The county's first attempt at developing a long-range, comprehensive plan to both preserve Carroll's rural heritage and prepare for growth began to take more definite shape this year.

In December, county government and municipal officials convened for the first Town/County Partnership Conference to form the union that is considered necessary to implement policies recommended by seven "strategic planning groups."

The committees, appointed by the County Commissioners about two years ago to study problems associated with the county's rapid growth and recommend solutions, completed their work earlier this year.

The committees studied affordable housing, infrastructure, agriculture, law enforcement, emergency services, school construction and revenue sources.

The law enforcement report questioned whether the county can continue to rely heavily on the state's Resident Trooper Program as Carroll's primary police protection arm. It suggested creating a county police force or expanding the Sheriff's Department as options.

Since the 1960s, the county has had a Master Plan guiding development.

That plan was refined in 1978 to preserve agriculture and open space by concentrating development in and around eight incorporated municipalities, Eldersburg and Finksburg.

The plan has been commended in principle, but county officials have been criticized for failing to take the steps necessary to make the concept work.

Municipalities have not had the financial resources or technical expertise needed to provide adequate services, such as sewer systems and fire protection, for growth directed there, town officials say.

The county also has lagged in building schools needed to accommodate population growth, they say.

County officials say municipalities must be willing to accept affordable housing proposals and keep their downtown areas economically vital for the plan to work.

The December conference served to bolster cooperation and understanding between county and municipal governments, which sometimes have been adversarial, said those who attended. Municipal officials expressed their concerns to county officials and were informed on proposals being considered to produce affordable housing, provide infrastructure, such as roads and water systems, improve the farmland preservation program and bolster the agriculture industry.

County and municipal officials will reconvene for a follow-up conference in spring 1991 to establish a resolution and to begin molding recommendations into policy designed to shape Carroll's growth into the 21st century.

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