Thursday, March 1, 2007

Money for schools, libraries, roads tops commissioners’ list

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Looking for the money to build roads, schools, fire stations and libraries is nothing new in Frederick County.

With the population boom over the last two decades, the Frederick Board of County Commissioners has struggled to fund the services and infrastructure needed to handle the stream of new residents.

The board elected in November will be no different.

As board members worked on Feb. 22 to finalize their strategic plan of goals and objectives for the next four years, it became clear that money for new roads, schools and even water is a priority that will be a challenge to meet.

‘‘Obviously, we’ve identified a lot of infrastructure shortages, but we don’t have the money to do what’s there,” County Manager Douglas Browning said.

Commission President Jan H. Gardner (D) agreed. ‘‘We’re supposed to do 65 road [pavings] a year, and they’re probably doing 35 because there is no money,” she said.

On Feb. 8 and 9, the board gathered with county division directors at Pinecliff Park in Frederick to put together a four-year strategic plan.

The result was a list of eight areas that commissioners want to address, including infrastructure funding, emergency preparedness, open government and responsible growth.

On Feb. 22, the board began the first of several discussions to narrow the goals and policies.

A top priority is to review the zoning of land to ensure that the county grows in an orderly fashion. ‘‘This would be my No. 1 priority on this list among our goals,” Gardner said.

Commissioner Kai J. Hagen (D) said the board’s first step should include examining the county’s growth ordinance, which stops residential development if roads, schools, water and sewer cannot handle the influx of residents who would live in those homes. Commissioners would like to add public safety to the mix.

Commissioner John ‘‘Lennie” Thompson Jr. (R), well known for his anti-growth stance, offered his suggestion. ‘‘I would go back and zone everything from residential to agriculture,” he said. ‘‘I would bulldoze everything already built.”

Gardner quickly countered that Thompson’s rezoning of the entire county from new housing to farmland is not feasible.

Thompson would also do away with all funding for services that help low-income families, senior citizens and vulnerable residents.

‘‘I’d strike all the social services objectives,” said Thompson, who routinely votes against all nonprofits during the budget session.

Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins (R) is more interested in taking a look at the needs of each nonprofit before making any decisions. ‘‘I’m not interested in putting that money on auto-pilot,” he said.

Gardner tried to explain that there is a growing need for human and social services. ‘‘I do think it’s one of our big issues,” she said.

Gardner questioned Thompson on whether he wanted to keep any social services objectives in the plan.

‘‘Do you have any you want to keep?” she said.

‘‘Not in this category,” Thompson countered.

Commissioners will continue to scale down the plan before formally adopting it.