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Commissioners, delegation meet about school funding, other issues

The Board of Commissioners joined with the county's Annapolis delegation Tuesday night to discuss some of the topics most pressing in the county, including funding for schools.

In Annapolis, delegation members Sens. Justin Ready and Gail Bates; and Dels. Susan Krebs, Haven Shoemaker, April Rose and Trent Kittleman told the commissioners that Carroll County is often fighting an uphill battle against larger, better-funded opponents from more liberal and urban jurisdictions, making progress difficult on issues close to Carroll.

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On issues like the creation of a transportation project scoring mechanism and development restrictions related to water and sewer availability, Carroll delegation members found themselves lacking the support they needed to swing the vote in the county's favor, they said.

While the county moved this session to send Phil Hagar, director of planning, to Annapolis to work as a legislative liaison for the county, there is still work that can be done to promote the issues that matter most to Carroll residents, the delegation agreed.

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Kittleman, R-District 9A, said that often just having someone from Carroll or another rural county explain their side of an issue can go a long way in encouraging representatives from more urban or suburban areas to look at things from a different angle.

One of the biggest fights the county might have in its future, delegation members and commissioners agreed, will likely concern the formula the state uses to determine school funding.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, told the delegation members that the county commissioners are in a difficult position. When they approve a budget later this spring, decisions will have to be made that could involve the county choosing to either commit to not providing for additional raises for teachers in coming years, further reducing the number of school facilities, or raising taxes for county residents.

Some members of the delegation praised the work the Board of Education did in downsizing the school system to address underenrollment but warned that the state's readjustment of the formula, predicted to come in 2018, might not necessarily bring the good news Carroll needs.

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"I have heard the concern that there won't be any expansion of the pie — that it's going to be about dividing the pie up," said Ready, R-District 5.

For state legislators, the formula represents another conundrum, he said, especially if a decision must be made about how much to grow the amount of money that the state puts into schools.

"That will be interesting for us because we want to help our county, but we also want to make sure that its financially sustainable," Ready said.

Krebs, R-District 5, encouraged the commissioners to look through studies available on school funding and determine what exactly they would like the delegation to advocate for.

"We need to do more than monitor it," she said. "We need to be participating in it."

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, suggested that the delegation push for counties that act as sanctuary jurisdictions for immigrants who are in the country illegally, such as Montgomery County, to not be able to include such studentstheir student counts.

Ready responded that the state does not take legal status of students into the funding formula. Rothschild said it should.

"And then maybe they would think twice about implementing these stupid policies," he said.

Kittleman said she was frustrated with watching Baltimore City get much of the attention on school funding shortfalls when other counties are suffering as well.

"The amount of money that they spend on schools there for the amount of product that they get out of it is absolutely criminal," she said. "The whole issue pays you to be irresponsible, and that's wrong."

The delegation will continue to push for help in the form of things such as hold harmless money, Krebs said, but the county's expectations for what is possible should be realistic as well, she said.

The $4 million the county received in stopgap funds for 2017 was the culmination of years of requests, she said. In future years, if that money comes, it would come in closer to $1.2 million.

"We don't have a crystal ball," she said.

Opiates

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked the delegation to push for legislation in Annapolis that would address the problems related to heroin that Carroll County is currently facing.

"It's causing quite a bit of a problem here," he said, adding that he fears some medical professionals are not doing enough to warn patients of the addictive nature of opiate pain medications before prescribing them.

"We've had huge conversations about this," Krebs said. The General Assembly passed a number of bills this session designed to address the connection between prescription opiates and heroin addiction, and allow addicts to more easily access treatment, she said.

Del. Rose and Ready agreed.

"In our committee, we probably talk about heroin and this issue more than 50 percent of the time," said Rose, R-District 5, who sits on the House Health and Government Operations Committee. "It's definitely on everybody's radar."

Freedom plan

Del. Bates, R-District 9, asked the commissioners about the Freedom Community Comprehensive Plan. She said some constituents have told her they were concerned about the possibility of an employment campus land use designation for land near Obrecht Road and White Rock Road.

Krebs suggested the county put maps out that show where the changes would take place in the new plan, compared to the plan currently in place for the area.

At an April 27 meeting, several community members spoke out against the possible employment campus designation.

The county, Howard said, has to build its commercial industrial base. With a steady flow of economic progress, the county will exhaust its five or six commercial-industrial areas.

The intention of landowners and criteria for why development would be good in a particular area will be taken into account in final decisions, Howard said.

Before any plan is approved, he said, there will be several more meetings.

"There's plenty of opportunity for input," he said.

410-857-3315

Twitter.com/heatherleighnor

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