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Fire companies, children and businesses benefitted from Senator's efforts

A tiny, icy snowball might not look like much next to a giant slush pile, but roll it down the snow covered hill and its a seed that can grow into something huge. In 2008, that seemingly tiny snowball seed was a $331,000 earmark U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, helped obtain for the Carroll County Youth Services Bureau, a mental health clinic serving low income people.

The giant slush pile was the $7 million the clinic needed to move out of its overcrowded space in a strip mall and into a new facility on Kate Wagner Road in Westminster in 2009, according to Executive Director Lynn Davis. That $331,000 earmark turned into something big indeed.

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"It was one of our first donations ... $331,000 compared to $7 million doesn't look like that much, but it is huge as far as moving toward other foundations and funding sources," Davis said.

After Mikulski was seen backing the Youth Services Bureau, Davis said other donors stepped up, such as the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation and the Community Development Block Grant program, but Davis said, "It all kind of goes back to, who will be the ones to jump in the fire first to say, 'This will be a worthwhile project.'"

Mikulski announced Monday morning she will not seek another term in office and will retire when her present term ends in January 2017. Mikulski is already the longest serving woman in Congress, having been elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 and having served in the Senate since in 1987, when she was the first woman elected to the Senate without having first been appointed or named to fill a vacated seat.

In a press conference in Fells Point Monday, Mikulski said why she planned retire at the end of her current term: "I had to decide whether to spend my time fighting to keep my job or fighting for your job. Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs?"

She continued: "The more I thought about it, the more the answer became really clear – I want to campaign for you. That's why I'm here to announce I won't be seeking a sixth term as a United States Senator for Maryland."

Mikulski has been involved in many national issues during her time in Washington, D.C., from gender equality in wages with the her support of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to higher education policy with an interest in changing the Pell Grant system, but national advocacy and local concerns have continually dove-tailed during her career.

In one example according to her office, Mikulski helped secure more than $11.5 million in federal grants for Carroll County agencies, nonprofits and associations between 2012 and 2014, involving everything from public housing assistance to aid for firefighters. In 2001, Mikulski helped establish the Assistance to Firefighters grant program administered by the Department of Homeland Security, which, according to her office, has delivered almost $3.5 million to Carroll fire companies since 2001.

In 2013, Mikulski was instrumental in eight Carroll County fire companies — Mount Airy, Hampstead, Manchester, Taneytown, Pleasant Valley, Reese, Winfield and New Windsor — receiving nearly $1 million in federal grant money for the purchase of breathing equipment for firefighters, one of the largest ever grants of its kind, according to Tom Coe, fire chief at New Windsor.

"The equipment totaled $2 million and the grant funded just short of $1 million, so it was huge," Coe said. "Ever since fire departments have gotten grants, Mikulski has usually been an advocate. Her backing is usually a good sign of a grant's success."

Mikulski visited the New Windsor fire company on April 22, 2013 to announce the grant and others for first responders totaling $1.5 million, and made a big impression on Carroll County Commissioner Steve Wantz, R-District 1, who at that time was the president of the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association.

"We worked with her office very closely on that [grant]. I know there were some issues as far as the fact of how big it was, and she put everybody's' minds at ease," Wantz said. "A lot of times politicians come to events and they blow though; they have somewhere else to go right away. She spent almost an hour and a half, two hours that day and talked to everybody, which I thought was a nice touch."

Mikulski's retirement announcement drew responses from her colleagues in both state and federal government and from both sides of the aisle.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan released a statement on Monday praising Mikulski's legacy and saying he looks forward to working with her on state projects over the next two years.

"For nearly 30 years, Barbara Mikulski has been a bold and dedicated public servant to Maryland," Hogan said in the statement. "As the longest serving woman in the history of Congress, she is a trailblazer in the truest sense."

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U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-District 8, released his own statement reflecting on Mikulski's groundbreaking tenure in Congress, as well as the work she has done for her constituents.

"Barbara Mikulski has been a true champion for the people of Maryland," Van Hollen said in a statement. "From kids' education and seniors' retirement security, to veterans who fought for our nation and first responders who keep our community safe, no one has been a more tenacious advocate than Barbara."

Davis agrees. Because Mikulski was able to direct that $331,000 to the Carroll County Youth Services Bureau, the agency was able to move from an 8,000-square-foot space that required noise machines in the hallways to ensure patient privacy in 2008 to a four floor, 22,000 square foot in 2009. Where they once were lucky to provide 1,800 counseling sessions in a year, in 2014, they held more than 18,000. It's a change Davis said was only possible because Mikulski made the effort to contribute early on.

"I see it as so much more than the $331,000," Davis said. "She's a social worker at heart, so I am sure that she loves those kinds of projects. We certainly wish her good luck in her retirement."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

Mikulski and Carroll County by the numbers

The work Mikulski has done for the people of Carroll County is sometimes hard to quantify, being part of larger national efforts, but her office was able to provide some Carroll-specific numbers:

• Between 2012 and 2014, Mikulski supported grant applications and helped find funding for 25 grants to Carroll County agencies, nonprofits and associations that totaled $11,877,000.

• Since 2001, Carroll fire companies received $3,448,409 in Firefighter Assistance Grants, a program Mikulski helped launch in 2001.

• Mikulski helped direct to $30,803 in Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants to prevent crime and drug abuse to Western Maryland counties in Fiscal Year 2014, including Carroll.

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• In 2010, Mikulski helped secure funding for a research program that allowed General Dynamics Robotics in Westminster preserve 118 jobs and in 2012, she helped Knorr Brake Corporation secure the contract for the brakes on new D.C. Metro cars that led to the company's expansion to a new facility in Westminster.

• As Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski secured $8.6 billion in Head Start funding for FY15 and her office estimated there are 191 children in Carroll who receive Head Start and Early Head Start Services.

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