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(Enlarge) Tom Ferguson is set to step down this month as the mayor of Westminser. He was elected in May 2005, and prior to that served on the Common Council for one term. Westminster election for a new mayor is May 11. (File staff photo by June Lee)

Tom Ferguson describes himself as a proud native of Westminster.

Born and raised in the city, the 67-year-old spent only a few years outside city limits while serving in the military.

He has seen Westminster's population grow from 6,000 when he was a child to 18,000 now, and experienced first-hand the conveniences -- and inconveniences -- that growth brings.

For the past eight years, Ferguson has served his home town in public office, first as a councilman and now -- until this month's May 1 election -- as mayor.

This month marks the end of Ferguson's four-year mayoral term.

After some thought, he decided not to seek reelection, so his name will not appear on the ballot with the other four seeking his office.

"I really want to take time for myself and family," Ferguson said of his reason to not run.

Married for more than 40 years, Ferguson and his wife Sandy have two grown sons and several grandchildren -- all of them now out of Maryland.

"I know, for me, it is time to pack it in," Ferguson said. "It's time to do something else."

He cited memorable times as mayor -- from ribbon-cutting ceremonies to painting Easter eggs at child care centers -- but said he'll also miss working with the city's staff.

"There are parts of this I'll clearly miss," he said. "Ninety-five percent of the time, maybe more than that, has been a great experience."

"We have very talented, very qualified people working for the city," Ferguson added. "They are very dedicated. You need qualified people on staff who know what they're doing and can think outside of the box."

Fluid experience

Ferguson's term in office has been marked by the city's struggle with water resources.

Last year the Maryland Department of the Environment imposed building restrictions in Westminster until a plan was put in place outlining the city's ability to secure water in the event of a drought.

For the majority of Ferguson's reign as mayor, he, staff and the Common Council has had to design that plan, which included the building of the seven-mile-long Medford Quarry pipeline, the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant and cooperation with the county government to secure other possible sources for water.

"Water will continue to be an issue," he said. "This whole area, this whole region, is restrained in terms of growth because of water and how MDE ... issues permits for wells or whatever source," Ferguson said.

Water also dominated the city's budget during Ferguson's tenure, with more than $15 million needed to complete the pipeline and wastewater treatment plant.

And the water issues continues to "ripple" through the city -- last month the council approved a new, higher rate structure for water and sewer services. Residents had sought to get the increases delayed or phased in, but officials said the change was needed now.

Austere outlook

Even with the revenue boost from new water rates, Ferguson believes the city will have "tight budgets" over the next couple of years until the economy turns around.

"It will be a challenge for sure," he said. "You have to figure out what is the principle mission and focus on those things. Other things are nice to have and you want to have ... but look at the revenue resources.

"Citizens have to come to accept the fact that the government can't do everything, and what it does do costs money and has to be paid for," he added.

Ferguson has overseen the creation of a new, city administrator position within county government, but also implemented a cutback in hours of service for many city staffers. Since October 2008, city hall has been open only four days a week, Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The mayor also noted that the city's Web site is also being revamped; the new version is scheduled to debut in July - after Ferguson has left office.

Asked if he might attend council meetings in the future, the mayor admitted, "There will probably be that temptation. ... But when you're done, you're done."

That doesn't mean Ferguson is planning to go anywhere, however.

"Sandy and I are here for the duration," Ferguson said. "This is our home. It will be nice to have the freedom to pick up and (travel)."

Current council member and mayoral candidate Suzanne Albert said she appreciates Ferguson's legacy of service.

"I just find him as a true gentleman very willing to be supportive of his community," she said. "I think he is an excellent mayor and a role model for me to follow."

Ferguson says he only did his best.

"All of us have this little voice in us where you know whether you're doing your very best," Ferguson said. "You can't do more than you're best.

"I did my best."

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