Week In Review

October 09, 2005

County growth tests emergency resources

In a situation increasingly common across America, where suburban sprawl gobbles up rural areas and their country ways, rapidly urbanizing Carroll is showing signs of outgrowing its public-safety infrastructure.

Its population has increased by nearly a quarter over the past decade, one of the fastest growth rates in the state. But it still relies on volunteer firefighters, contract paramedics and a patchwork of town police, a sheriff's department and state troopers assigned to the local barracks.

Crime is rare in Carroll's 452 square miles of subdivisions and farms. Volunteers for its 14 fire companies respond promptly to emergencies. But it is the only county in the metro area that lacks its own police department, and one of the largest with an all-volunteer force of firefighters.

As a result of its rapid growth:

Carroll, with almost 170,000 residents, received 55,375 calls to 911 last year for police, fire and medical emergencies, more than double the requests for help from 15 years ago.

The state police, Carroll's primary law enforcement agency since 1974, increasingly focus on homeland security duties. Administrators notified the county two years ago that they would not expand the corps of officers based in the county.

The average daily population in the county's detention center has doubled over the past decade.

Fire companies report increasing difficulty in recruiting volunteers and raising money.

Officials have begun talking about forming a countywide police force, and some acknowledge that the days of an all-volunteer fire department are numbered. But the cost to residents is likely to be steep, and resistance fierce.

Doubling the capacity of the jail, for example, comes with a projected price of $80 million. The start-up costs of switching to a professional fire department are estimated at more than $20 million. And while creating a county police force might be cheaper than the $4.3 million the county now pays the state to compensate for its troopers, future growth will drive those costs higher.

Carroll's operating budget grew by more than $50 million last year to $286 million. The county has posted a surplus for the past three fiscal years, including $13 million in 2005.

"All you have to do is look at the jail population to know we are not in Kansas anymore," said Dean L. Minnich, one of three elected commissioners running the county.

Sunday, Page 1A

Westminster student dies after car crash

For the second time in a month, grief counselors at Westminster High School were comforting students last week grappling with the loss of another schoolmate involved in a fatal car crash.

Bethany "Beth" Shay Green, 16, of the 1300 block of Savannah Court in Hampstead, lost control of her car late Wednesday night. Moments later, her parents, Christine and Ronnie Green, came across the accident along the windy, unlit stretch of the two-lane road.

Beth Green was driving a 1993 Honda Civic north on Gorsuch Road near Leisters School Road in Westminster about 8:10 p.m. when she missed the curve and veered off the right side of the road, state police said.

Her car struck a utility pole, trapping her inside the vehicle, police said.

The junior varsity volleyball player, with her parents several cars behind, was on her way home from a game when the accident happened.

"They were a ways back but came upon the scene," said Danny Green, Beth Green's uncle. "Mom administered CPR, and her dad helped cut her out" of the car.

The parents are members of the Gamber & Community Volunteer Fire Company; she is an emergency medical technician, and he is a paramedic.

Green died while undergoing emergency surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, her uncle said.

Police, who said driver error appears to have been a factor in the crash, are continuing their investigation.

Wednesday's accident was reminiscent of the Sept. 5 crash that claimed the life of another Westminster High student, 16-year-old Zachary D. Ondrish. He was killed and three other students were injured when the Jeep Wrangler they were riding in veered off a sharply curving road in Finksburg and plowed into a tree.

Maryland section, Friday, Page 3B

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