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Manchester council talks tornado response, year-end crime stats, more

Seven trees from Christmas Tree Park in Manchester were downed by the EF-1 tornado event that crashed through Carroll County on Feb. 7, and the park remained closed Friday as the wet weather made it difficult for equipment to access.

On Feb. 11 at their regular meeting, the Town Council and government staff talked about the effects of the storm, which caused damage, but resulted in no reports of injuries.

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“Our first priority when the storm hit was to make sure the roadways were open and free for emergency traffic. Our folks did a fantastic job on that,” said Steve Miller, town administrator.

The areas near Hilltop Drive, Albert Rill Road and Old Fort Schoolhouse saw the most damage in town. “It was very intense there for about 45 minutes,” Miller said.

By 5 p.m. Saturday, most town facilities were up and running, including a pole and a transformer that supplies a “production well,” in the “worst location you can even imagine," Miller said.

Year-end look at crime

Also at the Town Council meeting, Manchester Police Chief John Hess shared year-end totals for the police department in calendar year 2019. There were 13 “part one,” or more serious crimes in 2019. There were 14 in 2018, and in 2013 there were 59, Hess said.

“I’ve got to thank the community for that,” Hess said of the decrease.

“The clearance rate averages right around 94 percent, so pretty much when we get a theft, we normally clear the theft," he said. "Thank God it’s usually petty theft, so that’s even better.”

Of the 13 part-one crimes, there was one robbery of a convenience store, one burglary and 10 simple assaults, Hess said. Domestic assaults went up to 11 in 2019 from two in 2018.

Overall, there was a noticeable decrease countywide in overdoses from 2018 to 2019, Hess said — from 513 to 434. Manchester saw 71 in 2018 and 55 in 2019. As of Tuesday, Manchester had not had any overdoses in 2020.

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Last year saw a big increase in traffic citations after Hess warned in 2019 that the department would be stepping up enforcement. The department issued 2,593 citations and warnings, Hess said, compared with 901 in 2018.

“Mind you, it’s all complaint-driven. The town gets zero revenue for our efforts," he said.

Town business

Also on Tuesday, Miller brought a contract to the council related to a wastewater plant project. The state provides funding for municipalities to do ENR, or enhanced nutrient removal, upgrades to their wastewater treatment plants with the goal of reducing the amount of harmful pollutants that make their way into the Chesapeake Bay.

In the first few years, funding was awarded to plants that filter larger amounts of wastewater, but now applications have opened up for smaller plants like Manchester’s. For example, nearby Hampstead broke ground on an upgrade in January 2019.

Miller shared a proposed contract with CDM Smith to conduct a preliminary engineering report. He felt it was important to include an emergency out for the town if funding from Maryland Department of the Environment fails to come through for the project. The council agreed to the clause and voted unanimously in support.

The council also approved a fiber installation for local internet provider Freedom Broadband. Owner Teresa Bethune said the fiber was essential infrastructure for the business to remain commercially viable and competitive.

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A mixup prompted the agenda item Tuesday night. Bethune said she contacted a fiber provider and tried to follow the proper process for getting approval from the town. But after no contact from the fiber provider for several months, the provider suddenly installed the fiber at the Manchester Baptist Church Road water tower.

The town didn’t see any downsides, and voted to officially authorize Freedom to make use of the fiber. The commercial fiber is available for others to make use of in the future. Miller said that opened possibilities for the town and does not get in the way of Public Works activities.

The town started a discussion about new ballfield lights, picking up a thread that had been going for several years.

The town has potential to use about $85,000 in funding from the Community Parks & Playgrounds Program through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. But as the five-year mark approaches and the funding remains unused, the message from DNR is essentially use it or lose it.

A project to replace the lights would be well over $300,000, according to two price estimates from different companies. If the town decides just to dismantle the lights without replacing them, they can’t put the Parks & Playgrounds money toward those costs.

The town agreed that they needed to arrange a meeting with the North Carroll Recreation Council as soon as possible to make a decision. The recreation council uses the ballfields far more than any other party, council members said.

The town is considering an annexation process for the Lippy Farm Property, which is currently an enclave of about 25 acres surrounded by land that is part of town limits. Attorney Tom McCarron spoke to the council about the legal process.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will review the matter and make a recommendation to the council whether to go through with the annexation. They can also suggest a zoning for the property. Staff will make an annexation plan based on the town’s comprehensive plan. The mater will go to public hearing, which will be advertised to the community. State and county planners will have the opportunity to weigh in.

With little discussion, the board voted on a perpetual easement for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to run and repair gas lines, which had been discussed at previous meetings.

The town is looking for applicants for its $1,000 Charlotte B. Collett Memorial Scholarship for one student and for the Maryland Municipal League scholarships. Applications can be found at Town Hall and the guidance office at Manchester Valley High School.

The fourth annual business expo at Manchester Valley High will be held March 14.

The full video of the meeting can be viewed on the Community Media Center’s YouTube channel. The next monthly meeting is scheduled for March 10.

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