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Year in Review No. 6: Airport expansion, incinerator and school funding tops significant board decisions

The honeymoon was over for the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in 2012, as the second-year board debated and argued its ways to deciding on projects like the airport runway expansion and waste-to-energy incinerator.

The commissioners tackled controversial topics dealing with school funding, employee raises, religion in county offices and commissioner expenses. Not all issues were contentious, as they unanimously approved initiatives such as lowering property taxes for the second year in a row.

Here's a breakdown of the significant votes the board of commissioners took in 2012:

Carroll looks to avoid waste-to-energy incinerator commitment

The board sent a letter to its Frederick County counterparts in June suggesting each party go their own way when it comes to plans for a waste-to-energy incinerator. In August, Frederick County sent a letter back stating that Carroll may seek alternatives while it looks for substitute equity partners to replace Carroll in the contract between the two counties.

If Frederick County cannot find a replacement partner for Carroll, the commissioners will then have to decide whether to pull out of the contract or go forward with the plan. Carroll would have to pay $3 million if Frederick cannot find a replacement for Carroll's 40 percent partnership in the incinerator.

Frederick County has yet to find a partner to replace Carroll.

In April 2008, the former three-member Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of forming a partnership with Frederick County to seek out a proposal for a 1,500-ton per day incinerator to be shared by the two counties. The Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority in December 2008 chose a proposal by Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. to build a waste-to-energy incinerator.

In 2009, Carroll's former three-member board chose to go forward with the incinerator project and signed a memorandum of understanding with Frederick County.

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Carroll County Regional Airport expansion voted down

In January, the board of commissioners voted 3-2 against a $74 million runway expansion project at the Carroll County Regional Airport in Westminster. The project would have extended the runway 1,300 feet to 6,400 feet so that it can accommodate larger C-III planes.

If the board supported the proposal, the county would have had to pay $1.8 million for the expansion at the Westminster airport. The Federal Aviation Administration would have covered the rest of the project costs.

In November, the board voted in favor of Delta Airport Consultants developing a scope of work for an updated master plan that keeps the facility a smaller Class C-II airport but gives future boards the option to expand it to a larger C-III airport. The Federal Aviation Administration will have to approve the scope of work before Delta develops the updated master plan.

Property taxes lowered again

For their second year in a row, the board unanimously voted to allocate $2 million for a property tax decrease for Carroll residents. The allocation would amount to a 1-cent property tax decrease per $100 assessed value for Fiscal Year 2013. Last year, the board passed a 2-cent property tax decrease per $100 assessed value.

Frazier made the tax credit a priority of the FY13 budget session. Though she voted in favor of the decision to lower taxes, Frazier said more things could have been cut to pay for a larger tax credit.

County employee raises

Until this year, Carroll County government's 870-plus employees had not received pay increases since fiscal year 2009. In June, the board of commissioners voted unanimously to implement one-time bonuses for full-time employees.

Employees who had worked for the county for less than a year received $750 and those who had worked for the county for more than a year received $1,200 or 3 percent of their salary, whichever was greater. The bonuses were allocated on a semi-annual basis, with half awarded July 1 and the other half to be award on Jan. 1. The board set aside approximately $1.4 million in the Fiscal Year 2013 operating budget to fund the one-time bonuses.

Room policy changed to allow prayers

The commissioners brought religion back to the Carroll County Office Building when they approved a proposal by Frazier to change the county's meeting room policy that would allow her to hold Christian prayer meetings with county employees and guests.

County employees may use Room 007 on their own time, during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, excluding official county holidays. Reservations for use of the room will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the room use policy.

The meeting room may only be used by county employees and their invitees. Employees may use the meeting room on their own time but must reserve it at least 10 days in advance and no more than three months prior to the scheduled date of the proposed activity.

Shoemaker was the only one who opposed the change, saying that it was an "incredibly slippery slope."

In-county travel expenses for commissioners cut

In June, the board of commissioners voted 3-1 to eliminate mileage reimbursements for commissioners traveling to meetings, events and activities in the county. When traveling to events outside of the county, the commissioners are now required to use county pool vehicles when they are "reasonably available."

Frazier, R-District 1, voted against the policy change and said the proposal was a "direct affront" to her since she is one of the commissioners that is reimbursed for mileage. Rothschild did not attend the meeting and did not vote.

Commissioners cut schools impact fee

The board voted 3-2 in favor of temporarily lowering the county's school capacity impact fee for all new residential development to zero in August. The fee will remain at zero for the next two years. The resolution, which was opposed by Roush and Howard, set the effective date retroactively to June 15.

The county charges home developers two impact fees when they file their application to build a house - one to address increased school capacity and another to build parks. The thinking behind the impact fees is that the more people that move into new homes, the more facilities are needed, Zaleski said.

The money collected for the schools impact fee can only be used to build new schools or additions to existing schools to increase capacity. The money cannot be used for other school improvements such as buying computers, constructing new school roofs or building new sports fields.

English-only ordinance

The board has yet to make a decision to support or reject an ordinance developed by Shoemaker that designates English as the official language of Carroll County.

Under the proposed ordinance, official actions and official views coming from the county will be in English.

However, any county employee or elected official will still be able to communicate in any language for unofficial business.

The county may also still use a language other than English for several reasons, including to teach or encourage the learning of languages other than English; to protect the public health, sanitation and public safety; and to protect the rights of criminal defendants and victims of crime.

Earlier this month, about 50 people commented during a two-and-a-half hour public hearing on the proposed ordinance, with the majority opposing the idea.

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