Town, county often at odds

Hampstead leaders say commissioners ignore their views on issues

Communication failure

March 31, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Hampstead council members say they're exasperated with the Carroll commissioners six months after the groups agreed to work out their frequent communication problems.

The latest blow to the relationship came March 20, when the commissioners abruptly decided not to pay for the $215,000 extension of Hampstead's Boxwood Drive, a project they had previously agreed to fund.

Hampstead leaders seemed baffled and incensed by the vote, which they said was taken without formal discussion between them and the commissioners.

It is the latest example, town leaders said, of the commissioners' apparent lack of interest in their desires or input.

"I'd like to think they care about the relationship, but a whole lot of the time, it feels like we're talking and they're not listening," said Wayne H. Thomas, a Hampstead councilman.

Mayor Christopher M. Nevin recalled a September meeting at which town leaders raised a number of issues with the commissioners, most of which haven't been addressed since, he said.

"We had this discussion last September where we agreed that we would work on getting our communication problems solved, and here we are six months later, and they're making unilateral decisions that affect the town without talking to us first," he said.

Nevin, a Republican like the three commissioners, said he might take out his frustrations in the voting booth.

"It's an election year, and if this board shows itself incapable of working with us to figure out what's best for the town, we may have to look for candidates who have a more positive view of the situation," he said.

The commissioners view the relationship differently.

"We treat them as well as any other town," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who acknowledged that the commissioners seem to have more scrapes with Hampstead than with most other towns in Carroll.

Of making a decision on the Boxwood extension before meeting with town leaders, Dell, who attended a public hearing on extending the road, said, "A meeting wouldn't have changed my mind."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier also said that such a meeting probably would not have changed her vote but that she could see why the vote annoyed Hampstead leaders.

"It's nice to be reminded that we need to communicate better at times," she said. "We have a lot on our plates, and sometimes, things fall through the cracks. To that extent, I do apologize to them."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, a Hampstead resident and former mayor of the town, said she regrets voting against the extension without contacting town leaders. "This is where we get ourselves in trouble, making quick decisions without addressing all sides," she said.

Other towns have also had contentious dealings with the commissioners. Sykesville leaders have sparred with Dell and Frazier over the county's plans to build a water-treatment plant next to the lake at Piney Run Park.

Dell infuriated leaders from all of the towns this month when he erroneously said the towns promote growth more than the county does. He subsequently retracted the comment.

Hampstead and county leaders have a long history of dispute. Hampstead council members have felt for years that the town receives short shrift in its town-county compensation agreement, especially considering that it pays about $100,000 a year to police North Carroll High School. Hampstead is the only town in Carroll that contains a high school.

Two years ago, Hampstead leaders felt the county bent over backward to help Sweetheart Cup develop its giant distribution center just outside the town limits without regard for its impact on Hampstead, including the obstruction of once-bucolic views by the huge building and the piles of dirt atop town water pipes that will make them difficult to unearth if the need arises.

Town leaders also felt that the commissioners dragged their heels on transferring control of the old Hampstead Elementary School, delaying town plans to redevelop it into a home for the elderly.

Two weeks ago, Frazier noted problems with revisions in the town's comprehensive land-use plan, threatening the results of a two-year collaboration between town and Carroll planning officials.

Then came the Boxwood decision.

"Things seem to be getting worse, not better," Thomas said.

Dell said he is tired of hearing town leaders complain about such issues. He said the county did the town a service by giving it the boarded-up elementary school in the center of town and has long dismissed complaints about Sweetheart Cup.

As for complaints about policing the high school, Dell suggested that the Town Council follow through on its threats to deannex the property. "I don't care about that," he said. "Maybe if they do it, it will solve their problems."

Hampstead leaders said a large part of the problem stems from the county staff's apparent inability to predict what the commissioners will do.

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