Grinding poverty and the booming suburbs meet head-on in the Carroll County community of Taneytown, which last week turned down $100,000 in state money because officials feared abortion counseling was attached to the cash.
Scrapping the community health center the money was to have bought has exposed the dichotomy of the 240-year-old locality four miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line: Taneytown is at once Carroll's poorest, least-educated and insular community and one of Baltimore's fastest growing suburbs.
Since the 1980s a surge of residential development has pushed Taneytown's population from 3,500 to 4,500, a jump of nearly 30 percent in less than 10 years.
County planners predict another 25 percent increase by the turn of the century.
But as new houses sprout on nearly every open field, East Baltimore Street -- for 200 years the community's commercial, social and entertainment heart -- has barely survived.
"We have a vacant downtown that needs to be fixed," said Linda M. Hess, Taneytown's clerk/treasurer for nearly 20 years. "We've known this for a long time."
The county health department's health center was to have been a centerpiece for refurbishing the moribund downtown. County and state health services were to be provided in a vacant bank building at no cost to Taneytown taxpayers.
But since the social services -- childhood inoculations, youth services, child abuse counseling -- might include family planning services, three of the five Taneytown council members quashed the entire plan.
"Abortion should not be an option, it should not be an option to anyone, not even the poor," said Councilman Brian M. Etzler. Mr. Etzler, who did not participate in the state grant vote -- he wasn't sworn in until later -- said he didn't care about the other services state officials hoped to provide at the center.
"That's too bad, but you have to vote your conscience, and I don't care what language you put it in, abortion is killing."
Henry C. Heine Jr., one of the council members who voted to reject the money, said he was elected to represent the views of the residents.
The 3-2 vote to reject the health center because of the abortion issue exactly measures the way Taneytown voted on the state's 1992 abortion referendum. Although Question 6 passed in Carroll County and Maryland, it was defeated by a 3-2 ratio in and around Taneytown.
Whether Taneytown needs public health services is irrelevant, Mr. Heine said. "If 99 percent of something is good, but 1 percent is so bad that you can't live with it, you have to scrap the whole thing."
Carroll Health Department statistics show that 41 percent of Taneytown's population lives at or below the poverty line. According to the county social services department, 13 percent of the county's welfare recipients live in the Taneytown area, which makes up 5 percent of Carroll's population of 140,000.
"Some areas of Carroll County have a greater need for social services than others, but Taneytown is one of those pockets that is particularly underserved," said Alex Jones, the county's social services director. The latest U.S. Census shows the Taneytown area has the highest poverty rate of any Carroll community except for tiny New Windsor, the lowest number of college-educated residents and the lowest average family income, $33,200.
"I think the City Council's decision was dumb," said Frances DuVall, a 52-year-old lifelong resident who tends bar at the local American Legion hall. Her home, built in 1978, is adjacent to a federally subsidized housing development. "People need these kind of services."
Taneytown didn't used to have a poverty problem. For much of its history, it was a center for the woodworking industry, a community traversed by well-known figures in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Taneytown was a player in the economy of northcentral Maryland for decades as a stop on railroad lines.
During the Revolution, Taneytown gunsmiths were a major supplier of firearms. After George Washington became president, he rode through town and wrote about its hospitality in his journal.
Taneytown's most famous almost-son -- Francis Scott Key, who was born just outside of town -- wrote the national anthem during the War of 1812.
Eight miles from Gettysburg, Union Army Gen. George G. Meade is said to have planned his final assault in Taneytown. But the community has never capitalized on its proximity to the historic battlefield -- and its 1.7 million annual visitors.
Mr. Heine, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor this month, envisions Taneytown as a stopover for visitors on their way to Civil War sites. But Taneytown lacks restaurants, shopping and lodging.
fTC It wasn't until the 1970s -- when the locality approved the construction of subsidized housing -- that Taneytown began to change from an isolated manufacturing community into a suburb.