After suffering through summer water shortages and sending her children to schools with crowded classrooms, Donna Slack is ready to tax herself into a better quality of life.
The South Carroll resident is pushing to have Eldersburg declared a sovereign town, a move that would give residents the power to elect municipal leaders and levy taxes for trash collection, and police and fire protection.
"Right now, we are scrounging for everything from the county," said Slack, an Eldersburg resident. "There always seem to be inequities. We are Cinderella and the county is the wicked stepmom. We are waiting for our prince to rescue us and give us part of our own dollars back. I think the prince's name is incorporation."
For years, activists such as Slack have been sounding the call for incorporation, the lengthy process required to declare an area sovereign. In recent months, such battle cries in South Carroll have received an icy reception, but residents bemoan the problems they claim the county has created.
Many of the most vocal critics are newcomers, who have moved from jurisdictions such as Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties, which they believe offer more services and nicer amenities.
The transplants have settled into $250,000 Colonials, and most commute to jobs in Baltimore and Washington, leaving little time for involvement in local government. The newcomers say that makes it easy for the three-member Board of County Commissioners to ignore their concerns, which include:
Burdened fire and police services
Disproportionate tax burden
"We feel we have not been listened to in terms of what we want to happen in our community," said Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols. "We have repeatedly said no to building without the services and resources in place. I have lived here six years and that has not been the case. There is always more building, more traffic and less concern for our quality of life."
Complaints about growth
The complaints reached new heights in August, when the commissioners approved plans by the Rash brothers to develop 145 acres of their Woodbine farm into a 50-home community surrounding a golf course. Nearby residents contend that the decision will open the floodgates to more growth and destroy what little farmland remains.
The county's efforts to protect farmland have won national recognition, but the campaign has had minimal impact in South Carroll, the most populous area of the county.
Nearly 20 percent of the county's 150,000 residents live in the Freedom area, a 47-square-mile area that includes Sykesville and Eldersburg. The population there has nearly tripled in the past 20 years, to more than 28,000.
But about 90 percent of Carroll County's preserved land lies far to the north and west of Eldersburg, in areas where pressure to develop is much less.
Only two farms in South Carroll -- 303 acres in all -- are protected from development. Many farmers in South Carroll have sold their land to developers.
Nimrod Davis calls Eldersburg, the area that has been his lifelong home, "the cash cow for the county, but they put us on the bottom of the bird cage. We are not getting a fair shake down here. We have been designated a growth area and we are becoming another Randallstown."
Davis is chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, a nongovernment panel that serves as a liaison between the county and residents.
As the Freedom area grows while its neighbors to the north and west struggle to keep their areas country, Carroll is rapidly writing itself a tale of two counties. About 30 miles from Eldersburg, rolling hills and lush farmland surround Hampstead and Manchester, where leaders and about 18,000 residents are attempting to avoid sprawl and other urban problems.
Insulated by their distance from major employment hubs, Manchester and Hampstead have not swelled with newcomers to the same extent as South Carroll.
Many in the Freedom area whisper what they think is the reason: That because all three county commissioners hail from North Carroll, they tend to steer growth from their back yard. When questioned about the sprawl in Eldersburg, Commissioner Donald I. Dell once grumbled: "Who asked you to move here?"
"They complain about growth, but who do they think growth is?" Dell asked.
But Michael Willinger of Sykesville says, "They could actually treat people as if we were part of the same county. The county punishes South Carroll with all the development."
`Crumbling from neglect'
The rift between North and South Carroll is widening so much that many in Eldersburg have asked the nearby town of Sykesville to consider annexation.
"I look around Eldersburg, and I see it crumbling from neglect. There is no planning, no foresight and nobody to take care of it," said Dave Greenwalt, who has lived in Eldersburg for 30 years. "Sykesville already has all the apparatus we need in place. We can survive together."