Center of controversy Carroll County: Delegation's political spat could harm funds for new Agriculture Center.

March 04, 1998

ANOTHER POLITICAL TIFF over state funding for the new Carroll County Agriculture Center threatens to undermine the county delegation's credibility in Annapolis. With $400,000 in bonds already approved, the nonprofit center planned outside Westminster expected smooth passage of the final $300,000 installment this year. Instead, the issue has become a political hot potato.

Del. Ellen Willis Miller, the only Democrat in the county delegation, prefiled a bill to provide the $300,000. She then withdrew it after finding problems at the center. Neighbors were angry with the year-round schedule planned for the hall, citing noise and traffic concerns. The center's business plan was 6 years old, and did not fully account for the larger, more expensive facility and its new site on the property.

Ms. Miller wanted to hold up final state funding until these problems could be resolved. She got the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to agree to her withdrawal of the bill, with the pledge that the center would get the full $300,000 next year.

That provoked the wrath of the county's Republican legislators, who charged that she was going behind their backs to sabotage the project. They refiled the bill, asking for a legislative hearing on the $300,000 bond request.

Remember that last year the Republicans chastised Ms. Miller for individually introducing a bill to get $300,000 for the center, claiming it should have been a joint delegation bill. That funding passed, with Ms. Miller's explanation that it was her Democratic ties to state leaders that achieved the favorable vote.

This year, she is criticized by the delegation majority for withdrawing her own bill. This despite the fact that several Republicans also expressed serious reservations about the problems hovering over the Ag Center project.

The partisan political sniping does nothing to advance the interests of the county, on this issue or any other. We supported withdrawal of the Miller bill, and suggested a partial funding of the final bond segment as an incentive for the center board to provide detailed, updated plans and to involve the neighbors in their deliberations. That has not happened, although the board promises to do so. With these uncertainties, full state bond funding for the center should wait until next year.

Pub Date: 3/04/98

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