Officials promise to pull together

Commissioners want to work with state, towns

`Our pledge is to build bridges'

Carroll County

January 17, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners vowed yesterday to continue to foster a new era of cooperation within county government and better relations with officials in state government.

Addressing an audience of about 250 in their annual state-of-the-county speeches, the three commissioners said a new spirit of working together also should include a proposed council of governments designed to give municipalities a stronger voice in county government.

"Our pledge is to build bridges and to tear down the walls that have divided this county," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said.

During their remarks, delivered before a county Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Westminster, the commissioners broke little new ground.

Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr., a Union Bridge volunteer firefighter for 28 years, called for improvements in police, fire and emergency medical services, saying, "I know firsthand how important training and preparation is."

Jones said more underground water storage tanks should be installed for fire emergencies, and that the time might be nearing for the establishment of a central dispatch center, but he did not provide specifics.

Gouge said she expected a difficult budget year, but did not elaborate.

The commissioners stressed the need to control residential growth and spoke of the toll development is taking on county services. Gouge said that at least 2,000 homes are in the development review process, and added that she is concerned that the households might strain schools, roads and utilities.

If Carroll is to keep up with its growth, it must find water sources and enact measures to protect the water supply, she said. The commissioners hope to invite officials from the state, surrounding counties and Baltimore City to a formal signing of the Watershed Protection Agreement, a decades-old pact that safeguards the area's drinking water from development.

The board also has pledged its support for the proposed council of governments, which would include officials from all eight municipalities and representatives from the Finksburg and Freedom areas.

"Two of us were mayors, and Dean was a journalist who wrote about what happened," said Gouge. "What better combination to understand what is needed when we talk about relations with local government than this board?"

As examples of the cooperative spirit with the towns, Jones noted efforts to jump-start an economic development project in Sykesville, the transfer of an aging school building to Hampstead and setting aside land for a fire station in New Windsor.

"We know the importance of the county and towns working together to create trust and help us understand each others' goals and objectives," Jones said.

The commissioners, six weeks into their terms, congratulated themselves on a job well done.

"In the first few weeks, we took action on nearly every issue we heard about during the campaign," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

The board scrapped a divisive $16 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake in Sykesville, expanded the planning commission, reversed several contentious zoning decisions and restored the environmental commission and the zoning administrator post, the commissioners said, listing their accomplishments.

They also described the reasons for making overtures to repair the board's relationship with the state - a relationship that had been strained by the previous board's stance on growth.

"We are not a sovereign state up here," said Minnich. "Carroll County is an arm of the state, and if we don't play ball with the state, we are going to get slapped around a bit politically."

Since the board took office Dec. 2, Minnich said, the atmosphere at the County Office Building has become lighter and imbued with a sense of purpose and duty.

"You have three independent commissioners who happen to get along," he said. "Communication is the cornerstone of what we are going to do the next four years."

Gouge, who frequently was outvoted during her tenure on the previous board, spoke of a leadership that "works as a team."

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