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Our View: Thumbs down for heinous killings in Mount Airy; thumbs up for county actions on coronavirus

THUMBS DOWN: Do you want the good news first, or the bad? These days, there’s much more bad than we’re typically used to here in Carroll County. We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t acknowledge a particularly painful tragedy that, unfortunately, came in an already extremely difficult time. On April 2, a 35-year-old Gaithersburg man shot and killed his estranged wife, 36-year-old Heather Zujkowski and 18-year-old Noah Homayouni, a student at South Carroll High School. Police believe the shooter, who later killed himself in a standoff with Montgomery County police, fired 30 rounds from a rifle. An act of violence this brazen, this cruel rarely strikes the communities of Carroll County. We must stand united against such horrendous gun violence. That it came during an anxious, uncertain time, when the coronavirus is sweeping through the country, killing many and forcing much of society to a halt, makes the news harder to process. In this tragedy, we’ve lost valued members of the community. Zujkowski, a mother of three, had been working with the town on installing an all-inclusive playground. “Heather was very sweet and kind. You could see the love she had for her children,” Mayor Patrick Rockinberg told us. Homayouni was described by a South Carroll lacrosse teammate as “probably the most hard-working kid” and had been signed to play lacrosse at Howard Community College this fall. South Carroll senior Dylan O’Neill told us, “He was very determined to be the best he could.” Zujkowski and Homayouni were both senselessly taken from this community far too early, and for that we are angry. Mount Airy is in profound grieving. We’re thinking of the family members and dear friends of the victims. May their memories be a blessing.

THUMBS UP: Carroll County officials have their hands full dealing with the spreading coronavirus and the ripples the pandemic has sent through just about every facet of life here. We know they’re working hard to make sure the local government continues to function — and will continue to. There are certainly frightening challenges that go with that. We won’t say that every single decision being made recently is the right one. But there are at least a few worth mentioning.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers visited Westminster on April 3 to assess the viability of Carroll County Agriculture Center’s Shipley Arena as a potential temporary hospital for treating coronavirus patients. Although there’s still no guarantee that will come to pass. Stephen Wantz, president of the Board of County Commissioners, said he helped set the visit in motion by reaching out to the Corps. “I wanted to get on the list of facilities they were looking at ASAP.” And in the event Shipley Arena is chosen as a site for a temporary hospital, Carroll would be taking a leadership role in the region. It could be used as a regional facility, helping not just COVID-19 patients from Carroll County, but from nearby jurisdictions as well. We certainly hope the arena would never need to be put into motion, but the reality is that there could still be a serious spike in positive cases running up against a shortage of resources for treating all those patients. Reaching out to the Corps is good forward thinking.

The county commissioners also acted recently to postpone the annual tax sale and create a grant program for small businesses to ease the financial hardship some have experienced as so much economic activity has ground to a halt. Residents with unpaid tax accounts as of April 1 will be mailed “second notice” bills, but penalties will be frozen as of March 31. Interest will continue to accrue monthly on past-due property taxes. As Wantz said, “People are in tough shape and it’s going to get tougher.” Taxes will still be due, of course, but this measure to ease immediate financial burdens on the average Carroll countian will likely be a great relief for many. As for small businesses, the county is offering grants through an unused small business loan fund of more than $800,000 within its budget. The grants will be good for up to $1,250 per business, and up to $500,000 of the small business loan fund will be used. It will be just about impossible to avoid at least some local businesses never reopening, but it’s important to try and minimize that damage. This is a good use of available funds that we hope can make a difference.

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In closing, we also liked seeing the county hold its first-ever virtual town hall meeting Thursday night to answer community questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope it wasn’t the last. Despite some early technical holdups, it seemed to run just fine. In this pandemic, it’s absolutely essential that public officers communicate well, and often, with the people. This was good work to that end.

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