Two years largely at odds but with hope of concord

January 24, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke, Greg Tasker and Anne Haddad | Kerry O'Rourke, Greg Tasker and Anne Haddad,Staff Writers

For much of the past two years, the Carroll commissioners -- now at the midpoint of their four-year term -- have been consumed by money matters.

They have generally received high marks for their "care and concern" in trimming millions from the budget and for responding to social services needs.

But while they appear cordial in public, the commissioners say that behind the scenes things aren't always so pleasant.

They disagree about how much time and money should be spent attracting business to the county. They take different approaches to addressing environmental issues. They find their relationship with the school board strained -- two commissioners support measures to oversee school spending.

Here is a look at how the commissioners and others view the first half of their term.

Environment

If Carroll environmentalists had their way, recycling would be mandatory, a committee studying a waste-to-energy incinerator would disband and the county's environmental services would fall within one department.

But commissioners chose voluntary recycling, appointed the committee to study incineration and downgraded the environment department to an office, with duties dispersed among different departments.

"If I look back, what the county has done to the Department of Environmental Services seems counterproductive," said Noreen Cullen, vice chairman of Carroll Earth Care. "It put up barriers to the general public as well as the various departments."

Forest conservation and water resource management, for instance, fall under environmental services; recycling comes under the comptroller's office; landfill operations come under the public works department.

All this poses a bureaucratic nightmare for residents, Ms. Cullen contends.

"You end up going from department to department instead of calling one number to get a referral," she says. "They're treating recycling as something different [from] solid waste. Even my first-grader knows recycling is a component of solid waste."

Commissioner Donald Dell said the change has enhanced environmental services and provided the commissioners with "a direct handle" on environmental concerns. The environmental office reports to them and their executive assistant, Robert A. "Max" Bair.

"There's been a whole new era of environmental regulation, mandates and resolution. We felt if we put Max in charge, we would have more direct communication," Mr. Dell said.

Commissioner Elmer Lippy said that he has some ideas about improving the structure of county government but that it is too early to talk about them.

Reorganization isn't all the commissioners have done that is counterproductive, environmentalists contend.

Recycling

"We as a group were in favor of mandatory recycling," Ms. Cullen said. "We're sending mixed messages to people when we don't have mandatory recycling. The public is eager to recycle. The state mandates are going to change. We should set an example instead of being a follower."

Striving to comply with a state mandate for Carroll to recycle 15 percent of its trash by 1994, the commissioners began a voluntary recycling program July 1.

"It's more beneficial and rewarding if it's done on a voluntary basis," Mr. Lippy said. "We need to make an effort to get the commercial sector involved."

The recycling program does not require businesses to participate.

"It's not in the county's best interest to mandate people take recyclables here or there," Mr. Dell said. "This is a free-enterprise system. Anything we can do on a voluntary basis and be successful is better than mandating a certain way."

Some municipal officials complain that mandatory recycling programs in place in most Carroll towns are responsible for the county's meeting the state mandate.

The commissioners don't deny that success.

"I think we should have given more thought to mandatory recycling," said Commissioner Julia Gouge. "A lot of people want to recycle. If you have just half the program, you have half the recycling."

But like the other commissioners, Mrs. Gouge has concerns about enforcement (making sure everybody recycles) and the fluctuating market for recyclables.

"I'm not sure there are the votes on this board to push for more recycling than what we have now," she said.

"I don't believe the county has done enough," said Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, who has urged mandatory recycling. "Anyone in elected office has at any given time thought he could have done better. I look forward to them doing a better job.

"They've had a tough row to hoe focusing on anything other than money issues."

Saving trees

Forest conservation also found the commissioners mired in controversy.

After a lengthy process that pitted environmentalists against developers, the commissioners adopted a forest conservation law last month that is more stringent than the state's in retaining trees and requiring the planting of new ones.

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