If we're going to pass legislation that has meaning, we're going to want to pass something with structure."

He said his plan is patterned after the state's policy and an effort he led while a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly.

He said that effort focused on giving disabled veterans an extra edge for state jobs that required testing. At the state level, most jobs rely on tests.

Mr. Benoit, a former Army lieutenant, argues that policy won't work for Anne Arundel, where only a subset of the county's 4,200-person workforce have public safety jobs. He said many public safety positions rely on an employee's physique, and an amputee or other disabled veteran would not qualify for public safety jobs and therefore miss out on any veteran preference.

"By seeking to limit the preference to public safety officers, the administration is effectively saying that veterans in other county jobs don't deserve a preference. It's unconscionable to me," Mr. Benoit said.

Zoning changes

Councilmen are expected to offer even more suggestions for tweaks to zoning code. The council has been mulling over 17 pages of changes to the county's zoning rules, which define how and where property can be developed.

Initially described as "housekeeping measure" to clarify unclear language, the bill has seen nearly two dozen amendments offered.

If more amendments are passed by the council, a final vote on the bill first introduced Sept. 4 would be delayed yet again. The entire bill will expire if the council does not take action before by Dec. 8.

SMART fund

The much-discussed plan to raise money to combat stormwater pollution will likely be delayed at least another two weeks.

A bi-partisan trio of councilmen pushing an across-the-board fee are developing the details of their plan, which they intend to introduce as an amendment to an existing bill.

In general, the councilmen's measure would levy a fee on all property owners based on how much surface on their land is impervious to rainwater.

The plan would raise about $10 million and charge the average homeowner less than $60 a year, according to the councilmen.

Mr. Leopold first broached the idea in August when he suggested the SMART FUND, and acronym for Stormwater Management and Restoration of Tributaries.

Mr. Leopold's plan would charge new development for creating new impervious surfaces and would raise an estimated $5 million each year.

The council has expressed misgivings over the equity of the SMART Fund charging only new development. Some have criticized it for not doing enough to solve pollution problems, which will cost billions to resolve. Mr. Leopold has defended his plan as "an important first step."

Sign Rules

A small but vocal group of residents, worried about where signs can be placed beside roadways, intend to testify about Councilman Ed Reilly's bill to tighten regulations.

Mr. Reilly, R-Crofton, has proposed a method for permitting signs legally placed in the right of ways of county roads. His bill also would outlaw signs on utility poles and trees or in medians of county-owned roads. The measure institutes a $250 fine that doubles for the second offense.

Cable deal

The council also has been presented with the final contract with Cavalier Telephone & TV, which if approved would offer a fourth cable television provider option to residents in Glen Burnie, Brooklyn Park and Linthicum.

The county negotiates local cable franchise agreements and has standing deals with the three other providers in Anne Arundel: Verizon, Comcast and Millennium Digital Communications.

The council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St. in Annapolis.


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