Commissioners look to expand commercial base

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Rather than repeat the same message, the Carroll County commissioners divided their annual state-of-the-county addresses into three parts yesterday, building an optimistic message in a way that mirrors the cooperation that has marked their tenure.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge detailed the accomplishments of 2004, including national recognition for water conservation and farmland preservation, a soon-to-be-built $76 million bypass for Hampstead, a sixth branch of the county library system, significant expansion for two county businesses, a long-anticipated telecommunications tower and several school projects.

"It is amazing what can happen when people with open minds sit down to make things happen," Gouge told the audience of about 300 at the Chamber of Commerce event.

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich spoke of the challenges the board faces daily, comparing governance to running "a not-for-profit, customer-service business. Like any business, we have outcome and income."

He touched on the fiscal burdens created by state and federal mandates.

"We are getting bills from the state," Minnich said. "It is like we all had lunch together -- and we got the check."

The county will spend $20 million to begin all-day kindergarten and untold millions to reduce class size -- both state requirements.

Carroll is also facing $250 million in new school construction in the near future, he said.

The county will have to use sheriff's deputies to supplement its resident trooper program, which the state police will not staff at any higher levels.

It also wants to provide more financial support to its 14 volunteer fire companies. About 75 percent of the county budget "goes to things that we have to do," Minnich said.

The commissioners are hoping to spur economic development to relieve homeowners of some of the tax burden in the rapidly growing county. At 12 percent, Carroll has the lowest percentage of industrial tax revenue in the metropolitan area.

"We need to encourage economic development so an industrial base can take some burden off residential taxpayers," Minnich said.

The task of increasing the percentage could fall heavily on Lawrence F. Twele, who began his tenure as county director of economic development yesterday.

Minnich introduced Twele, saying, "We are expecting big things of this guy."

Twele lauded the commissioners' commitment to economic development.

"They have a good understanding of what has to be done," he said.

The county budgeted more than $1 million last year to provide the electronic infrastructure that could help attract industry, said Commissioner Perry L. Jones.

He spoke about the board's vision for the county's future and the opportunities that can make that view a reality.

"We want to be ready for industry that wants to come here," Jones said.

Residential growth continues to outstrip industrial growth by a rate of 3 to 1 and puts a burden on schools, roads and utilities, Jones said. He spoke of recently funded initiatives for fire and emergency services and law enforcement.

The commissioners are working to bring jobs to the area, improve the roads, ease crowding in classrooms and provide social services, he said.

"Carroll County is the safest county in the state, and its population continues to grow," Jones said. "We don't have interstates, but we have the quality of life that brings people here."

Next year, voters will elect five county commissioners as a result of a referendum to expand the board last year.

For anyone interested in the job, Minnich had some advice.

"This is an opportunity to practice the art of political leadership, to know the community and to do the right thing for our customers," he said.

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