Planners Urge Lopping 44% Of Building Project Budgets

December 29, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

The Carroll Planning and Zoning Commission recommends scaling back a once-ambitious construction program to reflect maintenance of facilities and a scattering of new projects considered top priority for fiscal 1993.

The planning commission trimmed $20.6 million -- or 44 percent -- from the $46.4 million in projects requested by county agencies, submitting its recommendation for a $25.8 million capital spending plan to the budget office this month.

In its report, the planning commission emphasized the need to defer projects and readjust priorities because revenues are projected tolag, the county might want to borrow less, and state financing is expected to decline for at least the next two fiscal years.

The county has struggled to establish and maintain a six-year construction program to catch up to increased demands for facilities from a growing population.

"The list of unfunded but needed capital projects is substantial and growing from year to year," the commission wrote.

Given current estimates for borrowing capacity and available cash fromtax revenues (only $1.4 million for fiscal 1993, down from $9.6 million in fiscal 1990), the capital program "will shrink even further over the next three years," advises the commission. If the program is curtailed, "it would have very serious implications to the county's ability to deliver and maintain public facilities."

Agency directorswere asked this year to limit their requests to projects considered "critical." They proposed half of the $91.7 million they requested for the current year, back before the recession.

The following are some of the projects requested for fiscal 1993, which begins July 1, that planners recommended deferring:

* $586,500 to begin work on anestimated $8.8 million library for the new Carroll Community Collegecampus in Westminster.

* $652,050 for Health Department branches in South Carroll, Taneytown and Hampstead/Manchester, and $125,000 for a $18.1 million central facility.

* $1.3 million for a recyclingfacility at Northern Landfill.

* $380,000 for modules at the cramped Emergency Operations Center and $819,550 for the upgrade of the county's outdated communications system.

* $208,500 for library system expansions planned for Sandymount and New Windsor.

* $4.6 million for a $6.2 million Westminster senior center.

* $2.3 million for roads -- a 38 percent reduction -- including $1 million for extending Obrecht Road to Route 32 in Sykesville.

* $4 million to expandMechanicsville Elementary School.

County Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said libraries and senior centers rank low in priority compared with schools, roads and other projects. A new police facility could be added to the program if the county decides to create its own force, he said.

The budget office and commissioners will reviewthe recommendations over the next five months. A capital spending plan will be adopted in May and take effect July 1.

"We have to waitand see where we wind up on state funding issues," said Management and Budget Director Steven D. Powell.

Capital budgets have averaged$39 million each of the last five years, reaching a high of $55.6 million in fiscal 1990, when the accelerated construction and expansionof five elementary schools was ordered to relieve overcrowding. The capital budget has not dropped below $26 million since fiscal 1987.

Planner recommended the commissioners develop a "contingency plan" outlining how to cope with increasing school enrollment in case the county can't afford to build all the new schools planned for the next five years. State financing is expected to decrease further. Five elementaries, two new middles and two new high schools are planned.

The commission recommended considering new ways to provide space and "rethinking how and where education is delivered."

Dell said schoolredistricting could be required for some areas.

"Just because thebudget is down doesn't mean more students won't keep coming," he said.

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