Incorporating as Carroll's 9th town might be next option for Finksburg

County officials indifferent, planning council says

January 30, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Finksburg residents, frustrated by what they call Carroll County's indifference to their concerns, are considering a change in their community status.

Instead of a planned growth area, Finksburg could become the county's ninth incorporated town.

"It has been whispered to us, and we are testing to see what interest there is," said Donald Hoffman, president of the Finksburg Planning Area Council. "Incorporation comes up, but we would not go with it unless it serves the interests of our residents."

The council acts as an unofficial liaison between residents of communities along Routes 140 and 91 and county government, which many call unresponsive.

"If we incorporate, we would be our own entity," said David O'Callaghan, the council's communications director. "If we keep feeling ignored, interest in incorporation will increase."

Incorporation can be arduous. Organizers must gather petitions from 20 percent of the registered voters and 25 percent of the property owners. The petitioning committee must write a charter. There are public hearings, reviews, reports and a referendum. In the end, the commissioners can deny the petition.

As a town, Finksburg could plot its own destiny. It could elect a mayor and council, establish zoning, enact ordinances and collect property taxes. Currently, the county governs Finksburg and provides services.

Finksburg joins Freedom, a 47-square-mile area that includes Eldersburg and Sykesville in South Carroll, in exploring incorporation. Both are what the county calls planned growth areas, and residents of both have complained that they have little voice in government. Residents' response to incorporating Freedom has been tepid.

Mike Naused, a member of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, said both groups have similar issues and should work together. "There is a power in numbers," he added. "We are suffering the same pains."

As the county's most populous area, with 28,000 residents, Freedom has begun to flex its political muscle. Public hearings on its proposed growth plan have drawn as many as 500 people. Incorporation could be easier in South Carroll, a well-defined geographic area with public water and sewer, than in Finksburg.

"We don't have a defined area nor do we have public utilities that help define a town," said Finksburg resident Steve Nevin. "How much area would we assume?"

The Finksburg planning area encompasses 8,985 acres and is home to 17,369 residents, according to county records. "Much of Finksburg is zoned for 3-acre lots with low-density development," said Bobbi Moser, county planner. "It would be a huge leap starting a municipality, a major leap, but it can be done."

Despite Finksburg's growth, the county has not assigned it a permanent planner since the job became vacant in November 1998. A revision to the 1981 Finksburg comprehensive plan -- an old document by planning standards -- remains stalled in the earliest stages, county administrators said.

"We have no planner, no mini-plan and no zoning administrator," said Jack Hancock, Finksburg Planning Area Council treasurer, at a recent meeting.

But, said Hoffman, the Finksburg council president, "What we do have is more than 50 people willing to come out on a cold night to address issues."

The council has been trying to get the county commissioners to address issues since it organized in 1997. In a push for billboard controls, members of the Finksburg group hand-delivered a presentation to the commissioners detailing how other locales have dealt with the proliferation of road signs.

"They have not even looked at it," Hoffman said.

The county's sign ordinance makes billboards along Route 140 legal, Commissioner Donald I. Dell said.

"There is a lot of perception and emotion from these special-interest groups," he said. "Let them come to me with facts, and I'll listen."

The Finksburg council has also worked for a reaffirmation of a watershed agreement with Baltimore. It has had more response from the city than the county on its inquiries. Hoffman wrote a letter to newly elected Mayor Martin O'Malley about the agreement and has received a reply. By contrast, he has heard nothing from the commissioners.

Incorporation might not be Finksburg's only chance to have a voice in how it is governed. The council is closely watching the outcome of state legislation proposing to increase the board of commissioners from three to five members, elected regionally. One of those new members likely would come from Finksburg, one of the county's more populous areas.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, a New Windsor Republican speaking at the Finksburg Planning Area Council meeting Thursday, sought support for his bill for a five-member board. If it passes the legislature, the issue could appear as a referendum in November.

"Five would give us a broader intellectual and experience base," the state legislator said. "There would be better attention to civic demands."

However, he acknowledged that he does not have the support of his delegation colleagues, which is vital to the bill's success.

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