Yearly review speech upbeat

Commissioners note fiscal confidence in state-of-county talks

`We'll be fine'

Police protection, development, schools are officials' concerns

January 18, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

In their state-of-the-county address yesterday, the Carroll commissioners spoke confidently of a strong financial future but did not shy away from contentious issues - such as farmland development and crowded schools.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge called for slow growth. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier focused on industrial development, and Commissioner Donald I. Dell listed several priorities, including options for increasing police protection in the county.

But underscoring those priorities was a sense of optimism about the county's financial prospects.

"We have glowing reviews from bond agencies for our county," said Frazier in a speech she filmed before leaving Jan. 3 on a missionary trip to the Philippines. She will return to work Tuesday. "As we go into a recession, we are in the strongest position that we can be in. We might have to tighten our belts, but we'll be fine."

Dell and Gouge delivered their remarks to an audience of about 200 at Wakefield Valley Golf Club in Westminster. The annual event, sponsored by Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, draws business, government and community leaders.

Gouge said Carroll's bond ratings, which help determine interest rates on borrowed money, have improved from stable to positive - "great for a county of our size," she said.

While Dell and Gouge did not avoid contentious matters, they spent most of their time focusing on the county's accomplishments and the tasks ahead.

The board will encounter several hurdles in this election year, including a looming water crisis in South Carroll, the county's most populous area; crowded schools throughout the county; and the revision of a disputed zoning ordinance that threatens to spur residential development on precious farmland.

Dell, who voted for the ordinance in September, said he quickly saw "intolerable, unmanageable conditions" from the law that would allow landowners to transfer development rights from conservation land to farmland.

"I feel a strong responsibility to make amendments," Dell said.

Gouge thanked Dell for withdrawing his support for the ordinance, unless it is revised.

"The controversial issues that have plagued the commissioners this year are far too many to mention, and for me, personally, they are depressing," Gouge said. "Do we agree on all the issues? No. But, we do agree to disagree and to find solutions."

Gouge, the commissioner who garnered the most votes in 1998 and the only one of the three to commit to running for re-election this year, made a pitch for slower growth but stopped short of calling for a moratorium on development. The county should ask developers to provide land and build the schools necessitated by new houses, she said.

"We have areas that are overflowing with houses and children," she said. "Growth must be dealt with now and for the next several years. It must be slowed, until schools are built. Otherwise, this is a true disservice to those buying homes."

As she has repeatedly done, Gouge urged support for her plan to build wells in South Carroll as a short-term solution to seasonal water shortages. Dell and Frazier insist on building a second water-treatment plant - at a cost now estimated at $15.2 million - on Piney Run Lake in Sykesville. The project has yet to win state approval and faces strong opposition from residents.

Dell said residents' fears about the plant's detrimental effect are unfounded, "born of misconceptions and a lack of facts." He added that he hopes the election of a new governor will settle the issue.

He listed several priorities for this year, including leasing county-owned hangars at the regional airport, increasing parking at county offices and police protection for Carroll, which does not have a county police force but relies on state police and the county sheriff's office for law enforcement.

"The resident trooper program, the enhanced Sheriff's Department and the municipal police forces give us a cooperative effort that is unexcelled in the state," said Dell, adding the county must pursue reasonable options for future protection of its citizens.

Frazier's tape aired last and focused primarily on economic development. She has made visits to county businesses part of her weekly schedule and has visited more than 100 companies.

"These visits have been quite rewarding and have helped me to understand the issues companies face," she said.

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