Area officials to assemble tomorrow

Water conservation, dry conditions top list of concerns

`It is getting critical'

Media center funds, other budget issues also on agenda

March 05, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

When Carroll's eight mayors get together with the county commissioners for their quarterly meeting tomorrow, water and budget issues promise to dominate the discussion.

The meetings are an opportunity for municipal leaders to share information, socialize and promote town events, but with a drought lingering, water restrictions in effect or predicted, and constant budget-crunching that could cut into the towns' funding, the conversation could quickly turn serious.

"It could be a pretty dry meeting - no pun intended," said Taneytown Mayor Henry C. Heine Jr.

Taneytown, Mount Airy, Manchester and Westminster have not lifted last summer's water restrictions on watering lawns, washing cars and filling pools. Hampstead is considering a water ban and Union Bridge is asking for voluntary conservation. New Windsor will tackle the issue at its council meeting tomorrow and probably will call for a ban, said Mayor Sam Pierce.

"A lot of our water comes from a spring that is slowly dropping," said Pierce. "It is getting critical."

Taneytown plans to toughen its nearly year-old policy and extend the ban to businesses as early as April 1.

"We will probably be going to the next level of our restrictions, and those involve all the businesses and industries," said Heine, adding that he will ask the City Council to approve the change and make it effective April 1.

Although the towns, with the exception of Sykesville, operate their water systems independent of the county, Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff said, "There is an overwhelming need to discuss with the commissioners our serious concerns about water for the greater community."

In Hampstead, several of the 14 public wells are showing signs of fatigue, said town manager Kenneth C. Decker. The town will consider restrictions on water use at its council session March 12.

"We are in a drought warning now after a phenomenally short amount of rainfall," Decker said. "Absent a wet spring and summer, we are all going to be dealing with drought problems."

Sykesville, a town of 4,000 in South Carroll, relies on the county-operated water system for its supply.

"We have a potential water crisis in South Carroll, and we are wondering why the commissioners have not called for voluntary conservation," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "We would like to see them take steps to save water and enact regulations for alternative water sources."

Water is not the only issue that concerns the mayors.

Also on the agenda is a presentation about the county's proposed community media center, a project that needs about $1.2 million in county funding before breaking ground. If the county freezes its contributions to the towns at last year's levels, municipal leaders said, they might not be able to support the project.

"This budget crunch is tight for everyone," said Decker, who also is chairman of the county's cable commission. "If things are that tight for the county, where will this million come from? And, if they find money for the media center, where is ours? In these times, every spending decision deserves scrutiny."

Dayhoff said he supports the center as "a building block for community," but Westminster also is looking at painful budget sessions this month. The city, which cut $1.25 million to balance its budget last year, is facing the same demand for services this year and looking at about $500,000 less in revenue.

"Even a dollar less is a problem at this time," Dayhoff said.

Dayhoff added that he intends to stay positive during the meeting with the commissioners: "I look at these sessions as ways to build relationships. And, you should always build relationships before you need them."

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