South Carroll asked for a police substation, but the county's most populous area has won official promises for much more, including government offices and a $4 million senior center with a multipurpose gymnasium.
The Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial liaison between residents and county government, organized a meeting last week that focused on law enforcement issues. Steven Powell, the Carroll County commissioners' chief of staff, assured the audience that the administration is committed to a police substation in Eldersburg.
"This is not a matter of if, but when," Powell said.
Once the new senior complex is opened, in about three years, the area will have use of the old senior center building on Bartholow Road, he said.
"The building could be the South Carroll Government Center," Powell said. "It could house a police station, offices for building permits and collections, many human services programs and maybe a community room."
The immediate solution to policing South Carroll is having the state police and sheriff's deputies share a small office adjoining the Eldersburg library branch. Troopers have used the space for years, but the addition of deputies would augment police presence in the area, whose population exceeds 30,000.
"It is only a question of exchanging keys," said Capt. Scott Yinger, commander of the Westminster State Police barracks. "The Eldersburg office suffices for now."
Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said, "We will team up to do a community job to solve a community problem. There are unique needs of a dense population here that we must address. You need a continual, visible police presence."
Powell said little would be done to the shared office, which he called an interim solution. A full-service station is part of the commissioners' long-range plans. South Carroll could have a satellite county government building in what is now the senior center, a 60-year-old former school.
The commissioners approved a request last week to fund and expand plans for a new senior center, set for construction on 10 acres near Mineral Hill and Oklahoma roads. When the facility opens, the seniors would vacate the school building that they have used for the past two decades. The $200,000 the county recently spent on renovations would help adapt the building for police and government offices, Powell said.
Asked whether any issue could derail the plan, Powell replied, "the state's fiscal crisis." Maryland counties might have to pick up retirement costs for teachers, librarians and community colleges, a $14 million expense in Carroll.
"That is more than all the new revenue Carroll County gets in any fiscal year," Powell said.
Carl Reetz of Eldersburg said, "I want law enforcement to have whatever they want, to do what we want done here. Please don't tie this to Annapolis."
The council and the audience, which had to shift from their usual location in Carrolltown Center for the meeting Thursday night, applauded the possibility of a community center. But, like Reetz, their main concern centered on a stronger police presence and at least an office. Police officials agreed.
"This is the largest unincorporated area we police, and the fastest-growing," Yinger said. "Eldersburg is busy for police services, and we continually staff this area with twice the personnel of any other in the county."
In the shared space, residents might encounter an officer, but they might also have to schedule an appointment, Yinger said.
"These officers will be out on patrol, not sitting in an office," he said.
Tregoning said he would like to expand the substation so that residents could meet with officers to get information, file a complaint or talk about a neighborhood problem.
"If you need an officer, call and we will meet you at the office," he said. "You need to be face-to-face here with police instead of going to Westminster."
Residents asked for the installation of a sign along Liberty Road with information about the substation and an emergency phone outside the office.
"This office is so discreet that people don't know it's there," said Mike Naused, a Freedom council member. "Why not promote it?"
Tom McCarron, council president, called the shared office "an ounce of prevention." The council will continue to push for more services in South Carroll, he said.
"It is clear that citizens want a substation, not because crime is getting worse but to help preserve our quality of life," he said.