Annexation unlikely to go beyond talk

Leaders say they have no plans to absorb Eldersburg into town

`Mouse that ate elephant'

Some officials suggest incorporation is the better choice

March 01, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman has said he is willing to talk about annexing Eldersburg, but that he doubts the idea will move beyond discussion.

At their bimonthly meeting, members of the Town Council bantered, often lightheartedly, about the annexation proposal made by two Eldersburg residents several months ago.

"We would be the mouse that ate the elephant," said Councilwoman Debby Ellis. "It will be a good item for our next newsletter."

Councilman Charlie Mullins said, "As far as we know, only two people are interested in this."

Dave Greenwalt and Marcel Van Rossum asked the council in November to consider annexing Eldersburg, an unincorporated area more than 10 times the size and population of Sykesville. The town's official response ranged from lukewarm to alarmed.

Annexing Eldersburg "is like looking into the Grand Canyon and wondering where it stops," Herman said when he first heard the idea.

Herman is serving his second term as mayor of the small town, which provides its 3,500 residents with police protection, trash pickup and a municipal government led by a part-time mayor and Town Council, whose members call themselves "basically volunteers."

Officers from Sykesville Police Department -- a force of seven -- often respond to emergencies in Eldersburg because the local force is sometimes closer than state police in Westminster. Several groups have asked whether the town would formally extend law enforcement into their neighborhoods.

"You are not going to stop these requests for annexation," said police Chief Wallace P. Mitchell. "People up there feel they have no identity. They want more power and control over what is going on."

Sykesville could not expand its government and services to 30,000 more people without major upheaval in town and a greatly increased staff, said town officials.

Eldersburg residents have long been dissatisfied with a seeming lack of influence in local issues. Residents say complaints to the county about unchecked growth and its ensuing problems go unheard. But attempts to incorporate Eldersburg have foundered and then resurfaced several times in the past decade.

The Sykesville council took no action on the proposed annexation and has not revisited the issue since it was introduced Nov. 22. But the idea seems to have taken on a life of its own.

"People in town are getting the impression that we are considering annexing Eldersburg to solve their problems," said Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols.

Nichols was questioned about annexation when she attended a recent meeting of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial panel that serves as a liaison between Eldersburg communities and the county. Greenwalt, who had made the original pitch for annexation to the town, posed the possibility to the Freedom group.

"We are friends and neighbors," Greenwalt said. "I would like to see us all be part of the town. Everything we need now in Eldersburg is in place and intact in Sykesville. The town has vision and government."

Comments such as Greenwalt's have town residents calling their council members and stopping them on the streets with questions. The proposal has generated a fear that Sykesville could lose its identity. Nichols has asked her colleagues to prepare a formal statement on the matter.

"We have to make clear our views on annexation," she said. "We need to make a decision and get our views out to the public. There really is a fear out there that we are interested in annexation."

The mayor said he does not want to close the door on annexations, although he would prefer additions smaller than 28 square miles.

Herman said he would be reluctant to add 30,000 residents to the town. A community that takes six months to decide whether it will build a sidewalk is not prepared to become one of the largest municipalities in the state, he said.

"The idea of us gobbling up Eldersburg is hard for us to handle, but I would like to see us maintain flexibility and not cut ourselves off from any future annexations," Herman said. "I have serious reservations about annexing Eldersburg, but we are encouraging healthy dialogue.

"I like those guys talking about taking control of their area and maybe we can help them do it," he said.

Most town officials say they favor an incorporated Eldersburg, rather than a greatly expanded and unwieldy Sykesville.

"We could be the South Carroll twin cities," said Councilman Michael Burgoyne. "We are all concerned about Eldersburg's issues. They have to solve their problems."

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