Rural Legacy results show need for building bridges


ROCK-SOLID Republican Carroll County feels slighted by the rock-solid Democratic grip on state government. Like Rodney Dangerfield, the county feels it gets no respect.

Carroll leaders groused about their limited share of school construction funds and school budget aid. And about their thin slice of public safety funds.

Now they are upset with the state's Rural Legacy grants to preserve important open space and farm lands. Carroll's applications for land protection projects totaled $9 million.

The county ended up with $1.5 million, or one-sixth, of its wish list. Statewide, counties applying got about one-fourth of the requests.

State officials knew that there could be more disappointment than rejoicing in the awards, so Gov. Parris N. Glendening emphasized that more grant funds would be available next year. Some counties came up with complementary funding to aid losing projects; Carroll's commissioners pledged (sort of) about $1 million in local matching funds to expand the Little Pipe protection area.

Not that Carroll has been lax on open space. It has one of the most successful farmland preservation programs in the country. The county spent $2.8 million for agricultural easements over the past three years. But it still relies mostly on town governments and state funding for protecting other kinds of desirable public lands. Rural Legacy tries to tie these various programs together.

Carroll got the $1.5 million to buy easements barring development on 835 acres of Little Pipe Creek between New Windsor and Westminster. The county's proposal was for almost 4,000 acres.

Bottom of the gift list

What riles Carroll is that it is a fast-growing suburban county that nonetheless seems to be forever on the bottom of Annapolis' gift list. Its land protection efforts are paramount, yet it is largely snubbed by the governor's well-larded land protection program.

That's understandable, but it's also true that a Republican stronghold is not going to be a priority for such appropriations, even outside an election year.

Did I upset anyone with the mention of politics?

The point man for the governor's "smart growth" and Rural Legacy programs insists that political considerations played no role in the curious selection of proposals for the Rural Legacy's $29 million jackpot.

"I assure you they were not political," John W. Frece declared.

Perfectly nonpolitical

The proposals went through a three-stage screening and selection process. First was a review by an 11-member citizens panel. The next filter was a trio of Glendening political appointees. The final cut was by the state Board of Public Works, a three-member body in which the governor's view invariably prevails.

It seems perfectly nonpolitical.

It's only coincidence that Mr. Glendening's targeted counties to win re-election benefited so generously.

There's Baltimore County, a pivotal piece of the governor's campaign, with a whopping $6.1 million cut of the statewide $29 million booty. Even more surprising because the favored project in Essex was a last-minute, in-house creation of the Ruppersberger administration. Looking to secure his own Democratic political future, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger scrambled to find an appropriately grateful constituency on which to bestow his favor.

The so-called coastal project to preserve private boat docks and waterfront views in Essex was ranked low by the citizens panel, far behind the Long Green Valley project on which grass-roots citizen groups labored for years, spending their own seed money.

But the two other "nonpolitical" boards found ultimate wisdom in the Democratic county executive's aggressive advocacy of the east side political community that he has so assiduously courted.

It seems perfectly nonpolitical to me.

Of course, it's expected that the larger jurisdictions will get a bigger piece of the pie. But Carroll officials argue that they are growing at a faster rate and need proportionately more state help.

Carroll's population puts it in the top half of counties in Maryland, but more firmly fixed in the middle third. Carroll is growing, but so, too, are larger jurisdictions (except Baltimore City).

That middle-child complex is one that haunts this county, in addition to the partisan political differences with Annapolis.

Pathological delegation

With a Republican legislative delegation that pathologically votes against budget and key programs of the Democratic governor, the situation is even more strained.

This doesn't mean the answer is to elect a slate of Democrats slavishly tied to the gubernatorial agenda. But it's a call for Carroll to abandon its peevish political inferiority complex and to work harder to build bridges with the state government.

More often than not, the effort has to be perfectly nonpolitical.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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