Carroll municipal officials have grumbled quietly for years that county government sometimes pays too little attention to their needs in developing policies.
As an example, several mayors cite the landfill fees proposed by the county last year -- without consulting with town officials -- that initially left municipal budgets in limbo and eventually forced higher tax rates.
But a Town/County Partnership Conference -- set for Dec. 1 to discuss plans for preserving agriculture and providing infrastructure and affordable housing in Carroll -- could be the dawn of a new era of improved communication, say municipal officials.
"Ever since the tipping fee, all the mayors have been in favor of better communication and more timely communication of what's going on in the county and towns," said Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr., a newly elected county commissioner. "This is a step in the right direction."
Taneytown Manager Neal W. Powell said the city generally has had "good rapport with the commissioners, and this should further strengthen it."
The daylong conference designed to inform municipal officials of plans the county is considering and encourage their comments will take place at Western Maryland College. A follow-up conference is planned for January.
The conference is an outgrowth of the seven "strategic planning work groups" appointed by the County Commissioners about 18 months ago to study problems associated with the county's rapid growth and recommend solutions.
The committees, which also studied law enforcement, emergency services, school construction and revenue sources, submit ted final reports to the commissioners last spring. Since then, the recommendations have been reviewed by an internal county board, and several proposals have been enacted.
But instead of plowing full steam ahead with new strategies, the commissioners have recognized the need to involve municipalities in decisions, said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.
The county's Master Plan calls for concentrating growth around the eight municipalities and Finksburg, a strategy implemented to preserve open space and lower costs of providing services.
But the plan also puts added strain on municipalities with limited revenue sources to provide for growth.
The county shares revenue with municipalities.
Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said the conference signals a stronger effort by the commissioners to coordinate plans with municipalities.
"There have been a lot of important issues over the 18 months I've been in office where we would have benefited greatly from more conversation between the county and towns," he said.
"It's not just dependent on money. It depends on regulations meshing with one another," he said, citing as an example the variations in zoning laws just outside Westminster's city borders, but within the county's "community planning area."
By the same token, municipalities must be willing to cooperate with the county to ensure provision of affordable housing and public services, said Commissioner Jeff Griffith.
As incorporated governments, municipalities can enact their own laws and pursue their own programs independent of county initiatives.
As an incoming commissioner, Lippy said he is glad to see the reports are being discussed in an open forum.
"My main concern was that they would stay on the shelf and nothing would be done about them," he said. "There have been too many hours spent and valid recommendations made to do that. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff and implement it into our policies."
Brown said he is happy with the timing of the event -- the weekend before a new board of commissioners takes office.
"I hope the new commissioners are very much involved in the process and don't leave it as just a staff function," he said.