Delegation to seek expansion of board

Hampstead bypass, all-day kindergarten also voted on by lawmakers

January 29, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll's legislative delegation is moving forward on proposals to expand the Board of County Commissioners from three to five members, to exempt the county from a state mandate for all-day kindergarten and to allow the commissioners to pay for road projects and later recoup the costs from developers.

But the seven members unanimously rejected a measure to extend closing time to 2 a.m. at county bars and restaurants.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation, said he plans to meet with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s staff next week to discuss building a $24 million state crime lab in Sykesville, and he is pushing for funding this year for a bypass route around Hampstead.

Haines introduced a resolution yesterday urging Ehrlich to conclude a four-year environmental impact study on a bog turtle habitat near the town and fund the Hampstead Bypass.

"I am calling on the governor to expedite the project and give it priority funding," Haines said.

The $40 million, nearly six-mile route would be built west of the town, parallel to Route 30, and would be designed to ease congestion on the town's Main Street. The discovery of the endangered species halted the project while the state conducted the study.

"Improvements are necessary to accommodate safely and efficiently, in an environmentally responsible manner, existing and projected traffic volumes in the Hampstead area," according to Haines' resolution.

Haines is to discuss with Ehrlich's staff building the state crime lab in Sykesville on the campus of the state's $60 million Police Training Center, where it originally was planned. After Ehrlich released a construction program last week that left the project near state police headquarters in Pikesville, members of the Carroll delegation vowed to continue to fight for it in Sykesville.

Haines said yesterday that he does not expect the bill to expand the board of commissioners, which the delegation passed unanimously Monday, to encounter opposition in the House of Delegates or Senate. The proposal could receive its initial reading in the House this week.

The bill calls for a referendum on the issue in the presidential election next year. The commissioners would be elected to staggered terms and by district.

Haines suggested the staggered terms. In the 2006 commissioner election, two of the five nominees would serve two-year terms and would run again in 2008 for full, four-year terms under the legislation.

If the expansion wins voter approval, the commissioners would appoint a committee of seven - three each from the Republican and Democratic central committees and one from the board of elections - to define districts and decide which two commissioners initially would serve the shorter terms.

The bill is sponsored by Del. Donald B. Elliott, who represents western Carroll County.

In other business, the delegation voted Monday to seek an exemption from all-day kindergarten, an initiative that becomes mandatory statewide in 2007. The county would have to build classrooms and pay for teachers in a program that many Carroll parents believe is unnecessary.

"Even if the new administration revisits this issue, we want them to know Carroll County does not want it," Haines said.

The commissioners won support from the delegation for their efforts to "forward-fund" roads projects and build connections between subdivisions, rather than wait for a development to be completed. The delegation amended its proposal to give the developer or property owner 10 years to repay the construction costs. The commissioners had asked for a five-year repayment.

Business owners lost in their effort to extend the closing time for bars by one hour to 2 a.m. Haines said he found little support for the measure at a public hearing last week in Westminster.

"I think the majority of people are opposed, and the delegation decided unanimously not to extend the hours," Haines said.

Restaurant and bar owners said 11:30 p.m. usually means a mass exodus of patrons headed to establishments in Frederick and Baltimore counties that are open until 2 a.m.

"Those same people might be going home," said Haines. "There was no sound rationale to this argument."

The delegation also approved a bill that would increase vendor fees from $50 to $200 for the Maryland Wine Festival, an annual event at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

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