For nearly two decades, the Maryland State Police has provided protection for Carroll County under a "resident trooper" program. The arrangement seemed beneficial to both sides. Carroll got superior service cheaply, the State Police got a community-training ground. It seemed as though the arrangement would last forever.
Until the recession hit.
The state, faced with a mammoth deficit, told the county last fall it couldn't afford the traditional 25 percent subsidy it provided for the program. Now, the county is being asked to pay 87 percent. Beginning in July, it will be 100 percent. And it won't be long before the state comes looking to Carroll to pay related pension and facilities costs.
The resident trooper program was started to bring quality policing to rural areas of the state that couldn't afford such expenses. However, Carroll is the only county in the metropolitan area using the program.
A housing boom, an enclosed shopping mall and the Northwest Expressway helped change parts of the rural county into a suburban/rural mix over the past decade. While many in Carroll may long to "keep it country," the county's growth rate and median household income (more than $45,000 now) are among the area's highest.
When the resident trooper program began in the early '70s, Carroll County's transformation had just begun. In 1969, its median household income was still less than the average for the region. But for much of the last decade, Carroll's median household income has hovered between 12 and 21 percent more than the rest of the region. And with the area's lowest property tax rate at $2.35 per $100 of assessed value, Carroll is in a weak position to argue that it deserves a state subsidy for its trooper program.
A group appointed to study the issue, headed by Morris L. Krome, a recently retired State Police major who lives in the county, delivers a report to the county commissioners today. The group is recommending that Carroll seek a commitment that the state will give three years' notice if it plans to end the trooper program. Even if it secures such an agreement, the county should hire a planner to draw up specifications to ready the county for its own police force, the group suggests.
In recommending a gradual movement toward a county police force, the study group acknowledged that the resident trooper program has been of great benefit to Carroll County. It's a benefit, however, whose days are numbered, as it should be given the changes that have come to Carroll.