Carroll panel to review growth issues tonight

Countywide board to look at task force's suggestions


December 16, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

An umbrella group that includes county and municipal officials will get a look at growth issues throughout Carroll, Health Department initiatives and a 2004 survey designed to assess community needs when it holds its third meeting tonight.

The Carroll County Council of Governments is scheduled to review proposed recommendations from the commissioners' growth task force, which was formed in the spring to revise the county's policy on development, said Damian L. Halstad, council chairman and president of the Westminster Common Council. The towns have yet to see the proposals that could set growth guidelines throughout the county.

"The COG is the forum to address major issues and growth is absolutely the next issue we will tackle, along with emergency services," Halstad said.

Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, who is vice chairwoman of COG and a member of the growth task force, said she hopes the proposals show how towns fit Carroll's growth plan. The county cannot control growth in the eight municipalities, but the commissioners repeatedly have stressed the need for limitations on development that affects schools, roads and other infrastructure.

Nichols, who lost a bid for county commissioner last year, said growth would dominate COG's quarterly meetings next year.

The county is working hard to resolve growth issues and towns must continue to be involved in those efforts, she said.

"The COG is still in its infancy and still finding out what effects it can have," Nichols said. "It has started off well, but it will have tough issues down the road. We all want to make sure we continue to have a lot of input with the commissioners."

Nichols is particularly concerned that COG has a voice in writing a master plan for Carroll. "Right now we have a toothless document that has no strategy to implement it," she said.

Halstad, who will step down as chairman tonight, said COG has had a fruitful year. He predicted a meaningful future for the panel, which includes the commissioners, representatives from the towns, Finksburg and the Freedom area, other community groups, law enforcement, public schools and fire officials.

The idea for the panel gained momentum during commissioner elections last year, when candidates and voters bemoaned the lack of communication and collaborative planning between county and municipal leaders. That changed markedly when the new board of commissioners took office in December last year, Halstad said.

"A few years ago, we had a dysfunctional board of commissioners," he said. "We all pray that history does not repeat itself, but we know it can. The COG brings continuity and cooperation."

The council devoted much of its first official meeting in May and its second gathering two months ago to emergency response initiatives. The idea is for each town to write its response plan to a crisis, such as Tropical Storm Isabel.

"We want all response procedures to mesh," Nichols said.

COG will hear tonight about a countywide survey that will determine where family services are most needed. Dorothy Stoltz, chairwoman of the county's Local Management Board, which promotes family programs, will present details of the community needs assessment.

Although the county has yet to sign a contract or determine the cost of the assessment, a group at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County plans to conduct the phone and mail survey between next month and June. The center also will organize focus groups throughout the county and gather local data from county and community organizations, said Mary M. Scholz, administrator of the management board.

"It will give us a good sense of what the community is thinking and where we should fund our efforts," she said.

The survey sampling will be random, but broad enough so that statistics will be representative of the county, Scholz said.

The last such study is more than six years old and outdated, she said. The information is vital to successful grant applications, she said. "The towns will definitely have a role in this and the council can help us get the word out," Scholz said.

Larry L. Leitch, director of the Carroll County Health Department, will give an overview of the county's plans to combat West Nile virus next year.

"The flu, of course, has become a bigger issue now and it will probably be part of the discussion," Halstad said.

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