The charming, small town of Poolesville sits in the center of the Agricultural Reserve, a more than 93,000-acre green space that is the crown jewel for not just Montgomery County and the State of Maryland, but the entire Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The population and growth in the area are limited by design to preserve this thoughtfully protected green space amidst the metropolitan expanse.
But if you were sitting inside Poolesville Town Hall on Oct. 23, you wouldn’t know that. Despite the early hour on a weekday, every chair was filled and every wall was lined with residents who packed into a small-town chamber room to hear what the three candidates for Montgomery County Executive had to say.
It was a historic moment for the community, which often feels forgotten. Beginning just a few minutes before sunrise after a scenic drive through fields being harvested, all three candidates participated in the first county executive forum to be hosted in Western Montgomery County.
Democrat Marc Elrich, independent Nancy Floreen and Republican Robin Ficker shared their vision for the D.C. suburban county. The first round of questions covered topics from taxes and transportation to fair access to county services and educational facilities, like a new Poolesville High School. Some soft and some not so subtle reactions from the audience made it obvious that the residents of the Ag Reserve have been feeling a bit slighted and hope their vote for county executive is for a candidate that understands the equity gap in Western Montgomery County and will dedicate time and resources to repair it.
Though additional questions from the audience focused on current hot topics – like the placement of 5G cell towers near homes or schools – the theme of the day was fairness. Which candidate will ensure that Poolesville and its neighboring towns are given equal access to public health and safety services, and a modern high school? Which candidate will look past population density to see the underlying needs going unmet?
When questioned, all three candidates agreed in support of a new development concept called “collocation,” whereby the county would efficiently use its resources by locating a new high school with community services adjacent to it.
Collocation is an idea currently being researched by Montgomery County, Md. to meet the many needs of an area and its marginalized citizens by creating multi-use facilities. With that research ongoing, the Town of Poolesville and area citizens backed the formation of the Committee for Fair Access for Western Montgomery County.
This committee is unique. This group of parents and PTA members have municipal support to rally for a solution to the equity gap in the Ag Reserve. That solution is the proposed collocated facility on the current campus of Poolesville High School with a new Poolesville High, police substation, health clinic and community center to provide recreational and senior services.
There are a handful of organizations in the Ag Reserve trying to provide these lacking services with volunteers and limited funding. They’re stretched thin and need county support, but they’re not asking for more than their fair share. This community is asking for services readily available to residents in other areas of Montgomery County. A quick glance at a map would show you that Western Montgomery County is in a services desert.
It’s true that those who call the Ag Reserve our home chose to live in a quiet, rural community, but we are taxed the same as those who live in the cities and deserve the same police protection, access to transit and access to health services for all generations, especially those that are aging in place.
It’s only fair. Candidates Elrich, Ficker and Floreen agreed that our voices are being heard as the need for these services has become clear.
The historic political forum ended on this note: show up on November 6 and vote. Let your voice be heard.
No matter the issues or candidates you support, please vote! Western Montgomery County residents will be voting, will you?
Jim Brown is the town of Poolesville commissioner.