Commissioners ask mayors to curb growth

New homes increase school, water burden

March 07, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Concerned about water shortages and crowded schools, the Carroll commissioners urged officials from the county's eight towns yesterday to help slow growth.

"The county can only control growth in the county, not in the towns," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said at a quarterly meeting with the municipal leaders. "We are simply in a situation where there is not enough money to build schools and operate them at the levels we are accustomed to. We are asking you all to pull together ideas on how to slow growth in the county and the towns, until we can catch up."

Saying the county needed immediate relief from the pressures of residential growth, Gouge called for cooperation between county and town planning staffs to create a comprehensive strategy.

More than 1,400 homes were built in the county last year - 400 more than the annual maximum goal of 1,000. Officials expect a repeat of that increase this year, further exacerbating school crowding and water shortages.

"We have to ensure that the rate of new construction does not outstrip the county's ability to provide adequate facilities," said Jeanne Joiner, county director of planning.

Development is burdening schools, many of which are surrounded by portable classrooms, and water systems that are stressed by a prolonged drought. The commissioners heard a litany of municipal water woes.

Towns are looking for new water sources, urging residents to practice conservation and continuing bans on outdoor use.

Westminster's reservoir is down to 55 percent of its capacity, 30 percent below last spring's level. New Windsor's main water source has fallen below acceptable levels and the town expected to enact a water ban at its council session last night.

"We need a water task force so we can all work with the other towns," said New Windsor Mayor Samuel Pierce.

Mount Airy Mayor Gerald R. Johnson asked the county to revive long-shelved plans to build another reservoir in South Carroll. Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman proposed several conservation measures, such as dredging silt to deepen reservoirs, rainwater collection systems and recycling water.

"People today are more willing to adopt these measures given the water problems," Herman said.

Gouge made another pitch for well construction, at least as an interim solution.

"If ever there was a time to look at wells for short-term relief, it is now," she said. "And, we don't even know what the summer will bring."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the towns were doing a good job managing their water supplies. But he added that growth in the towns is causing problems for the county, which must build the schools and roads to accommodate new residents.

"All we can do is ask you to cooperate," Dell said. "This is a difficult thing for us. We are in a tight spot."

Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff called for more efforts at economic development, which has long been a county priority.

"Start looking at economic incentives to bring employment to the county, instead of turning a farm into 200 homes," Dayhoff said.

The county is conducting a survey of its work force, hoping those statistics eventually will draw employers to Carroll.

"We can't just pick up industry and plop it down here," Dell said. "This is a long-term project."

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