Big issues face Carroll's next commissioners

Recently the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association highlighted various current and future funding challenges that all 14 of our local volunteer fire companies need our county government to help address. We are blessed to be served so selflessly by volunteers in this critical area.

I am certain the needs presented are fact-based and serious. County government plays a key role in the funding of CCVESA and the individual companies. Over time, I would expect that funding role to grow.


Funding our first responders for fire response and ambulance service clearly is not the only need that the next board of commissioners will have to address. I have come across persuasive anecdotal evidence that we are losing too many high-quality teachers to neighboring jurisdictions.

Carroll County Public Schools are never going to compete dollar for dollar with those in counties like Howard. We can't, however, let the gap grow so great that it overcomes some of our unique competitive advantages.

Four of the five Republican primary-winning candidates for commissioner seem to have won by emphasizing these exact same points. I have noticed in life that it is generally easier to point out a problem than it is to come up with a solution.

Some have said we need to spend more money on public safety, education and infrastructure in our county budget. Those areas account for the vast majority of current spending. It is unlikely that we can spend more on those areas by cutting funding to other more minor elements of the budget.

Some have said that we can increase spending for public safety, education and infrastructure by expanding our revenue stream. As far as I know, there are two ways to expand a revenue stream. One is to raise taxes. The other is for the economy to improve, thus increasing the population's spending and public revenue levels.

Will the next board of commissioners raise taxes? Should the majority of the next board have that desire, it might market it as not really raising taxes. Commissioners could argue that they are merely adjusting taxes to the same level they were before the current board cut them.

I have a feeling such a position would be a wee bit controversial.

Perhaps we can improve the economy, and thus local tax revenue, by changing things up politically at the ballot box. In my view, the policies of the current leadership in Annapolis have blunted our state's ability to grow jobs and attract fresh business opportunities.

The current leadership in Annapolis has shifted funding burdens to county governments by eliminating revenue-sharing programs for roads and law enforcement. In the case of our public schools, the state has shrunk funding based on student population levels. The state has also burdened county governments with a portion of teacher pension funding.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan has campaigned on a platform of changing Maryland. He's touted his experience as a business leader in this campaign. By contrast, Democratic candidate Anthony Brown is a former delegate and the current lieutenant governor.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Hogan is elected and his policies do lead to serious economic growth. The impact such a scenario potentially could have would take time to reach the county level.

The current board of commissioners has done well for all of us in the area of economic development. Such business expansion, however, is a long-term, not a short-term, solution to our revenue challenges.

Once we are past the November general election, I urge the new set of commissioners-elect to initiate an immediate transition process to focus on these pressing budget matters. They must grapple with these realities in a genuine way with other stakeholders.

It has been said that there's no such thing as a free lunch. That saying very much applies to the choices we expect of our elected officials when setting budget priorities.


Michael Zimmer writes from Eldersburg. His column appears Fridays. Email him at zimlaw64@gmail.com.