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Carroll County Commissioners joined county government officials from across the state at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Summer Conference last week and got the chance to sit down with Gov. Larry Hogan and other top officials face-to-face in Ocean City.

“As Dennis (Frazier) says, being commissioner is sometimes like drinking from a fire hose and MACo is like drinking from a fire hose. There’s a massive amount of sessions to learn from," Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said of the conference that ran Aug. 14 through Aug. 17.

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Added Richard Weaver, R-District 2: “It’s amazing what happens at MACo and the amount of ground we can cover in a three-day period."

The conference covered subjects such as the digital revolution of service delivery and communication, threats to public safety, economic trends, climate change, land use, millennials in the workforce, and education, according to a news release from the commissioners’ office.

“MACo’s summer conference is an excellent opportunity to learn from attending sessions, interact with other Maryland counterparts and have extremely productive meetings with Maryland department secretaries and staff; it is one of the best events to get our initiatives accomplished,” Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said in the release.

At Thursday’s board meeting, commissioners relayed their experiences at the summer conference.

Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, called it a great experience. He recounted his visit with the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary George Owings III, also joined by Weaver and county administrator Roberta Windham.

“The focus on taking care of our veterans in the community, specifically retirement homes, veterans’ homes, and the potential and opportunities to bring in something here in Carroll County was the highlight of the discussion ... but the real highlight was his appreciation of Carroll County’s community in taking care of our veterans," Rothstein said.

Rothstein described Carroll County as the “model” for taking a proactive approach to veterans affairs.

“Carroll County seems to be doing more than any other county in the state,” Weaver said.

Weaver was glad to hear praise for Carroll from their colleagues in other counties. He learned Carroll County government staff are the heads of several affiliate groups throughout the state.

“Carroll County is well represented and well thought-of in the state," Weaver said.

Commissioners also met with Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and informed him of their priorities for Carroll, according to Rothstein. They discussed state roads such as Md. 32, 26, and 97, along with the need to fix Main Street (Md. 851) in Sykesville, Rothstein later said.

Bouchat said he thanked the secretary for the state’s work on Md. 27 and for the upcoming paving on Main Street in New Windsor.

Wantz said in an interview that during his meeting with the secretary he discussed the future community center at the former Charles Carroll Elementary School — how the state highway administration wants the county to add a type of turn lane leading up to the facility — and the most fiscally responsible way to accomplish that task.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he attended a small business panel and found Carroll does “almost everything” the panel recommended. He also went to a panel about artificial turf fields and learned how other counties use them.

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Wantz described the conference as a "tremendous opportunity to not only to network, but learn and work with our colleagues from across the state on many, many, many issues that we are facing.”

The commissioners met with Gov. Larry Hogan, though not all at once, according to Wantz.

“One of the things that he said is exactly what Dick Weaver said. He looked at all of us and said, you know, we get more done here at the beach in half-hour sessions than in all the meetings I go to around the state,” Wantz said.

He said he was particularly excited to hear that the governor plans to put money toward rural broadband expansion, as many people in Wantz’s district are without internet.

Wantz said one of his top concerns was how the state would pay for the Kirwan Commission’s proposal for expensive public education improvements.

“I have no idea how we’re going to be able to afford that,” Wantz said, fearing the burden will fall on the counties.

Wantz served on a panel about the future of fire service in Maryland, which focused on the lack of volunteers, he said.

The commissioners also praised Carroll County Public Library for being voted the No. 1 booth at MACo, which Wantz credited to the library’s robot, Pepper. The humanoid robot teaches people about coding, reads books to children, and even has facial recognition. Pepper came to Thursday’s meeting to recap its experience at MACo and demonstrate its skills.

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