Unfinished tasks prompt Dell to run for 3rd term Commissioner wants more schools built to accommodate growth

October 19, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Donald I. Dell is seeking a third term as county commissioner because he wants to finish some important projects in the county, including building schools to accommodate a burgeoning enrollment.

The two-term incumbent won the chance to run again by just a few dozen votes in the Republican primary last month.

In the general election, Dell shares the field with six other candidates, including his former campaign treasurer, Robin Bartlett Frazier, all vying for three seats on the board that serves as both the county's legislative and administrative body.

'I enjoy the work'

"I enjoy the work," Dell said. "It's gratifying to set policy and to have people come in with a problem and help them resolve it. I despise campaigning, but I have to do it."

Dell takes pride in his conservatism, but he has voted twice to raise taxes. In 1995, he voted to raise the county's piggyback income tax to 58 percent of the state income tax, up from 50 percent. That money was set aside to build several schools to alleviate crowding because of growing enrollment. He wants to be around to see those schools open.

In 1996, he voted to raise the property tax rate from $2.32 to $2.65 per $100 assessed valuation, to prevent cuts in county services such as fire protection and libraries.

Dell said he believes the county is in a good financial position now.

"I'm probably sticking my neck out in saying this, but I don't see a need for a tax increase at all," he said.

Dell has emerged as an advocate for public schools, attending monthly school board meetings and defending the schools when fellow commissioners criticized them.

"Here in Carroll County, we have an excellent example of conservatism in the educational system," Dell said. "We're ranked very high in the state without spending a lot of dollars."

When he ran in 1990, his slogan was "Keep it Country." Dell said he regrets that many people misinterpreted that phrase and used it against him.

He said he defines "country" as a way of life in which neighbors work together to define a community.

"The ability to work things out is as important as open space," Dell said. "That's what determines the quality of life."

'Strong on property rights'

Coming from a long line of farmers, he said, he is "very strong on property rights" and agricultural preservation.

"I think I've done a lot to maintain our rural qualities in Carroll County," Dell said. "The most outstanding thing is the Critical Farms Program."

When a farm is up for sale, the Critical Farms Program helps a farmer-buyer compete with real estate developers. The state's agricultural preservation program does the same thing, but it can take 18 months for application and approval. Sometimes a farmer who is selling can't wait that long and could sell instead to a developer offering more money.

The county, through the Critical Farms Program, provides the money up front, and pursues reimbursement from the state.

"We've saved a number of farms," Dell said.

An administrative focus

Dell opposed the failed movement to switch to charter government and prefers the commissioners to serve as much as an administrative as a legislative body.

He took the administrative role seriously enough to intervene once when he saw construction crews beginning to tear up part of a parking lot to plant trees. When phone calls failed to stop the work, Dell went outside and ordered the work halted, he said.

The problem could have been avoided, he said, if the commissioners had not moved away from some administrative duties. He would like to see more regular staff time with department heads to keep the three commissioners abreast of day-to-day activity.

One administrative project Dell wants to keep on track is the rewriting of some 160 county ordinances to make them more understandable. Amendments to ordinances are tacked on rather than incorporated into the original, making ordinances difficult to interpret and sometimes creating conflicting language.

"I'd like to have another four years to clean that mess up," Dell said.

Donald I. Dell

Age: 73

Residence: Westminster

Family: Married to Leona Dell; three children, 10 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren

Occupation: owner of Cranberry Meadow Farm, a family-run dairy and grain farm north of Westminster

Education: Westminster High School, Class of 1942

Political background: County Commissioner, elected 1990, re-elected 1994. Running for third term

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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