Carroll's Warring Governments

October 18, 1994

It's appropriate that the Maryland Municipal League's fall legislative conference is meeting in Westminster this week. With relations between the county government and Carroll's eight municipalities at a low ebb, this conference might generate some thoughtful solutions to improve the interaction between county and municipal elected officials.

Elected officials voiced their unhappiness two weeks ago at a candidates' forum that featured the six people running for the three county commissioner seats and that was sponsored by the municipal league's Carroll chapter. Nearly one-third of the questions dealt with improving communications between the commissioners and town leaders. Some of the candidates spoke about the "natural adversarial" relations between county and town governments; others talked about the lack of frank interchange on pressing problems. Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he was "dumbfounded" to hear that the mayors were so unhappy.

The poor relations between the county government and the county municipalities are in part structural. Both levels of government are subject to conditions beyond their immediate control. For example, the county government is responsible for building schools, but much of the county's growth that determines the need for school construction takes place within municipal boundaries, outside the county government's immediate purview.

In the town of Hampstead, for example, school overcrowding is an issue. Some members of the town's council and planning commission would like to suspend approvals for new subdivisions until the needed classrooms are built. The majority of the council and planning commission, however, feel that because Hampstead does not control school construction, the town can't stop new development that satisfies other criteria for approval. The result will be construction of more houses that will further exacerbate the overcrowding problem.

Having more frequent meetings, as suggested, will not solve the problem. Unless county and municipal officials synchronize their approvals, they will continue to work against each other's interests. Other jurisdictions -- Prince George's and Charles counties, to name two -- seem to have dealt with this problem in a more satisfactory fashion.

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