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Snow Hill resident starts process to disincorporate town

SNOW HILL — Gary Weber hopes to change the fact he is a resident of the town of Snow Hill, without moving.

Weber, a real estate agent and restaurant owner, hopes to disincorporate Snow Hill — to dismantle the town’s government and have the county provide basic services for residents instead. He and a few other residents have put a petition together to make that happen. They plan to begin asking for signatures after the holiday season in an attempt to dissolve the local government and make Snow Hill an unincorporated area.

If successful, Weber says, citizens will pay fewer taxes and get services from a larger, more experienced cadre of government workers in Worcester County.

“The level of services provided to county citizens is much larger, with a larger budget and staff,” said Weber. “I believe the mayor and city council are doing the best they are capable of, but it’s not good enough.”

Chief Administrative Officer for Worcester County Gerald T. Mason says if Snow Hill disincorporated, the county would likely create a special taxing district to cover the costs associated with providing additional services to Snow Hill residents. Weber’s plan is not one Mason favors.

“There is no provision within the Worcester County code for the disincorporation of Snow Hill or any other town … and it is a step that we would not encourage for a great number of reasons, with economic and historic purposes being the most predominant,” said Mason, noting Snow Hill is the oldest town in the county. “Its historic significance to Worcester County is undeniable. You don’t just throw something like that out on a whim.”

Tom Reynolds, director of educational services at the Maryland Municipal League, says the petition, which requires signatures from at least 20 percent of the 1,523 registered voters, is one option town citizens have to restructure their local government. However, he said, it’s just the beginning of a long process.

Once at least 305 people sign the petition, the Town Council must approve a resolution within 60 days calling for a referendum at the next general or special election. If a majority of citizens vote to dissolve the town during the next election, its assets and debt responsibilities would devolve to the county, which will establish a special taxing district consistent with the municipal boundaries to pay off any outstanding municipal debt.

Reynolds says there are some difficulties raised in the process of disincorporation. Choice on a variety of levels and services would no longer be made locally, and the accessibility and responsiveness of local decision-makers would be replaced by county leadership, he said. He also believes a sense of community could be lost.

The county government is located in Snow Hill, and most county employees are familiar with the town’s workings.

Although the entire process could take a while, Weber said he would like to have it completed by the next town election in May 2012, if he gets a quorum of voters to agree it’s a good idea.

“We need 20 percent, but we want to get over 50 percent,” said Weber. “It’s going to be a long process.”