County Comment: State Planning Secretary Visit

County Comment
State Planning Secretary Visit
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In the Washington County Board of County Commissioners meeting on September 26, Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Audrey Scott, discussed planning issues and preservation programs.
Scott told the Board that Washington County is among the state's leaders in land preservation and ranks fourth in Maryland. Planned growth is the focus of the state Planning Department, Scott said, citing technical assistance programs that the Department provides to counties in terms of comprehensive planning, model ordinances such as the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, and Transfer of Development Rights plans.
"Through those efforts we hope that you will make the right decisions and you will feel that you have the tools that you need," Scott said.
The Secretary commended Washington County for its proactive stance on managing growth and commended Land Preservation Specialist Eric Seifarth for his role in the preservation effort.
"You have been an active participant in the MALPF (Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund) program," Scott said, "you have 24 applications in (Fiscal Year) 2007."
Scott said that the MALPF program has $82 million in funding for the current fiscal year, and Governor Ehrlich announced an additional $1.8 million of those funds for Washington County's preservation programs last week.
"You've done a great job," the Secretary said, "there are many Counties throughout this state where it's after the fact and they're trying to play catch-up."
Scott cited one Maryland County that may lose MALPF certification because it has over $18 million in preservation funds in a bank account, but has not purchased easements in three years. The key to a successful preservation program is not only in securing funding, but in spending the funds for land preservation easements.
"We could use some of your leadership, expertise and counseling in other parts of the state," the Secretary said
There will be an increase of 1.2 million Maryland residents over the next 20 years, and Maryland's planning goals call for proper infrastructure in place in growth areas.
"If you approve 100 new homes, we want to make sure the infrastructure to support that community, roads, water and sewer, schools and libraries, public facilities such as police and fire are all there in order to support that new population," Scott said.
The Secretary cited water resources, water quality and sewage treatment facilities as a "very important" part of infrastructure needs. New regulations from the Maryland Department of the Environment will be put into place soon, requiring planners and environmental regulators to work together .
House Bill 1141 was passed in the last legislative session and will require local governments to look at water needs and sewer capacity, treatment plant capabilities and annexation plans as part of the Comprehensive Planning process.
"I just want to make sure that if you are in the drivers' seat, you're making the decisions," Scott said, "and you're not reacting, that you're proactive, and that is the bottom line of planned growth. And we want to give you all the tools to do that."