In an effort to gain knowledge and form political partnerships with other government officials from across Maryland, all five members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, as well as many key county staff will be spending the week in Ocean City at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference.
About 2,000 local government officials — elected and on staff — from across Maryland are expected to attend the annual conference, which begins today and runs through Saturday. Other than Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who is staying through Aug. 14, and Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who is only staying one night, the other three commissioners will remain for the duration of the conference.
The county has budgeted roughly $20,000 to send 16 people to the conference, said Deb Effingham, chief of the Bureau of Budget. County Administrator Roberta Windham said the actual money spent could be less. The $20,000 is an approximation based on the number of people who asked to attend, she said. Depending on scheduling changes, not all those who asked to go will end up staying for the full four days of the event, Windham said.
"I'm guessing dollars to doughnuts the amount will be less because Commissioner Howard was planning on spending three nights but now he'll be there for one night," she said.
In addition to attending informational sessions on a variety of topics — including infrastructure, education, public safety and economic development — the MACo conference enables officials from different jurisdictions to compare notes and discuss topics of mutual interest, said Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1.
"All of us across the state are dealing with similar issues so this is an opportunity to see how they are handling things [elsewhere] and gives a new twist on how we can handle these things in Carroll," Wantz said. "Those kind of things are incredibly valuable to all of us so we can do what's best for the taxpayers."
In addition to the five county commissioners, several of the county's department directors, including Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget; Phil Hager, director of the Department of Planning; Jack Lyburn, director of the Department of Economic Development; and Kim Frock, administrator of the Office of Human Resources; will also be heading to the conference this week.
Zaleski said he will be teaching a seminar Wednesday titled "County Financial Management" as part of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy's Academy for Excellence in Local Governance.
During next week's commissioners meeting, each of them will report on their experiences at the conference, Wantz said, so they can use this collective knowledge to make more informed decisions going forward.
Though each of the commissioners views the conference as an educational opportunity and a chance to network with other local officials, their individual goals vary.
Wantz said he intends to spend as much time in various seminars as he possibly can, and his schedule is "completely booked."
"I start off [Wednesday] with a class in reference to planning and zoning," he said. "In the afternoon I'm taking a financial management class, then I've got an ethics course Thursday and following that a presentation on opioids. There's a medicinal marijuana seminar I'll be attending as well."
While the days are spent in classes, he will attend several functions in the evenings with his fellow elected officials across the state.
"We are attending those with our peers and the estimate is there will be over 2,000," Wantz said. "It's a tremendous opportunity to meet, compare notes, and that ability is priceless."
Weaver said his main goal is working toward crafting a repeal of a Maryland Department of the Environment mandate that requires new homes and businesses to install a nitrogen reduction component as part of their septic systems.
"This was a MDE resolution so it didn't have to go through the General Assembly," Weaver said.
The requirement, he said, puts a financial strain on both commercial and residential land owners. In July 2014, a Dunkin' Donuts was planned for the Finksburg area near Dede Road, but, according to Weaver, the $80,000 cost of the nitrogen reduction component prompted the company to abandon its plans.
"This is my No. 1 priority, to get this resolved," he said. "I see what's it's doing to homeowners and business owners."
Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said there are several seminars which he is particularly interested in attending as they deal with issues Carroll faces today.
One such seminar is titled "Broadband and Wireless — Connecting All the Dots" and will focus on the role of government in providing Internet access to the citizenry and best practices to initiate such efforts.
Frazier said he attended similar events hosted by the Maryland Municipal League during his tenure as a member of Westminster's Common Council. Westminster is in the midst of constructing its own fiber optic network that will eventually connect all city residents to high-speed Internet.
"These are extremely useful. You learn so much down there and then you bring it back and things change. Let's be frank: I wasn't trained in this," said Frazier, an educator and coach for Carroll County Public Schools. "I've learned as I've gone along and this [event] gives us a lot of useful information; you don't have to reinvent the wheel."
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said he will seek to unify the efforts of like-minded officials during the conference in repealing some of what he regards as unnecessary regulations enacted during the past eight years.
"I want to try to advance the dialogue with many of our [state] secretaries and [state departments]," Rothschild said. "I think we have a more conservative administration; many of the problems hurting us [are] regulatory in nature and I think we can gain some relief from some of these."
He also wants to develop procedures by which two coalitions he helped create strengthen and compliment each other.
"The Clean Chesapeake Coalition focuses primarily on fighting back against very costly regulations associated with the Chesapeake Bay and the Rural Coalition of Counties focuses on everything else and I want to clarify how we can work together to compliment each other," he said.
Since the elections last year, many new people have entered elected positions across the state, Rothschild said. He will use his time at the conference to identify who Carroll can partner with in advancing conservative interests, he said.
"We can build alliances with like-minded county officials to help advance agendas that are of the best interest for the people of Carroll County," Rothschild said.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, did not return phone calls as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Costs and benefits
Wantz and Rothschild said though they are spending tax dollars to attend the conference, residents should not consider the expenditure a frivolous one.
"That's the furthest thing from the truth you can ever come up with," Wantz said. "This is three days of education and networking that will enable us to get better results back in Carroll."
Rothschild echoed Wantz sentiment, saying such conferences are often times quite grueling for the people who attend them.
"This is round-the-clock, high-intensity discussions and seminars," Rothschild said. "It's not fun; it's intense information that you are trying to gather and process. More decisions are made in government because of bad information and this gives me the chance to gather the correct information."