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Commissioners praise MACo connections, governor's septic announcement

Governor-elect Larry Hogan gives remarks to the House of Delegates as Speaker Michael Busch watches. The Maryland General Assembly held its opening session Wednesday at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
Governor-elect Larry Hogan gives remarks to the House of Delegates as Speaker Michael Busch watches. The Maryland General Assembly held its opening session Wednesday at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. (By Paul W. Gillespie, Staff, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Last week's summer Maryland Association of Counties conference ended on a high note for some officials in Carroll County as Gov. Larry Hogan announced in a Saturday address to attendees that he plans to repeal regulations many in the county have opposed.

The announcement came at MACo's conference in Ocean City, where 16 Carroll County officials — four commissioners, nine directors, the county tourism manager, emergency manager and administrator — joined with other representatives and officials from around the state.

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The Republican governor said that he plans to end a mandate that homeowners and businesses in the state use costly septic systems aimed at reducing water pollution.

The mandate was implemented in 2012 under the administration of former Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and required new construction and those replacing a septic system to use high-tech systems.

While O'Malley argued at the time that the best technology septic systems would help protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution, Hogan has stated that he believes the mandate is burdensome for businesses and homeowners.

Development near the bay and other environmentally critical areas will still have to abide by the mandate, but counties will now be able to allow septic systems that do not meet best available technology standards.

In Carroll County, the announcement was welcome news.

County Planning Director Phil Hager said that the best technology mandate has made the cost of development in parts of Carroll County go up.

"Certainly it's added tremendously to the cost of the average homeowner or business owner in Carroll County," he said, adding that the approved systems cost thousands more than the systems used before the mandate was imposed.

While the repeal of the mandate may not have a major effect on counties with extensive sewer systems, it likely will in Carroll, said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5.

"It really put an unfair restraint on our community," Howard said.

Without the costly mandate, Howard predicted that the cost of development in the county could go down, spurring growth.

"It may even have an impact on the challenges we face like school enrollment," he said.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild was not at the MACo conference but said he had heard that an announcement like the one made by Hogan on Saturday was coming.

The governor understands the need to focus environmental efforts on initiatives that get maximum results, Rothschild, R-District 4, said.

The repeal of the septic mandate, he said, should help county homeowners and business owners.

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"Carroll County is heavily dependent on septic systems for both residential and commercial growth," he said. "This relief from the governor should help the citizens of Carroll County."

In addition to Hogan's announcement, there were other benefits that came from the conference, commissioners said.

Commissioners Howard, Dennis Frazier and Richard Weaver said they used some of their time at the gathering to seek input from counties that have recently abandoned commissioner forms of government in favor of other set ups.

Howard said he was given some advice by officials from other counties on how the process of looking into a different form of government should go, should Carroll decide to explore such a change.

Frazier, R-District 3, said he spoke with attendees from Cecil and Frederick counties about their recent shifts to charter government.

The input, he said, was extremely valuable.

"While you're looking at doing something you can talk to people from other counties who've done it," he said, adding that Carroll can learn from any mistakes made by other counties.

In Cecil County, people said they liked the local control the charter gave the county, he said.

In Frederick, he heard from a council member who said he was unhappy with the lack of control council members have over department heads, something set up by the county's charter.

"If that's the only problem that they're having with the charter, I don't think that's a major problem," he said.

Weaver, R-District 2, said he heard more of a mix of responses.

"You get a hundred different answers but at least you get a chance to talk to them directly," he said.

Weaver said he was originally skeptical of MACo when he first took office, but has seen benefits after last week.

"We are able to talk to every cabinet member, the governor on down," Weaver said. "We can do as much [at the conference] in three days as I can get done all year at home."

The theme of this summer's conference was technology.

Weaver said he was especially interested in breakout talks on cybersecurity and social media in the workplace. There were also discussions, he said, about citizen broadband access.

"There were just some really good things to think about," he said.

One idea he heard about that he said he would like the county to explore further in the future is the concept of a county mediator, possibly employed by the community college.

The mediator would address conflicts between county citizens, helping to keep some disputes out of court and out of county government, he said.

"It's an interesting idea," he said. "Can we do it? I don't know."

County Administrator Roberta Windham said she appreciated the time to network with other county administrators from around the state.

"It's kind of a valuable time," she said.

While the presentations are useful, it's the discussions in the hallways and around the convention center that can prove the most beneficial, she said, as officials from around the state share tips and knowledge on topics that may affect citizens in several different regions of the state.

"Just stuff like that that you don't necessarily talk about or hear about if you're stuck in your office all day," she said.

410-857-3315

Twitter.com/heatherleighnor

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