Commissioners ask Frederick to pay its share

Compensation sought for services to residents

Library, firefighting costs

Financing of amenities in Mount Airy is key

Carroll County

March 09, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

When it comes to the services they supply to Frederick County, officials from Mount Airy and Carroll County want more than thank-you notes. They want compensation.

Although the agenda for the annual meeting between officials from the jurisdictions Friday at the Mount Airy fire hall included water issues, economic development, the 911-dispatch system and money dominated the discussion.

Carroll officials asked the Frederick County commissioners to help pay for a library and a senior center that are used by many Frederick residents, and for fire and rescue services and recreation.

"We are fully cognizant of the fiscal times we are in, but we must engage in discussion of how we can share these costs," said Steven D. Powell, county chief of staff.

They got little more than promises that Frederick officials would discuss the issues. Frederick Commissioner Bruce L. Reeder said "our problems are mutual," and asked for numbers as the county prepares its budget.

John R. Lovell Jr., newly elected to the Frederick board of commissioners, said he came to the meeting with an open mind.

"We are not trying to get out of anything," he said.

Mount Airy is nearly evenly split geographically between the two counties. About 3,500 of the 7,700 residents live in Frederick County, but Carroll officials contend they are providing the bulk of the services.

More than half the library patrons in town are from Frederick County. Nearly half the fire calls last year were to Frederick County locations. The town police force frequently responds to accidents or crimes in the neighboring county.

"This does not work for me," said Carroll Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "Somebody is going to start paying."

Frederick Commissioner John L. "Lennie" Thompson Jr. said the joint jurisdiction of the town complicates issues, but added that he is willing to work with Carroll County.

"It comes down to an issue of comity, a mutual understanding between governments," Thompson said.

Carroll officials presented statistics that, they said, show Frederick is not paying its share. The library was one of the most glaring examples.

Carroll County built the $4.5 million facility about a decade ago. The library costs about $600,000 annually to operate. Frederick County contributed $200,000 to the construction but nothing since then. Yet more than half of the patrons are Frederick residents.

Nearly 50 percent of the calls to the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company last year were from Frederick County. Union Bridge's company reported 42 percent of its calls were to the neighboring county. Other Carroll companies are frequently detailed to the Frederick area or must provide backup while Mount Airy firefighters are out of county.

"We are running out of time and money," said C. Douglas Bostian, president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association. "We have Carroll companies picking up the slack here because we're responding to things in Frederick County."

Bostian said he has written to Frederick leaders, detailing the numbers and the costs.

"I got back `thank you,' but we need money," he said.

Frederick County compensates its volunteer companies with at least $15,000 annually, money that comes from a fire tax assessed on residents.

"I think Mount Airy should get at least as much," said Thompson, the commissioner. "I am game, but our firefighters association does not want a cent to go out of the county. It is parochialism and making too much of political boundaries."

While nothing was settled, the group agreed on the need for more water sources and tackling shortages from a regional perspective.

Although the federal government opposed the project years ago, Carroll might try to revive its plan to build Gillis Falls Reservoir near the town. The county has preserved about 1,000 acres for the reservoir, which could supply water to several Maryland and southern Pennsylvania areas.

"The drought, changes in administration at the federal level and the inadequacy of the water supply could make this project possible for Carroll County and surrounding jurisdictions, especially Frederick," said Steven C. Horn, Carroll's director of planning, who also recently served in the same capacity in Frederick County. "We should take a more regional approach because we cannot justify this just for Carroll County."

Lovell assured his Carroll counterparts that he understood the entire message.

"We will go back and try to resolve these issues," he said.

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