Carroll denies Westminster voting seat on regional panel

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Carroll commissioners rejected yesterday Westminster's request for a voting seat on a regional transportation planning board, a decision the city's mayor called "short-sighted."

The county has one seat - now occupied by Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge - on the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board. County officials said that giving another to Westminster would not accurately reflect the needs of the communities that surround the city.

"More than 48,000 people [outside Westminster] would have their transportation priorities set by the city - which only has 25 percent, or 17,000 people, in that area," said Steven Powell, the county's chief of staff. "We believe those priorities are most appropriately set by the commissioners they elected."

Westminster's mayor said the decision will have a negative effect on the city.

"The transportation board's decisions affect the daily lives of our constituencies," said Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff, who had the backing of the Common Council to represent the city on the board as long as the commissioners approved. "I believe in a spirit of cooperation that it would be enormously important for our citizens to have two votes instead of the one vote."

The regional planning board must formally vote to accept or reject Westminster as a voting member, but likely will follow the commissioners' lead, said the board's staff representative, Pete Gutwald.

Dayhoff would like to sit down with the commissioners and try to persuade them to change their minds.

"This board directly impacts our economic development. I believe the commissioners made this decision with a lot of integrity. I believe they believe they're doing the best thing for our shared constituencies," he said.

"But I believe the decision is short-sighted. Perhaps with additional information they would decide that two votes for Carroll County is a win-win for everybody."

The board is responsible for transportation planning for the Baltimore metropolitan area and includes county representatives from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard. Members also include representatives from Baltimore and Annapolis and from the state's transportation, environment and planning departments.

Jeanne Joiner, the county's director of planning who represents Gouge on the board, said that being a member gives the county a pipeline to federal money that pays for roads, bridges and Carroll transit.

Participation also gives Carroll a voice in highway bypass discussions, though the county has not always gotten what it wanted. In March, the commissioners deleted a proposed Westminster bypass from the master plan after the state failed to support the project.

The 2000 Census showed the greater Westminster area - which reaches north to Hampstead and south to Sykesville - to have a population of more than 68,000. That's well above the threshold of 50,000 needed to qualify as an urban area.

As a result, the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board approached the city with the idea of adding a representative.

In January, Westminster's Common Council voted to send Dayhoff as the city's representative. He said his relationships with other county and municipal executives would help Westminster and the county meet their transportation needs.

Dayhoff said that although the city has a direct influence on the area around it - thousands beyond city limits use its water and sewer system - its economic development efforts have an even greater impact, affecting perhaps 100,000 people.

"We are no longer an island out here in Carroll County," Dayhoff said. "We play a role on the state stage and we need to have decisions made that continue to enable Westminster city government to look out for its citizens."

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