Proposals Consigned To County Limbo

Long-range Plans Languish On Commissioners' Desks

July 17, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Several volunteers who worked on committees planning Carroll's future say they are wondering whether the County Commissioners are seriousabout considering their advice.

Some committee members who made far-reaching recommendations concerning affordable housing, farmland preservation, infrastructure, and police and fire services say they have received minimal response from the commissioners since delivering reports to them about 15 months ago.

"It is a very slow process and very closed," said a committee member who asked to remain anonymous. "It's as if there was a call for volunteers, and then the door was shut with no more communication."

Martin K. P. Hill, a Manchester-based developer who drafted part of the affordable housing report, said the lack of communication leads him to believe that possibly "nothing is happening."

"Some constantcommunication is needed to let those of us who are involved and concerned know that there's still life out there, that it hasn't been swept out with the rest of the trash," he said.

Hill suggested that the committees -- now dormant -- should be working continuously as needed.

The previous Board of Commissioners appointed seven committees to study growth-related issues after a moratorium was imposed on residential building in August 1988 to alleviate severe school overcrowding.

The process of reviewing and implementing the proposals was slowed by the 1990 election, which produced two new commissioners, said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, the lone holdover. However, that's not an excuse for insufficient communication or delays, she said.

The county's initial effort at comprehensive, long-range planning has been "slower than anticipated," said Gouge, but "not a futile effort."

"We don't have solutions yet, but that the problems have become commonplace knowledge is good," she said. "You have to recognize the problems before finding solutions."

The committees were formed to avoid "management by crisis," such as the 1988 building moratorium forcing the commissioners to accelerate the county's school constructionprogram. Some committee leaders say that meaningful action should betaken soon, while others say it is less urgent, depending on the issue.

A leading affordable housing advocate says the problem becomesmore aggravated the longer it goes unaddressed; an agriculture expert advises that steps must be taken in the next three to five years toensure a viable farming industry; and the police protection committee chairman says the county's law enforcement structure should be monitored but not necessarily changed.

Adding to the uncertainty, the commissioners have postponed for about six months a follow-up to the first working session between county and municipal officials on the issues.

Committees were established at the Dec. 1 Town/County Partnership Conference to foster cooperation between the county governmentand the eight autonomous municipalities. But some participants say little has been accomplished in the interim and momentum has been lost.

"As the months go by and we have no target to work toward, it slides by the board," said Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, a conference participant and police protection committee member. "You're suddenly aware that 10 months have gone by, and very little got done. Ifwe were being graded on our effort, I'd be worried about repeating the year."

After several postponements, the commissioners have settled on Sept. 14 for the second conference. The date was pushed back because of scheduling conflicts, municipal elections, vacations and pressing budget problems, say the commissioners.

"I don't see a lot has happened since December," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell.

The first conference featured presentations by county staff but was not action- or goal-oriented. Brown said the process seems disorganized and suggested that clear goals and meeting schedules be established Sept. 14 so decisions crucial to the county's future can be made sooner.

Some recommendations from the reports have been implemented, many by the previous board. But some proposals that could produce significant changes have languished. Among the latter are plans to alter zoning to promote affordable housing; transfer development rights from farming areas to population centers; study the creation ofa county police force; and develop a North Carroll water supply.

"They're certainly fond of studying an issue by one group, then by another and another," said the committee member who requested anonymity. "They might want to be comprehensive. But it might show they don't want to bite the bullet and take a strong stand."

Most participants interviewed said they were resigned to the slow workings of government and the political difficulties inherent in changing the status quo.

Some committee members said they are satisfied with progress made or encouraged that action will be taken.

"I think they're moving along as fast as can be expected," said Melvin Baile Sr., chairman of the Future of Agriculture subcommittee. He noted that the commissioners had implemented several of the group's recommendations.

Westminster housing director Karen Blandford, who worked on the housing report, said she was encouraged by the commissioners' comments at a recent meeting with an independent housing coalition.

Gouge said theoriginal committees will be reconvened after the Sept. 14 conference.

Police protection will also be discussed at that meeting. The General Assembly threatened at the last session to cut back on the state Resident Trooper Program, the county's main law enforcement branch.

"That's one issue I feel we need to talk about now, not when the need is upon us," said Dell.

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