A small, sparsely furnished room tucked away in a library hardly seems like a center of government, but for South Carroll residents, it is a start.
The South Carroll Government Center, which officially opens Thursday, will let residents skip a half-hour drive to the County Office Building in Westminster and pay property taxes and water and sewer bills near their homes. They also can apply for building permits, dog tags and raffle licenses.
"This is commissioner-originated customer service," said Neil Ridgely, county zoning administrator. "We have about 32,000 residents who will benefit from this office. It will really look like a branch office. Who knows how much use this office will get, but it is a first step for us."
A county work crew has converted a 10-by-12-foot tutoring room in the Eldersburg Library into a satellite office. A rack filled with county literature will stand in the library lobby on Hemlock Way and point the way to the center.
"We have a good location with lots of parking, hours within library hours and a satellite police office nearby," said Vivian D. Laxton, public information administrator for the county.
The county commissioners will cut the ribbon on the center at 3 p.m. Thursday. Two county employees will shift their schedules to staff the office from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The equipment, furnishings and wiring of the center into county systems cost less than $6,000.
"It is a satellite government office," said Rob Burk, deputy county comptroller. "We will have staff there to provide every service except deed transfers. We will be representing our office down there."
Residents of unincorporated Eldersburg, the county's most-populous and fastest-growing area, often complain they have little voice in county government and difficulties accessing county services.
"The county is doing its best for us," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for the Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial liaison between the community and county government. "This will be a great thing for our community. I only hope people use it and take advantage of the chance to avoid a trip to Westminster."
The county recently expanded the police office for the area and assigned additional sheriff's deputies to augment police presence. Once the new South Carroll Senior Center opens within the next few years, the commissioners might restore the old center into a larger government facility.
"We are hoping there is a lot of use, and we are excited about providing residents here with more resources," said Bob Globus, facilities manager for the county libraries. "The library is a great location because it already tends to be a hub for the community."
For now, the desks - one for permits and one for collections - a few chairs, a printer, a fax machine, a copier and electronic access to county services will have to suffice. Residents will be able to apply for minor permits for decks, sheds, room additions or pools.
"If you want to build a house, you will still have to go to Westminster," said Barbara Ollis, office manager for the county's building and permits department.
Information starting Thursday: 410-549-2721, or 410- 549-3235.