Commissioners Vote for Metro Designation 'Under Duress'

By Guy Leonard, The County Times

The County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—The Board of County Commissioners have spent the past year trying to contact state and federal transportation agencies to find ways to avoid signing onto a pact that designates much of the Lexington Park Development District and parts of Southern Calvert County as a federally mandated transportation planning zone.

Their efforts failed; Tuesday, Dec. 10, the commissioners voted to become part of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) required by the U.S. Census Bureau and the federal Department of Transportation on pain of losing transportation dollars.

“I just want to say for the record this motion was made under duress,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R-Golden Beach).

Commissioner Todd Morgan (R-Lexington Park) slammed the requirement to join the MPO as a mere contrivance of the federal government for purposes of pushing more control down on local governments.

“I’m vehemently opposed to this,” Morgan said. “This is one of the most ridiculously gerrymandered maps I’ve ever seen.

“It’s pure blackmail.” According to the federal government the combined communities of Southern Calvert and here in St. Mary’s in the development district have the population density to be considered a priority transportation planning center. This means the counties are compelled to cooperate together on transportation planning and improvements in the long-term.

Elected leaders here protested because to create the area envisioned in the planning area the base at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, which does not abide by local transportation dictates, was included as was Chesapeake Ranch Estates in Lusby which receives no funding for its own road maintenance because it is a private community.

Commissioner Cindy Jones (R-Valley Lee) likened the actions of the federal government to putting “a gun to the head of local officials” by threatening to cut off funding for transportation projects.

County staff showed how the federal government had already been withholding funds in anticipation that the county would sign on to the agreement. Public works Director George Erichsen said that since July the county has been spending money to keep the public bus system — the STS — running but without the promise of reimbursement from federal and state sources it has long depended on.

Of the $3.9 million budgeted for the STS system the county had applied for grants from the federal government, some of which passed through the state government, but had been rebuffed. Erichsen said the federal government had withheld about $1.35 million in STS funding until the agreement had been signed.

“They returned our requests for reimbursements unfulfilled,” Erichsen said.

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