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Carroll commissioners inch closer to using $200,000 environmental fund

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners has $200,000 in its fiscal year 2014 budget allocated for economic hardships facing local municipalities that were caused by unfunded state mandates.

How, or even if, the board will use those funds this year is anyone's guess.

It has been more than nine months since commissioners adopted their FY2014 budget and the board took its first significant step Thursday on how it should use the $200,000 environmental fund.

After an hour-long discussion Thursday on posisble ways the fund could lower the cost of water for residents, commissioners have requested the Water Resource Coordination Council (WRCC) discuss possibilities and report back to the board.

According to Commissioner Dave Roush, no municipalities have requested funds from the $200,000 pool thus far.

Commissioner Robin Frazier, who requested the discussion be on Thursday's agenda, offered a few options on how to bring down the cost of water for residents. They included coordination with the county on wastewater projects, a feasibility study to investigate renewable energies at wastewater treatment plants, and an independent study looking at water fee structures.

"The idea [of the fund] was hoping we could work with the towns to figure out ways to either increase revenues or decrease expenditures in their enterprise funds to help fix the problem," Frazier said.

After the meeting, Frazier said that commissioners have not previously discussed the use of this environmental fund because of a prolonged "administrative process," including recent weather cancellations.

Commissioners Chief of Staff Steve Powell said this fund has been on a list of "projects since the budget was adopted and the board has discussed it previously, but has not yet reached a decision on how it will be used."

Commissioner Doug Howard said he would not like the funds to be used for legal costs or feasibility studies. Instead he proposed the county make the funds available as a 50/50 match with a municipality who proposed a water project and provided 50 percent of the funding.

The motion was not voted on and was rescinded after commissioners chose to ask the WRCC investigate the matter.

Howard added that he would not like the board to take a "federal government approach of dangling $200,000 to try and get them [municipalities] to act in a certain way."

Frazier argued that the fund was intended to find ways to lower water costs for the long term, not "handing out dollars" to the municipalities.

"This is not about making anybody do anything, it's about doing the research that needs to be done,'" Frazier said.

The WRCC is expected to bring recommendations to the board within a couple of weeks, according to Powell.

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