State of the county: Education, economic development, long-term planning focus of commissioners

Emily Chappell
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

Education, economic growth, and Carroll’s future goals and challenges were strong themes this year as the county commissioners spoke Tuesday at the annual State of the County address.

Each member of the Board of County Commissioners spoke for about 7 minutes during the event at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, detailing the ups and downs they saw in 2017, and their hopes for the upcoming year.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, spent much of his allotted time focusing on Carroll’s strengths, and all that makes the county great.

“You’re going to hear the word best [a lot] in the next 7 minutes,” Wantz said.

Carroll is arguably the best in many ways, he said, from its leadership that helps the county accomplish its goals, to the communities that work together to make Carroll a place other counties want to emulate.

“We don’t raise the bar, we are the bar,” Wantz added.

Wantz addressed what he calls the “three E’s” — education, economic development and emergency services — something he’s done over the years during the State of the County.

He’s proud to have one of the best school systems in the state, and said teachers and staff work long days to assure student success. Wantz also addressed “financial realities,” and said he hopes the school system uses money budgeted for them in the best manner, including paying teachers fairly.

Wantz said, as a board, the commissioners will continue to monitor the Commission on Innovation and Excellence, known as the Kirwan Commission, which was created by the legislature in 2016 to look at the 2002 funding formula educational practices but has delayed the release of its report, and will also work with the delegation to continue to bring state funding to Carroll for the school system.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said there are three main issues facing the county as the 2018 election approaches: land use designations and comprehensive rezoning, the future of emergency fire and ambulance services, and key considerations if the Board of Education closes more schools.

In terms of education, Rothschild said if the school board decides to close more buildings, there must be a focus on closing schools at “end of life,” the marketability of a decommissioned school for “alternative uses” must be considered and that leasing, as opposed to selling, closed facilities allows the county to use the buildings as schools if needs arise in later years.

For Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, the focus on education needs to revolve around more than just buildings and budgets.

“We must remove the heavy burden put on our schools by state mandates,” he said, adding that they need to “unburden” educators to make Carroll County the best place to teach.

In the coming year, Howard said, the school system will face changes to the school board with an election, discussion over school boundaries and possible closures, dealing with a budget shortfall and hiring a new superintendent.

And with those items on the horizon, Howard said education is his greatest concern, and announced his candidacy for the school board in 2018.

Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who is a former CCPS teacher, also focused on education during his speech.

“The past years have been extremely tough in education,” Weaver said, especially as the system has had to downsize and close buildings. But, he said, the school system is important, especially in helping to educate the county’s younger generations about the dangers of opioids.

Wantz, a member of the Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company, also touched on emergency services and public safety, and said Carroll is one of the safest communities in the state.

While opioid numbers remain challenging, he added, the county’s agencies are working to collaborate.

“They’re making a difference with improvements in education, treatment and enforcement,” he said.

Each of the commissioners addressed economic growth and the county’s future, with some talking about what Carroll is doing well and others delving into what could make Carroll better.

Rothschild addressed concerns about comprehensive rezoning the county’s planning commission is in the process of undertaking, asking if Carroll will remain a “safe, rural county” or if they will make choices that lead to more congestion, more traffic, more social problems, more classroom problems and additional burdens on government services.

He also spoke of his issues with the current vision statement for the county’s Freedom Area District, another issue the planning commission is in the process of addressing, and offered his own mission statement for what Carroll should strive to be.

“It’s time to drop the poetry and get real,” he said of the current statement.

Instead, the statement should address what brought people to Carroll in the first place, he said.

“Carroll County citizens moved here in search of a more rural, more relaxed lifestyle, with less congestion, less crime and a better classroom environment for their children,” he offered as a better vision statement. “It’s that simple.”

Rothschild also cautioned about growth, adding that “growth doesn’t always equal wealth,” and that the commissioners need to work to rebuild the county’s main streets, he added.

Commissioner President Dennis Fraizer, R-District 3, spoke about economic development, but in terms of the county’s lack of water resources.

Frazier said there is enough water in the county to grow, but they need to use it, and also not be “squeamish” about water reuse.

Frazier talked about greywater — using water from showers and the like to water lawns or flush toilets — an item he’s brought up before and has pushed for with legislation. He also brought up the idea of using treated wastewater to water athletic fields, and said the county has upgraded, or is slated to upgrade, many of its water treatment facilities.

“Other ideas like that could be used around the county,” he said. “I am confident we can solve the water problems in Carroll County with water we already have.”

Howard said Carroll has accomplished much over his last seven years in office. The county has seen “unprecedented success” in economic development, but while the county is in a good place, there’s still “so much work to do,” he said.

He said it’s important to invest in and support entrepreneurship, and that goes beyond having a few, scattered resources to help small businesses. It must be a coordinated effort, he said.

“Entrepreneurship must be a thread woven through all that we do,” Howard added.

Looking ahead, Howard said, the work of the Long-Term Advisory Council will be meaningful and critical. It will act as an ongoing mechanism that allows Carroll to look at trends and obstacles.

And, as the county moves forward, it will be important to have a “serious, detailed” discussion about forms of government, and the idea of charter government over the current five-commissioner system.

“More and more big decisions about Carroll County are being made in Annapolis,” he said. “It is time for Carroll County to trust itself to govern itself.”


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