ROCKVILLE — Still six months before the Maryland legislative session begins, the Rockville Mayor and City Council are already getting their priorities for the 2019 session straight.
Among the top issues for the City discussed at Monday night’s meeting were local control over small-cell antennas, changing Maryland to an open-primary state, and funding for infrastructure projects.
The discussion was the first step for the City to get its priorities in line before the 2019 legislative session. Rockville is a member of the Maryland Municipal League, which lobbies in Annapolis on behalf of cities and towns, and is the organization that will represent the City’s priorities in the 2019 legislative session.
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Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said the recent primary election caused confusion for many voters in the City, as Rockville elections require candidates to have no political affiliation – meaning, all are able to vote, in contrast to Maryland’s primaries, in which voters can vote only for candidates in their own political party.
“I know independent voters that were turned away from the polls, thinking they could at least vote for County Executive and County Council and they couldn’t,” Newton said.
Council member Beryl Feinberg mentioned that the push to move the state to an open primary, where people can vote for party primaries regardless of party affiliation, is especially relevant – with Monday’s news that County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-at large) has filed her declaration of intent to run for County Executive as an independent.
Feinberg said that independents could not vote for any of the six candidates who ran as Montgomery County Executive.
“It just gets to the essence of what we’re talking about, and I believe it’s germane,” Feinberg said.
Also on the list of priorities for the City is the issue over small-cell antennas. For years, telecommunications have asked the County to change its zoning laws to allow for hundreds of new small-cell antennas that would help provide better phone and internet service. However, for years, many residents in the County have voiced opposition to the small-cell tower, saying they are an eyesore and emit radiation that can cause health problems. While the County has already passed a bill allowing for increased small-cell antennas in commercial zones, there have been attempts on the state level to remove local control over the issue.
During the last legislative session, State Sen. Thomas Middleton (D-26) proposed a bill that would have taken the authority to regulate small-cell antennas away from local jurisdictions.
“There’s broad discussion within the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties that this issue will likely return in the 2019 session,” said Linda Moran, assistant to the city manager for Rockville.
Last among the City’s priorities is infrastructure funding. According to City Council member Mark Pierzchala, Rockville is receiving $4 million less in infrastructure funding from the County and state, meaning the City has had to turn to bonding to fund road and bridge projects.
Pierzchala said he wanted to make state funding for City roads and bridges in disrepair a priority for the City.
“That puts a huge burden on our general fund to bond bridge rehabilitation, for example,” Pierzchala said. “We shouldn’t have to bond that kind of stuff.”