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Carroll towns push for unifying council


Town officials in Carroll are pressing ahead with the creation of a council of governments that would work directly with the county commissioners on regional issues such as transportation, development and education.

A three-member committee has drafted bylaws defining the council's mission, its principal representatives and how and when it will conduct meetings.

"The purpose of the council shall be to create a forum in which the appropriate governments ... can come together to encourage an approach to managing growth and providing public services which are comprehensive and countywide yet sensitive to the needs of regions, municipalities and communities," the draft bylaws say.

Besides the mayors and town council members from Carroll's eight towns, the council will include the county commissioners, a state planner and representatives from the school board and police, fire and emergency services agencies. The council also will invite the legislative delegation and members of community groups in the Finksburg and Freedom areas to join.

"Obviously, we do not intend to take away the commissioners' powers and responsibilities, but this can be an important means of dialogue for everybody," said Westminster Councilman Gregory Pecoraro.

Pecoraro serves on the planning committee with Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman and Mount Airy Council President Frank Johnson. They will discuss the bylaws, a monthly meeting schedule and the makeup of the council tomorrow at the Maryland Municipal League's Carroll County chapter session in Union Bridge.

"I see real potential here," said Herman. "If this works properly and the council has input, it should have some real bearing on the decision-making process. It also should be a good indicator for everyone of what is going on in the county."

The idea for a council of governments grew from the mayors' recent push for countywide growth management. Municipal leaders banded together on a strategy that insists that the county plan development with the towns in mind. The commissioners included several of the mayors' recommendations in revisions to the county's growth control ordinance. Buoyed by that success, the towns are looking to form the council.

"It is important for all of us to participate," said Pecoraro. "People in this county want to see us sitting down and working together with the commissioners and not finger-pointing at each other."

The committee has researched "what a council of governments does and what models we might use," Pecoraro said. That research included a look at the Frederick County Council of Governments, which dates to 1969 as an advisory group to the county commissioners.

"The COG here has been very effective," said Steve Horn, Frederick County's director of planning. "They have a real voice in making recommendations to the commissioners much the way a local planning board does. This is a real opportunity for towns to have a voice in county government."

The Frederick council has helped establish revenue-sharing with the county's 12 incorporated towns and created a formula for distributing funds from the state's Program Open Space. Members also review and comment on county management plans and on the annual legislative package.

The Carroll council would not have decision-making authority or collect or disburse money, but it would "set up a better framework for discussion, a forum that brings stakeholders together," Pecoraro said.

Hampstead Councilman Haven Shoemaker Jr., president of Maryland Municipal League's Carroll chapter, said he would like the chapter to be a foundation for the council. It could operate as an arm of the league with monthly sessions, Shoemaker said.

The chapter also is holding the first post-primary commissioner candidate forum tomorrow night, and the council of governments is likely to be among the topics, Herman said.

"This is all about promoting open government, and I think all the commissioner candidates are likely to respond positively to it," said Herman, who has invited Pecoraro to discuss the council proposal with the Sykesville council Monday. "Any time you can open the lines of communication, that is really good."

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