Two years ago, the relationship between Carroll County leaders and officials of the county's eight municipalities was marked by rancor and bickering.
Former county commissioners blamed the towns for exceeding the county's growth limits. The municipal leaders shot back, pointing to the county's lack of growth controls as the reason for crowded classrooms, congested roads and a strained water supply.
Since then, however, the county's relations with the towns have turned around. County and municipal leaders believe this spirit of working together is important as the county is close to adopting a revamped policy to better manage residential growth.
The towns' support plays a crucial role in a new, revised adequate public facilities law the county commissioners are expected to deliberate on today.
"It's absolutely essential that we have the cooperation of the municipalities," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said. "I truly believe at this point that all the municipalities are on board with us."
The county's eight municipalities each had a representative on the Growth Task Force - formed to examine the county's adequate facilities law during a yearlong freeze on growth. The freeze, which expires in June, halted acceptance of new development plans and interrupted about 90 projects that had passed earlier stages of the review process.
The task force voted for more stringent adequate facilities standards and a second test for adequacy - recommendations that serve as the backbone of the revised ordinance being considered by the commissioners.
Once a revamped growth policy is in place, county and town leaders say the difficult task of implementing the plan follows, including gauging the cumulative impact of growth in the county. Each town follows its own adequacy standards when determining whether to allow new development to proceed.
"One of the challenges to achieve a truly countywide growth management program is the coordination and cooperation between municipal governments and the county government," said county Planning Director Steven C. Horn.
Key to that effort will be making sure that the county's new growth policy works in conjunction with the towns' individual adequate facilities laws. Discussions are already under way among county and town officials through the Council of Governments, an umbrella group that was formed last year to improve communication and collaborative planning.
The council is expected to meet next week to discuss the county's and towns' growth policies, particularly the adequacy standards.
"The idea is to discuss planning at the county level and the town level, so that there isn't competition for slots for schools and different facilities," said Jeannie Nichols, chairwoman of the Council of Governments and a Sykesville town councilwoman. "That would defeat the purpose of cooperation."
Added Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, "The towns have their own adequate facilities rules. ... We have to have a good working relationship. It doesn't mean the county dictates to the towns. That's not the idea. The idea is that we help the towns, and towns help us and show consideration for each other."
Frank Johnson, Gouge's special assistant who's also serving as a municipal liaison, knows the importance of regional planning and communication. As Mount Airy's Town Council president two years ago, he and other local officials pushed for a voice in the issue of growth management in the county.
The lack of communication and cooperation was one of the reasons that development has strained facilities, Johnson said. "We're approaching build-out a lot sooner than we thought, and a lot of growth has occurred outside of the towns, instead of within the towns."
Next week's Council of Governments meeting will start the process of determining how the county and the towns will work together in managing growth, Johnson said. The goal includes sharing information on development and planning with towns in mind, he said.
Tom Ballentine, director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland, said the developers have long pushed for a cooperative effort between the towns and the county.
Although the relationship has gotten better, Ballentine said, "it remains to be seen whether the cooperative spirit that seems to be out there today will translate into coordinated policy."