15 Sep 2014
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Carroll Commissioners: PlanMaryland Not a Good Fit for Carroll County (Update)

Commissioners Doug Howard and Richard Rothschild detailed their concerns about the PlanMaryland draft.

Carroll Commissioners: PlanMaryland Not a Good Fit for Carroll County (Update)

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners has made it clear from the beginning that it has major concerns about the PlanMaryland concept.

In response to decisions the commissioners have made, including their reaction to PlanMaryland, a group of Carroll County residents formed a citizens group called Citizens United for Carroll County (CUCC). The group has been vocal in suggesting that some ideas in PlanMaryland would actually be good for Maryland counties.

In a recent interview with Patch, commissioners Doug Howard and Richard Rothschild clarified their positions on PlanMaryland, explaining why they feel that the state's plan for sustainable growth is not a good fit for Carroll County.

The two agreed that one of their biggest concerns is the idea of handing over local planning issues to the state. They said they question a plan that suggests a one-size-fits-all solution for counties across the state.

"People don’t understand the policies that will be set based on this stuff aren't just hypothetical; it’s not an academic discussion," Rothschild said. "This relates to what we’re going to be able to do with our land, how we calculate water that is available, the septic bill will have an enormous impact, these are things that have real here-and-now implications and I think we would be remiss in our duty if we weren’t addressing those concerns."

Howard said there was a similar process with education and the American education system has suffered as a result.

"Part of the thing that alarms me the most is we’ve already seen this in education, and now environment is taking the same path," Howard said. "In the late 1950s education decisions were made in local communities, by mid 60s at the state level and then to the federal level. By the 70s and 80s, federal funding dictated education. Now almost none of the curriculum that our kids get is driven by the local school board, the local community.

Now, our school board does a fantastic job of working around supplementing and adding to, but they have so many constraints on them financially, operationally, fundamentally.  If you follow the path of what happened in education, the environmental movement is following in the same path about 20 years behind. We have seen that happen already and it’s following that path to a tee."

But the commissioners take issue with far more than the philosophical aspect of the plan. Howard said that Carroll County isn't broken and doesn't need to be fixed by the state.

Rothschild pointed out that Carroll County is "the only county in the state that had a significant tax decrease." He said, "We lowered it a little less than 2 percent, one of the only tax decreases in the state.

"So if our current development profile is so inefficient and so wasteful," Rothschild asked, "why is it that we’re the ones lowering taxes when everyone else is raising taxes?"

Howard added that at the same time Carroll County was decreasing taxes, the commissioners flat-funded education and provided more funding for public safety.

"It’s not like we just lowered taxes and let important critical government functions go by the wayside. The model works," Howard said. "In fact, if we continue this model and we have some of the business successes we expect to have, the model is going to work even more. Carroll County will still be this very nice, high quality of life, place to live."

Rothschild said the state needs to show Carroll County a place where the model it is proposing is working.

"We don’t understand who we’re supposed to be emulating," Rothschild said. "We would argue that Carroll would be an excellent role model. We don’t want to be fixed."

The commissioners said that their concerns are also tied up in the details and premise of the plan. They argue that data presented as the foundation for some of the recommended policies is inaccurate or skewed.

"The map the governor showed [at a June Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) conference] was based on growth a number of years ago, what it is now and what it is projected to be, but the projection assumes no additional land put into ag preservation in Carroll County even though we have not stopped or slowed ag preservation programs and we have money budgeted over the next five years for ag preservation," Howard said. 

"[PlanMaryland] simply ignores one of the major programs that has kept Carroll County rural for years, one of the major tools we use to keep it rural. They said that based on the fact that the land is there it will be developed and that’s just simply not true.

'This is why these kinds of plans are hard to put together at a state level. Those are the kinds of things that happen when the people closest to the project are left out," Howard said.

According to Rothschild, the fact that the state wants to move ahead so quickly with the PlanMaryland initiative is also a point of concern for the Carroll County commissioners as well as leaders of other counties.

"If they’re so sure that their facts, their premise, their science, their economics are correct, what are they afraid of?" Rothschild asked. "The answer is, they know that their science and economics are flawed. They know it will not withstand critical analysis and they’re afraid.

'They’re afraid because they’ve been ramming this stuff down the throats  of counties for years and we have said, 'Now wait, we’re not just going to sit by and let you do this. We’re going to challenge the science and the economics and we’re going to challenge that these policies should be based on a solid foundation,'" Rothschild said.

Rothschild said that if the counties had to vote on PlanMaryland right now, 75 percent of the counties would vote against it.

"The most fundamental problem with the plan can be described very succinctly: For 200 years land use decisions have belonged to locally elected officials that can be fired by voters if they don’t like the decisions," Rothschild said.

"PlanMaryland shifts that authority to unelected state bureaucrats that work for state agencies that cannot be fired. It’s a matter of principal, whether a Republican, Democrat or Independent, you should want that accountability here at the local level where you can fire the local officials if you don’t like what they did.

'Once the state takes it over, it takes accountability away from local officials, really shifts power away from the people and into the hands of government. That’s what our sister counties object to," Rothschild said.

Howard concluded, "Regardless of your political leanings, you want these debates to be held in community halls and libraries in your own community, not in some conference rooms in Annapolis."

Editor's note: The name of the citizen organization, Citizens United for Carroll County (CUCC) was originally posted as Citizens United Against Carroll County. This was corrected and Patch apologizes for the error.

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