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State of the County: Commissioner wants to ensure Carroll is ‘most envied’ in Maryland

In the new year and beyond, Carroll County will hire its first fire and emergency services director, strive to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland, and should see more than 1.5 million square feet of land developed for business, the commissioners said in their State of the County address.

The 61st Board of County Commissioners, with one year under its belt, gathered at the Carroll Arts Center on Tuesday to look back on 2019 and voice their goals for 2020. The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual event.

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Facing an audience of about 200 people, board President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, offered the first speech.

“I can assure you leading up to this year when we mentioned 2020, it seemed a long way off. But here we are, in this new year with our continuing mission to ensure Carroll County remains the most envied county in the state of Maryland,” Wantz said.

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County government has been working with Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services, or CCVESA, to move toward a combination paid and volunteer fire department. The person who will lead this charge has yet to be hired. Wantz hopes the new fire and emergency services director will be on board by April.

Wantz rejected the idea of legalizing and taxing sports gambling and recreational marijuana to pay for the education proposal from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. The state panel, commonly known as the Kirwan Commission, has recommended an additional $4 billion in spending to support Maryland public schools.

During a question-and-answer session after the commissioners spoke, one person asked Wantz how he would, then, provide the extra funding schools need, particularly for salaries.

Wantz said there seemed to be “something wrong” about funding schools through betting and marijuana. He suggested devoting less money to supervisors and more to the staff who directly work with students.

“I believe the money should go to the boots on the ground, so if it needs to be rearranged and we’ve got to get maybe one or two less supervisors in order to get that money in to where the folks are actually one-on-one with our kids, then that’s where I’m coming from on that statement,” Wantz said.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, noted there’s been a pay raise for teachers every year since he, Wantz, and Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, have been on the Board of Commissioners.

Weaver took his turn at the podium to express hope that developing technology will be a boon to agriculture.

“Following a decade of expansion in smartphones and social media, 2020 could be the starting block for the fastest technological race in agricultural history,” he said.

Gene editing, trait expression, precision robotics and more could offer an answer for ways to expand agriculture, Weaver said.

Weaver also praised the county’s efforts to preserve farmland. Having reached nearly 75,000 acres of preserved land, Weaver said, the goal of reaching 100,000 acres is growing closer. The Board of Commissioners serving in 1980 had established that goal, according to Weaver.

The former agriscience teacher stressed the importance of agricultural education, noting he saw 71 agricultural listings on Indeed, a website where jobs are posted, just last week.

“The need is there. The opportunity is there. And we intend to be ready for it,” Weaver said.

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Frazier focused on the county’s environmental accomplishments.

Last month, the county opened an electric vehicle charging station at the county office building. It is the first of several charging stations expected to be opened in the next few months, with the next ones scheduled to be installed at Carroll Community College, and the North Carroll and Eldersburg branch libraries, Frazier said.

He lauded county employees for reducing recycling contamination from 21% to 10% over the past year, saving the county more than $100,000 annually.

Frazier also touched on the county’s efforts to improve the county airport that are underway. About $6 million has been devoted to the runway expansion and safety improvements at Carroll County Regional Airport, according to Frazier.

Currently, if there are adverse weather conditions, fully loaded airplanes are not permitted to land at the Carroll airport and must be diverted elsewhere, according to Frazier. The runway is to be moved slightly and extended 400 feet, he said. There will also be a taxi ramp that is 300 feet from the runway, he said.

Frazier said the county is only responsible for $300,000 of the cost, as the federal and state government will pick up 95% of the tab when the project is complete.

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, expects business to boom in Carroll over the next decade.

“I really believe that the state of our county is very strong right now,” Rothstein said.

Between North Carroll Business Park, Mount Airy Business Park and the Warfield property in Sykesville, these land development projects could add more than 1.5 million square feet in marketable business inventory to the community, Rothstein said. Additionally, unemployment in Carroll hovers at 2.5%, Rothstein said. The state average is 3.2%, according to the Department of Labor.

Rothstein, a former commander of Fort Meade, encouraged Carroll’s continued dedication to its veterans, saying the services provided by the county are far beyond what other jurisdictions offer.

“We focus on action and not accolades,” he said.

Carroll County is on the cusp of beginning the next phase in its comprehensive rezoning process, which will focus on residential areas first, then move to agriculture, Rothstein said. He encouraged citizens to attend meetings and weigh in as the commissioners make their decisions about the future of the county.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, has spent the past year touring county and school facilities. From the principal to the custodian, Bouchat said he saw evidence of what he’d been hearing — that Carroll County has one of the best, if not the best — school systems in the state. He noted that 92% of Carroll County Public Schools ranked four or five stars out of five in the 2019 Maryland school star ratings.

Bouchat voiced support of the Carroll County Career and Technology Center expansion. Being a product of a vocational high school education himself, Bouchat donated $3,000 to provide scholarships to students studying welding and machinery at the center.

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Recognizing the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote, Bouchat encouraged women to run for county commissioner.

“I request everyone to look at the composition of this board that is all male while [approximately] 51% of the population is female,” he said. “I challenge the professional, intelligent and talented women of this county to run for county commissioner in 2022.”

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