Charter government, the opioid epidemic, education, agriculture. Those were the biggest priorities that came out of this Board of Carroll County Commissioners’ 2019 State of the County address on Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the Carroll Arts Center, an annual event put on by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.
Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, focused on charter government, with Frazier likening commissioner-style government to the horse-drawn buggy — less efficient than government with a county executive at the top.
“I’m going to look at charter government and the commissioner form of government, and compare it to a horse and buggy and the automobile,” Frazier said. “Horse and buggy wasn’t broken — you got from point A to point B very well — but most people transitioned to the automobile because it was more efficient. It made you more comfortable, and you had more time to do things that were important to you.”
He said when a family with a horse-drawn buggy needed to haul a large quantity of goods, they needed to request help from neighbors, and that it is similar to what commissioners must do to get ordinances affecting the county out to Annapolis — get help from state legislators.
“The question isn’t really, ‘If it ain’t broken, why fix it?’ ” the second-term commissioner said. “The question is, ‘If something better is out there, why not use it?’ Local decisions should be made by local elected officials.”
The newly elected Bouchat agreed, stating that five part-time officials, each serving as one-fifth of a county executive, is no way to get the job done.
“That the county government is a half-billion-dollar industry run by part-time officials, that boggles my mind,” he said. “It should boggle yours as well.
“I ask my fellow citizens to envision a future where we elect a countywide chief executive officer to run our county, with a county government beholden to the voters,” Bouchat said.
The last attempt to write a charter in the 1990s resulted in failure, Frazier said, because of misinformation spread through fliers at the last minute that residents did not have enough time to fact-check.
“Like Lincoln said: It’s much easier to fool someone than convince someone they’ve been fooled,” he said.
On Thursday, the first item on the commissioners’ agenda is public comment on a request to form a charter government committee.
Bouchat’s other focus for the morning was battling the opioid epidemic.
“America [has] lost more of its people to the opioid epidemic than 12 years in the Vietnam War,” he said.
“Think about that: The Vietnam War sparked a protest movement that moved our entire population, yet here we are with our children dying and coworkers dying and we are not fully doing everything we can,” Bouchat said. “For each death in our community, it’s like a crater blown out in our society, that around that person’s death is a dozen other people who are suffering, a dozen other people have been victimized by that person’s addiction.”
He said he wants to sue opioid manufacturers, and that the board learned at the Maryland Association of Counties winter conference that it can do that at the state level instead of at the federal level.
“The tobacco suits of the 1990s proved that we have an option that we can sue the opioid manufacturers in state court — and most likely have a better chance of success holding them accountable — and have the resources we so badly need to address this epidemic,” the District 4 commissioner said.
On opioids, fellow first-term Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, stated that substance abuse is a disease and it must be treated as such.
Board President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, mentioned his “three E’s” again — education, economic development and emergency services.
Prioritizing funding for the Carroll Career and Technology Center and fair compensation for teachers were at the top of his list for education.
“We continue to have one of the top school systems in the state, our attendance and graduation rates remain at the top,” said Wantz. “Carroll students perform better than many peers across the state. … Teachers and staff work diligently to ensure student success.
“We are proud to provide a [majority of our total budget] to education, and our expectation is the school system will use our funds for the best, including paying our boots-on-the-ground educators,” he said.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, remained steadfast in his agricultural support at his fifth State of the County presentation.
“I’ve always been focused on public safety, fire, police and education — but this year is economic development,” he said. “However, this isn’t the same economic development my colleagues will be discussing. We usually think of it as buildings and the number of jobs we are adding to the industry.
“Today I’m talking about Carroll County’s largest industry,” Weaver said. “I’m sure everyone in this room had a meal in the last 24 hours. Do you know where it came from? Was it from Maryland or even the United States?”
Weaver said the U.S. lost 11 million acres of its best land for agriculture from 1992 to 2012.
He referenced the decision in the 1980s to preserve one-third of Carroll’s agricultural land, and said the county is three-quarters of the way there.
“At lunch today I hope you take a minute to think of what you’re eating, where it came from, how it was produced, and thank one of the dedicated, hardworking people who made it possible,” the District 2 commissioner said. “Enjoy Carroll County, the heart of Maryland.”
Rothstein said that although Carroll County is in great shape, focusing on land use, transportation and transparency will be important going forward.
“Carroll County is strong. Most recently receiving a triple-A bond rating, having over 92 percent of residents in Carroll County with a high school-plus degree, and an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent are just a few indicators we are working well,” the District 5 commissioner said. “However, with everything in life, we need to continue striving for excellence.”
Rothstein’s other priorities, he said, will be Sykesville’s Main Street, Warfield at Historic Sykesville, and highways Md. 32 and Md. 26, as well as implementing the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan.
Wantz said economic development will be important to keep taxes low for residents, and is possible with the rise in light manufacturing in Carroll, and that it will be important to get more paid staff at the volunteer fire departments.
Frazier also said he will prioritize solar energy and acquiring 21 more acres of solar fields.
The State of the County Address in its entirety will be available on the Carroll County Government YouTube channel.