Growth can't assure more political clout

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April 01, 2001|By Mike Burns

NEW census figures show that Carroll County's population grew by a robust 22 percent over the past decade, more than double the rate of increase for Maryland.

And doesn't it seem like every one of those new people is on the road, usually in front of you, during the rush hour?

Yes, it's an old joke but ever more true as the county continues to outstrip its strained infrastructure. You can build more schools and plant more trailers behind them. Hire more public employees. Drill more wells and tap every pond to expand drinking water supplies. Ship the extra garbage to Pennsylvania.

But for a county that has become a significant bedroom community, with a majority of the work force commuting to jobs in other jurisdictions, overburdened major roads remain a terribly limiting factor.

There's been little relief from the state, and a lot of lip service (also known as "planning").

And while the governor's Smart Growth scheme is supposed to fund viable highways to connect the designated concentrated growth areas, that seems to be the lowest priority on the state list.

No bypass for Route 140 connecting Finksburg to Westminster to Taneytown, nor for Route 30 linking Manchester and Hampstead. Budget-busting rapid transit for the politically privileged jurisdictions is the order of the day.

The 2000 Census merely confirms what we all know, that growth is rampant. But it doesn't tell us what to do with it.

Most of Carroll's growth over the past decade occurred in the "designated" growth areas. That fact is cited by local leaders as confirmation of their wisdom in planning. (And as evidence the county is following the principles of Smart Growth.)

That foresight has been singularly lacking, however, in providing the adequate facilities and services necessary to support the surge in population.

South Carroll, where the population swelled by 46 percent over 10 years, has repeatedly complained that the area is overcrowded and underserved. But that's a prime area where growth was supposedly "planned" to take place by the powers that be.

The eight incorporated towns absorbed nearly half of the 27,500 new residents gained by Carroll. That doesn't give them any more political clout in county government, but it sure gives them a greater burden in providing local services for those citizens.

You might well ask whether Carroll's large size is going to give the county a stronger political voice and greater representation in the state legislature.

With 188 state senators and delegates, and a Maryland population of 5.3 million, Carroll's increase could theoretically justify one more seat in the General Assembly. But it doesn't work that nicely in the reality of redistricting.

At best, Carroll might hope to pick up a half-delegate. The most obvious way to do that would be to make the District 4B seat, now elected by Frederick and Carroll voters, a Carroll-only office.

But Frederick County grew at an even faster rate than Carroll over the past decade, nearly 30 percent. That western neighbor added more than 45,000 people, which would warrant that county adding a delegate rather than losing half a delegate.

So Frederick would have to take a seat from Washington County and Western Maryland, a nigh impossible task with powerful House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. defending his home turf. You can see the difficulty involved in such district realignments.

There's also no room for Carroll to gain at the expense of neighboring Howard County (up 32 percent since 1990) or Baltimore County, which added over 60,000 residents.

Another proposal is that the senate seat in District 4 be elected by Frederick County only, instead of being shared with Carroll. That would also mean a loss of the 4B delegate seat for Carroll.

Indeed, it is not political gain that should concern Carroll in the redrawing of state legislative districts next year. Rather, it is the distinct possibility of legislative loss, by the gerrymandering tactics of Gov. Parris Glendening and his Democratic henchmen in the General Assembly.

Forget the high-minded proclamation of the U.S. Census Bureau that the 2000 population statistics will be used to assure equal representation and the "one person, one vote principle of the 1965 Voting Rights Act."

There is already the hint of another contortion of democracy such as was evident in the 1992 redistricting.

That was when the mayor of Baltimore was serving as governor. William Donald Schaefer engineered a redistricting that grafted key parts of fading Baltimore City onto Baltimore County legislative districts.

That helped to protect Democratic seats that were under threat from an increasingly conservative, expanding suburban electorate. And it magnified the city's clout, with claims on more legislative districts than its population could alone justify.

Now comes the suggestion that Carroll might be sliced up as part of a district with Baltimore County and Baltimore City, with which it shares no common border. The aim would be to empower the supposedly Democratic pockets living along the Route 26 corridor.

The final legislative map will be known next spring. For now, the only certainty is that growth means greater demands on the county and on its leaders.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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