Written By Lisa Breslin, Photos by: Walter Calahan
Steve Powell has worked for Carroll County government since 1985. In 2002, he became the Chief of Staff. In that role, he coordinates the flow of information and meetings with directors, state agencies, and other county and city officials. Born and raised on a farm in Taneytown, Steve Powell graduated from Francis Scott Key High School and attended Mount St. Mary’s College for one year. He earned his undergraduate degree in Political Science/Economics from Salem College. His graduate degree in Public Administration is from University of Virginia. Steve and his wife, Heather, live in the county with their children Evan and Alexandra.
What are three of the most rewarding aspects of your job over the last five years?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my role has been to work with Sylvia Canon, Lowell Haines and others in the formation of Human Services Programs (HSP). Carroll was struggling to find a way to effectively address the issues of homelessness within the strictures of state and federal funding requirements. We were able to create a non-profit organization and take advantage of funding streams to create men’s and women’s shelters.
During my tenure in the Budget Office, Carroll put in effect a debt affordability matrix and a six-year operating budget tied to the impacts of capital projects. Both were new to the concepts of public budgeting and both have contributed significantly to Carroll’s financial stability. These documents provided guidance that have allowed Carroll to achieve AAA bond ratings.
Last, I think Carroll has done a wonderful job navigating the pitfalls of the 2008 recession. The county has applied conservative revenue estimates, tracked fiscal trends, maintained services levels and even lowered taxes during some very turbulent financial times.
What are two of your challenges?
Carroll must address the need for a stronger employment base which increases the appropriately zoned land while recognizing the various community characters throughout our county. Residential development does not generate the revenue necessary to support the services it requires from education to fire and emergency services. The business community underwrites those services and must be expanded to ensure that our libraries, schools, parks and senior centers are available to future generations. Accomplishing this goal is not impossible, but will require everyone involved in the planning process to look beyond our current circumstances to the next 20 or 30 years.
Another significant challenge is the growing volume and complexity of environmental regulations. We must find answers to these issues that acknowledge and respect the need to pass along a viable world to our children, balanced against the impacts of these changes in a fragile worldwide economy. It is important that our goals be science-based as well as value-based. We must set priority to the tasks with the biggest environmental impact and the lowest cost first and then reassess our position. The current shotgun approach will diminish the very resources necessary to address the problems.
Who has influenced you?
My grandfather. He instilled a sense of personal responsibility, work ethic, love for the land, duty and love for family. He was also an exacting man, and when jobs were assigned, they were to be completed in the time and manner prescribed. And he could also be loving and understanding, qualities I hope to impart to my children
The other influential person is my wife, Heather. She constantly works with me to create a greater sense of balance between work and life. I married late in life, and by many standards, was very work-centered. And I enjoy coaching soccer and being involved in my childrens’ activities.
What book has influenced you?
Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. It speaks to a person’s spiritual self-exploration and his place and responsibility in society.
What are your favorite movies?
I go to movies to escape and simply enjoy myself. I really don’t want to be educated or informed when I’m sitting in the theater. I enjoy older movies such as The Magnificant Seven,
Young Guns, and other old Westerns.
What keeps you going when the job gets tough?
I have really enjoyed my role in county government. I awaken most days eager for the ups and downs of the day, and the challenges that lay ahead. There are always new issues and challenges to be addressed, and a wonderful work team to bounce ideas off. Carroll County is also my home. I grew up here and there is something deeply satisfying about working to keep the county strong.
Given the changes in the form of county government, most notably from a three-member board to a five-member board, what have been the problems and the benefits?
Citizens of Carroll changed the size of the board to five, elected by district, and that may serve us for some time. However, if Carroll really wants to be in charge of its own future, with greater self-direction, then I believe we will need to consider a charter form of government, as our neighboring county, Frederick, is doing right now. That form of government gives counties a “different seat at the table” in Annapolis when major policy changes are being discussed.
What do you think is the most challenging issue facing Carroll County over the next 10 years?
Balance. I think balance between maintaining our rural heritage and growing in a way to create a vibrant community. Balance between our need for a stronger commercial industrial base and citizen concerns related to that base. Balance between moving vehicles on our limited roadways, and the potentials of transit systems. Balancing the need for schools, libraries, recreation and parks, and our taxable base. I really think the next 10 years will require very direct conversations in Carroll about how to address these many issues.
What is your favorite way to unwind?
My favorite way to unwind is riding in a wooded area and listening to the footfalls of my horse.