St. Mary's County commissioners pledged Tuesday to "get on the path" of building a new library for the town of Lexington Park, after the library task force recommended locating the facility at Nicolet Park.

That recommendation came after a second survey of county residents showed -- as an earlier one had -- that St. Mary's citizens would prefer one large library in Lexington Park and thought Nicolet Park was the best of three suggested sites.

"There's a pretty clear indication," task force member James S. Stirling said of the survey results.

County Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large) said she got the message: "I can assure you it's a high priority with this board to build a new library and get on to the next step of building." The commissioners have approved $3.5 million for library construction in the budget that takes effect July 1.

But the commissioners did not say when they will vote on the site recommendation.

Expansion at the existing site was ruled out because of the county's own zoning prohibitions in "no-fly" safety zones near the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The Lexington Park Library, in a 32-year-old building near the air station's main gate, is the smallest but the busiest in the county's three-library system.

The review of possible library sites briefly detoured this spring when the commissioners approved in April a plan to buy a 19-acre lot next to Great Mills High School and asked the library task force to include that site in the mix with Nicolet Park, the small, county-owned neighborhood park in Lexington Park, and an alternate site across from Lexington Park Elementary School.

During a public forum on Tuesday evening, just hours after the task force presented its final recommendations, many residents reaffirmed their support for keeping the library in Lexington Park.

But a few others expressed reservations about Lexington Park.

"I feel uncomfortable around the area of Lexington Park, especially in the evening. I don't feel safe," said Bob Boyd, a resident of St. Mary's City who said that he used to be a patron of the Lexington Park Library. "I think the survey didn't reach those of us who no longer use the library."

Still, library board trustee Mary Ann Chasen found reason to celebrate the fact that now "everyone is talking about a new library" when for 12 years the county's capital budget included plans for a new library -- but never an appropriation to pay for it.

Charles Ups Pay to Attract Teachers

Substitute teachers in Charles County can look forward to some good news when they go back to work in a few months. The Board of Education last week approved a pay increase for the county's public school substitutes, saying the raise is necessary for the schools to attract more candidates.

Like many systems across the country, Charles schools are facing a shortage of teachers -- substitutes and otherwise -- as the strong economy makes workers of all kinds scarce.

Under the new pay scale, Charles substitutes without a bachelor's degree will earn $45 or $55 a day, depending on the length of their assignment. That's up from $42 or $51 a day. Teachers who have college degrees will be paid $64 or $74 a day, compared with the old rates of $60 or $69 a day.

The school board also has decided that new instructors in St. Mary's County now will receive "relocation stipends" of up to $300. The stipends, which officials said will help combat a countywide teacher shortage, will go to teachers who must move to St. Mary's for their new job. The board approved the extra money at its June 9 meeting.

St. Mary's Looks Into the Future

What will St. Mary's County look like in two decades?

With a consultant's help, county commissioners and various department heads and community leaders are putting their heads together to come up with a strategic plan -- a vision of the county in the not-so-distant future. On Tuesday they listened to a presentation by "visioning" consultant Jo Anne Ellison.

"There are different approaches to strategic planning," Ellison said. "Where does the community want to be way out there, decades from now?"

Neighboring Charles County is asking the same question in its own current process, Ellison said, as are Frederick County and the City of Rockville.

Like a comprehensive plan for future development, the process looks at schools, parks, transportation, the environment and business. But a strategic plan also could include the arts, music or any aspect of a community, Ellison said. One key idea, she said, is to bring in ideas from many quarters of the community.

"There's quite a bit to think about," said Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large).

"We have short- and long-term needs and goals. We've already seen the results of not looking farther than the next year and that's why we're here," Randall said.