Seven of Carroll County's eight towns, home to more than 32,000 of the county's 145,000 residents, will hold municipal elections next month.
As political contests go, these races are generally low-key and don't attract much news coverage. Also, candidates usually have full-time jobs.
Despite their small scale, however, municipal elections give town residents their most direct link to government, and the winners of the council and mayoral races have a significant role in shaping citizens' daily lives.
They also deal with a variety of immediate concerns, ranging from management of the local pool to snow removal.
"The government that's closest to you affects you more than any other level of government," said Manchester Mayor Elmer Lippy. "That's where it all begins."
Towns throughout Carroll are at different stages in their development as the May elections approach.
Union Bridge, New Windsor and Manchester are bracing for increased residential growth.
Hampstead and Taneytown, by contrast, have nearly all the growth they can handle. They are focusing their attentions on revitalizing the older "Main Street" sections and attracting more industrial development for additional revenue sources.
Westminster leaders will soon be weighing a property tax increase for city residents. And in Sykesville, town officials are grappling with the possible annexation of state-owned property at the Springfield Hospital Center.
Said Hampstead town manager Neil Ridgely of local elections: "They're really important. The people that sit on the councils for several years have a major impact on the direction the town takes."
What follows is an overview of candidates seeking office in next month's elections and the issues they've identified as critical to the future of their towns.
Mount Airy doesn't hold its elections this year.
The mayor and two council members are running unopposed in a May 12 election.
Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan was a councilman from 1983 to 1986, and again from 1991 to 1994. He was council president from May 1993 until November 1994, when he became mayor on the election of W. Benjamin Brown to county commissioner. Yowan, 54, of Lakes Court is a physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County.
First-term Councilman Damian L. Halstad, 35, of Willis Street was elected in May 1993 and heads the public safety committee that oversees Westminster's police force. Halstad, a lawyer, specializes in civil litigation and estate administration for Hoffman Comfort Galloway & Offutt.
Council President Edward S. Calwell, 52, of East Green Street took that position in 1994 when Yowan became mayor. A systems analyst trainer for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Calwell also has an antiques business in New Oxford, Pa.
A month after his announcement for re-election, Calwell was charged with driving while intoxicated and driving under the influence of alcohol after a minor traffic accident March 2, according to police reports.
Staggered elections are held for the council, which has five at-large positions with four-year terms.
The council has been considering and most likely will propose a 6-cent increase in the property tax rate -- the first in years.
Unless a write-in campaign alters the outcome of the election May 5, the makeup of the Taneytown City Council will be unchanged. The three incumbent council members seeking re-election face no challengers.
Councilman Henry C. Heine Jr., 50, a Mass Transit Administration engineer who is seeking a third term, is excited about the Internet as an advertising medium to attract business and industry.
Taneytown opened a Web site last week, and Heine sees economic development information as an important component.
"We've never tried anything like that. We should be exploring new avenues," Heine said.
Councilman James L. McCarron, 49, said the council's biggest challenge for the next term is planning sewage treatment plant improvements.
McCarron, a district manager for Southern States Cooperative, is seeking a fourth term. He is first vice president of the Maryland Municipal League.
Councilman James Wieprecht, 34, is also eager to expand the city's industrial base.
"I'm sure we'll have residential growth, but I'd like to encourage nonresidential [growth]," he said.
Wieprecht is seeking his first elected term. He was appointed to the council in 1996 to fill a vacancy. He works with retirement plans at T. Rowe Price.
Six candidates are vying for three town council seats in Hampstead's elections May 13.
Incumbents Wayne H. Thomas and David E. Bredenburg are seeking re-election. Seth Shipley, who was appointed to the council in March 1996, is not running for another term.
The contest is relatively low key, compared with the elections in 1995 when a slate of slow-growth candidates ousted longtime members who had overseen much of Hampstead's rapid growth over the past decade.