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Tension growing between towns and county

James Rada
Emmitsburg Dispatch

(2/15) Frederick County mayors see the county trying to influence municipal issues. Frederick County commissioners see it as a municipal issue that affects the surrounding county.

More and more, the county and municipalities are running up against each other and the issue, more times than not, involves growth and annexation.

“The county commissioners and the planning commission have no role in our growth boundary except in determining consistency,” Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns said. “They should let Thurmont do what is best for Thurmont.”

His issue with the county involves whether the town should accept any of the annexation requests it is currently considering. At least one commissioner has expressed an opinion on the Myers farm annexation request before the project has come before the commissioners.

Burns said the board is “hypocritical” because it criticizes the town for considering an annexation outside its growth boundary to increase residential property, but the commissioners are willing to throw out their own approved region plan in New Market so they reduce residential property.

Commission President Jan Gardner said, “I think the concern is between some municipal leaders and one commissioner in particular.”

In January’s county/municipality meeting, Commissioner John Thompson agreed that the county commissioners have no obligation to do anything in an annexation proposal other than rule on consistency.

Commissioner Kai Hagen did not like that. He said, “You’re saying the default of not doing anything is the town gets what it wants. That’s risky.”

New Market Mayor Winslow Burhans has also run into conflicts with the county, so much so that the county actually sent a letter to New Market residents correcting what it considered misinformation from town government about possible New Market annexations.

“With respect to adversarial relations with the County, you should know that we’ve been trying to meeting with them for years,” Burhans wrote in an e-mail to the Dispatch. “However, Lennie and Jan have refused until we pass an APFO as effective as theirs. That defeats the purpose. They will not even sit and collegially sit and discuss the concerns we raised. Now Jan and Kai are all about working w/ us while running a referendum through Town. Kai Hagen and Jim Jamieson (Friends of Frederick) came to our first workshop in October and before we even opened the meeting slapped down their petition against it. They already formed their opinion and undermined the whole process. Hagen has repeatedly come to meetings and repeated the message. That’s an insult to every board member in town who worked hard and devoted time to inform and discuss the issues.”

In Frederick City, the commissioners recently voted to remove $1 million of capital funds that would have helped the city with renovations of Harry Grove Stadium to which the county had committed earlier. Thompson also tried to have other funds committed for city projects removed, which could still happen as discussions about the county’s capital budget continues.

Both Burhans and Burns said the issue of conflicts with the county will be a topic of discussion at the next meeting of the county chapter of the Maryland Municipal League.

“The Mayors have taken exception to the BOCC’s behavior,” Burhans wrote. “This includes the letter they sent. That is not proper protocol.”

Calling the situation “unique,” Gardner said, “The reason I felt we needed to do it is that the town had published information that the only way the town would get water is through annexation and that just wasn’t true. … If that had not happened, I don’t think the commissioners would have taken a position as a board.”

She said both the county and municipalities make decisions that impact each other and both groups need to keep that in mind as they make their decisions and keep an open dialogue about those issues.