South Carroll flexes its political muscle Issues of taxation, representation spark debate


South Carroll residents own many of the most expensive homes in the county, yet some feel like second-class citizens.

They felt dumped upon in the late 1970s when county government pushed through the Hoods Mill Landfill project.

And recently, they have become suspicious that county government is out to victimize them again.

In the past six months, they battled against the doubling of their water and sewer rates, fought a proposal to create an outdoor shooting range at the landfill site, and opposed aspects of a new development plan for southwest Carroll.

"It seems to me we're inclined to get the short end of the stick down here," said Eldersburg resident Angie Lee. "They seem to come to us for more money for things, but that's where it ends."

Woodbine resident Jim Talley and Eldersburg resident Harold G. Paine are spearheading an effort to revive South Carroll Concerned Citizens, a group they helped form in the 1970s to monitor the landfill project. They are compiling a data base of members so the loose coalition can be jolted into action when concerns arise.

"If we needed to, we could get 100 people together in 24 hours," said Mr. Talley, noting that 105 residents attended a citizens' meeting at a local church in June after learning about the shooting range proposal.

And that takes some doing.

South Carroll, characterized by sprawling subdivisions, horse farms and houses on three- to five-acre lots, is not a tightly knit community, said Mr. Paine, 54, president of Second Source Electronics Inc. in Eldersburg. It lacks leadership, he said.

"People moved out here to get away from Columbia, to get away from community associations and people telling them they can't park a camper in their front yard," he said. "Unless there's a serious threat, it's hard to get support. People generally want to be left alone."

The average sale price of homes in the Eldersburg-Sykesville area this year is $160,703, according to the Multiple Listing Service. The population of South Carroll election districts -- Freedom, Berrett and Mount Airy -- nearly doubled from 18,839 in to 34,333 in 1990.

The landfill's future

Once again, a primary reason for mobilizing a citizens' group is to monitor activity at the landfill west of Route 97, the organizers said. This time around, residents will follow county proposals for new land uses at the site once the landfill is closed around 1996.

South Carroll residents have discovered that a previous board of commissioners' pledge to use the landfill site for open space or recreation after its useful life as a dump was not an ironclad guarantee.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell has said that the landfill site could be a good location for a waste-to-energy plant -- which burns trash to produce power -- should the county decide to incorporate that method into its solid-waste plans.

"I don't know why they promised [a park]," Mr. Dell said. "I can't commit the commissioners to do something 20 years from now that I want done. It doesn't work that way."

Mr. Talley, 52, owner of Jim Talley Inc. Realtors in Eldersburg, said the citizens' group might institute regular meetings if plans for a waste-to-energy plant progress.

"There's opposition, but that's to the unknown," he said. "We'll get information and data, then ultimately we may oppose it."

The shooting range

About 75 angry South Carroll residents attended a recreation and parks board hearing in June to protest the proposal, saying it was sprung on them with little notice and without their input.

Mr. Paine said he was "irked" that evaluation of the site continued despite vocal opposition. "If they considered us a viable political group, this never would have happened," he said.

The commissioners eventually instructed the recreation board to research an indoor range.

Water and sewer rates

Eldersburg resident Shelley Counts said it seemed a foregone conclusion that the commissioners would double the average annual water and sewer bill from $220 to $450 to close an operating deficit, despite residents' objections.

"I'm not very trusting" of county officials, she said. "We have no handle on anything up there. We have to take them at their word."

She said she was disturbed that Eldersburg residents didn't participate as a committee in developing new rates, and that an outside audit of the utilities was not ordered. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said an internal audit should suffice.

Residents "look at one side of the situation, but not always the overall picture," she said.

Mr. Dell said the current board "inherited a mess" and was forced to take action. "We can't go on losing money," he said.

hTC A need for representation

Some South Carroll residents say Westminster receives preferential treatment from county government.

"That's been an underlying attitude," said Sykesville businessman Jon R. Buck.

Ms. Lee said she believes South Carroll residents receive too little in services or facilities for their tax money, noting that the area lacks neighborhood parks.

Mr. Dell and Ms. Gouge say they often hear similar opinions from all areas outside the county seat.

"People assume they're getting less because they don't know what other areas are getting," Ms. Gouge said.

South Carroll traditionally has lacked representation on the board of commissioners. Mr. Buck said that is a main reason why he became involved in the charter government movement, which proposes a County Council elected by district.

"South Carroll doesn't have strength," he said.

Eldersburg resident Gail Reilly Cross helped organize a new South Carroll Democratic Club this year, partly to keep tabs on county government.

"People in one of the largest population areas of the county need representation," she said.

Mr. Talley said that even though no county commissioners live in that area of the county, they have to pay attention to South Carroll because of the amount of growth the area is experiencing.

Mr. Dell agrees.

"We aren't politically stupid. We don't cut them out of the loop," he said.

Improved relations?

Mr. Talley said he feels more comfortable dealing with county government than he did 12 years ago, when the landfill was taking shape.

"There was a very condescending, paternalistic attitude that government was right and the people were wrong," he said.

"The attitude has changed. We didn't have that with the shooting range. I think the three current commissioners have tried very hard to improve relations with people in the South Carroll area."

But Mr. Paine is not so sure.

"It seems like the only time you get attention is when you start raising hell, and that's not right," he said. "They should be looking at us as taxpayers and voters. I don't think they do."

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