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Minnich: Whether in Washington or Mount Airy, take a stand, then work things out | COMMENTARY

A big topic in Washington is about the minimum wage. How can the federal government dictate what it should be in, say, West Virginia? Or Mississippi? Should a small business in Arkansas be required to pay an entry level worker $15 an hour, which would still be poverty pay in New Jersey.

What powers should the federal government have, compared to state and local governments? And the same questions apply here in Maryland. Even in Carroll County, more than in most others in our state.

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Locally, towns want control over their local taxes and ordinances, wages to employees, and anything else that the mayor and council thinks is not the county or state’s business.

It comes down to who has responsibility for what costs — and a wider view.

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This is why the county and the town of Mount Airy are at odds over what to do with a parcel of land on the edge of town. It has to do with differing responsibilities and objectives, and it is symbolic of the situation in Carroll County that makes us different from counties that do not have incorporated towns.

We have eight incorporated towns, each with its own mayor and council. They set their own tax rates and certain ordinances and run the town, but they need some things from the federal, state and county governments. They get most of their revenue from residential taxation; the more homes, the more money comes in. None of the towns funds schools, but their growth plans can impact school populations — and costs — in their area.

Town growth also adds to the costs of fire and emergency services and police protection of the area, traffic on county roadways, the impact on water resources and compliance with state and federal environmental regulations.

As federal and state regulators impose tighter requirements on county and town governments to preserve water resources and ensure clean air, towns are feeling the pinch and look increasingly to the county and state for subsidies.

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As with all good things, ideas for allocating available water resources fall victim to political and legal manipulations of developers and other beneficiaries of new houses and some forms of industrial expansion. Water rights become barter chips: Move the right to this water to that property across town or to another location to allow a work-around on the intent of the rules. Use creative designs for annexation to curtail the powers of opponents to growth. Cut the amount of land set aside for parks and recreation because it costs money for maintenance, while houses keep the cash flowing in.

As the saying goes, follow the money.

There hasn’t been much explanation of the reasoning why the county’s Industrial Development Authority walked away from a deal with the town of Mount Airy, but if memory serves me, the land is available in the first place because the county bought it for the jobs and revenues benefits of industrial development. Tax rates in Howard County, for instance, which has no incorporated towns, were lower than Carroll because business and industry contribute more revenues.

But there are those here who don’t want to see industrial development on land ideal for growing houses.

The acquisition of the land in Mount Airy as I recall it was the result of a compromise with developers who had sued the county for damages claimed resulting from a deferral of residential growth pending reviews of compliance and impact related to the master plan. I was one of the three county commissioners elected in 2002; we had all promised to restore some balance of industry and jobs versus unmanaged, open market residential sprawl.

Of the multiple lawsuits filed over the deferral, I think only that one in Mount Airy went against the county. The owners offered to sell the land to the county for the amount of the settlement, so in effect, the county got the land for industrial growth, and the developer got the relief it sought in court.

Compromise happened between government and private business with a little nudge from the courts. It has not always happened between the county and the towns.

Dean Minnich was a county commissioner from 2002–2010, following a career in news writing, editing and management. His column appears Thursdays. Email him at dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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