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Carroll commissioners, delegation discuss plastic bag ban, subsidy for remote workers, other priorities

The Board of County Commissioners and the Carroll County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly met Thursday afternoon to discuss legislative priorities for 2020, touching on plastic bag bans, subsidies for telecommuting homebuyers and more.

Del. Trent Kittleman, R-9A; Del. Susan Krebs, R-5; Del. Jesse Pippy, R-4; Sen. Justin Ready, R-5; Del. April Rose, R-5; and Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, were on hand to listen to ideas the county’s five commissioners might ask them to take to the General Assembly for approval in the spring. They also discussed potential bond bills to fund various capital projects in Carroll County and heard feedback from community stakeholders.

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Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, briefed the delegation about two of his proposals, a plastic bag ban and financial incentives to encourage telecommuting workers to purchase homes in Carroll County.

“I am kind of modeling this after the ordinance which passed in the city of Westminster, which has a number of exemptions in it,” Frazier said of his proposed plastic bag ban. It would exempt businesses with 25 or fewer employees, as well as certain uses of plastic bags, such as those used for bagging meat or vegetables, bags used by restaurants and takeout locations, and those used for delivering newspapers.

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Members of the delegation expressed sympathy with the purpose behind the proposed ban — to keep plastic bag waste out of streams, landfills and even wastewater systems — but skepticism over the proposed methods.

“I appreciate the problem we are trying to solve,” Krebs said, “but I think there is a different way to solve it.”

That was a sentiment shared by Shoemaker, who said he preferred a market-based solution.

“Why don’t we let the individuals or the store owners decide that?” he said. “We get besieged with liberal ideas. It’s a little disconcerting when we come home to get hit with it here.”

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Rose expressed concern that such a ban could impact small businesses.

“Specifically for the restaurants, the margin of profit is very, very small,” she said, nothing that while she is a fan of reusable bags at the grocery store, for items such as rotisserie chickens or ground beef, she prefers a single-use plastic bag.

“It exempts restaurants completely,” Frazier clarified. "The examples you just gave, the rotisserie chicken and the meat, those are exemptions."

Subsidy for telecommuters

Frazier’s proposal to offer people who work remotely and are considering purchasing a home in Carroll County up to $5,000 after settling also met with skepticism, but less so, from the delegation.

“It would promote home ownership in Carroll County,” he said. “It might help move the needle for someone looking at Carroll County or somewhere else to move.”

Frazier added that he would also be interested at looking into expanding the proposal to telecommuters already living in Carroll County, as an incentive to stay. The idea being to reap the economic benefits of people owning homes and working in Carroll, but without the added burden on infrastructure.

“The roads are packed right now if you ask me,” Frazier said. “You can’t build your way out of that problem.”

Shoemaker worried that this type of subsidy could be too narrow, noting that the county also has an interest in getting firefighters, police officers and teachers to buy homes in Carroll County.

“Would we be picking winners and losers with this thing?” he asked. “It seems to me we are singling out one particular sector of the economy for this grant at the expanse of all these other folks.”

Krebs asked for more information about inspiration for the proposed subsidy, a program offering home buyers a subsidy in Vermont, as well as local data.

“You said you now want to include people who might be living here now,” she said. “It would be nice to know how many remote workers we have living here in Carroll County.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said the board would get information to the delegation.

Community center

Wantz also briefed the delegation on the county’s $3.5 million project to build a community center at the former site of Charles Carroll Elementary School, for which groundbreaking is planned for spring 2020.

The county, Wantz told the delegation, would like a bond bill to fund a more durable construction.

“Right now it’s a metal fabricated building ... we sure would like to make sure it lasts a little bit longer by adding a ... brick waistcoat,” Wantz said. “The bond request from the state is $250,000 to make that a building that will last up there for a long time.”

New athletic complex?

James Ball, president of Carroll Community College, also spoke at the meeting, laying out the college’s plan to construct an athletic complex.

With the college introducing soccer and cross country this year, he noted — the men’s soccer team is undefeated after winning their first game Tuesday — and plans for women’s soccer and lacrosse, the college is exploring building a complex that would involve some sort of field house, perhaps a turf field, and even an indoor track facility with a pool — dependent on funding opportunities.

“Our goal would be to develop facilities that would be competitive with any of our neighbor colleges,” Ball said. “Facilities that would not only serve the college but would also serve the county. We are pretty centrally located.”

Such a project could range anywhere from $23 million to $37 million, Ball said, and the college will be applying for funding through a state capital fund for community colleges at some point in the future.

“In the meantime, I think you want to get started on a field,” Krebs said. “For bonds you need matching money … do we have an idea how we would go forward with matching funding?”

Frazier and Wantz noted it’s something the board will talk about.

“We want to set the groundwork today, put the bug in your ear,” Wantz said. “This starts the wheels rolling, if you will, on that very issue.”

The delegation also discussed redistricting after the coming federal census, funding for the Historical Society of Carroll County and other issues, with the meeting ending with Krebs suggesting they not be strangers in the coming months before the 2020 legislative session.

“Keep up the lines of communication,” she said. “We don’t have to discuss these things once a year.”

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