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Almost every city department in Westminster, from public works to recreation, charges a fee of some type. And city officials say whether for tickets to a father/daughter dance or for rezoning, the fees are in a need of change -- not necessarily in cost, but in language.

"It is very difficult for the staff to determine what a particular charge or fee is," said Tom Beyard, director of planning and public works for the city, of the current ordinances. "We are trying ... for a simpler way to administrate it."

At a recent city council meeting, Beyard presented the mayor and council with 15 pages of fees and charges administrated by the City of Westminster.

Beyard said that while his staff is reviewing whether fees were appropriate, they were also dividing the fees and charges into two categories -- general items and utilities.

"Part of it was we were looking at what we charge and comparing it to surrounding jurisdictions," Beyard said. "We talked with every department head and gave them the opportunity to weigh in."

The goal is to be "as current as possible," Beyard said, so that the city can review fees on a yearly basis if needed.

"We have fees for covering everything from soup to nuts," said Mayor Tom Ferguson. "We want to put all of these out on a single fee schedule so it is very transparent. Now if we want to change fees, we have rewrite the ordinance and go through the legislature."

After being presented to the council, the proposed revisions were referred to the city's finance council. Any changes would be implemented by Jan. 1, 2009, though they are subject to legislative action, Beyard said.

County imposes hiring freeze, travel cutbacks

Carroll's Board of County Commissioners last week imposed what it described as cost-cutting initiatives designed to make sure the county stays in the black heading into the 2009 fiscal year.

These steps are being taken in anticipation of a $432 million shortfall in the state budget, which will reduce the level of state funding to Maryland's counties. Measures approved by the commissioners, and announced this past week, include:

*A hiring freeze that will leave 26 open positions in county government unfilled. County officials said leaving the positions unfilled until the end of the year will save $533,079 in salaries.

*All county employees on initial probation will remain on probation for as long as six additional months. This simplifies the process for eliminating positions should more cuts be necessary.

*All employee travel for training and conferences will be restricted to the mid-Atlantic area.

*County vehicles will be restricted to in-county use only. County staff is also in the process of evaluating take-home vehicles by employees.

The commissioners said the measures will give them additional time to study the impacts of the economic downturn and evaluate whether additional measures will be needed.

Medford Quarry line nears completion

City of Westminster officials say the 7.6-mile Medford Quarry pipeline is nearing completion.

"It is right on schedule," said Tom Beyard, director of planning and public works for the city.

With the acquisition of one final easement, the pipeline is just about done. It will still take a few months to wrap up the project as the pumping station needs to come online, Beyard said. The pipeline was built to meet the requirements in a consent order with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"We'll have a drought one of these days," Ferguson chuckled, commenting on the recent rain. "It will be a lifesaver when a drought comes and it inevitably will be pumping then."


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