Freely Spending the Public's Money CARROLL COUNTY

December 15, 1992

By agreeing to pay $165,000 more than the appraised price for Pauline Byers Shaffer's farm, the Carroll County commissioners have set a bad precedent, as Commissioner Julia W. Gouge pointed out in opposing the transaction.

Mrs. Shaffer's 104-acre farm -- which has been in her family for five generations -- is adjacent to the Carroll County Regional Airport. A portion of the farm -- about 32 acres -- was needed for a planned extension of the runway. As time passed, the airport plans have been revised and the proposed runway realigned. County officials also decided it made sense to buy the entire farm.

The appraised price for the farm was $685,000, but Mrs. Shaffer refused to sell at that price. Rather than have a court set the price, the commissioners decided to negotiate a deal. Commissioner Donald I. Dell bargained on behalf of the county and came up with an agreement calling for the county to pay $850,000, or 24 percent more than the land's appraised value.

The county will not bear all the costs of buying the farm. The Federal Aviation Administration will pay for 90 percent of its appraised value and the state government will pay for 5 percent. The county is responsible for the remaining 5 percent -- and any amount over the appraised value.

Carroll's commissioners are normally penny-pinchers. They refused to send Mrs. Gouge to a New York meeting this fall to save less than $1,000. But when it comes to acquiring agriculturally zoned land, they become spendthrifts.

Mr. Dell has made it very clear that he is trying to help farmers recover what he considers lost equity when the zoning code was changed in 1978. Under the old zoning, farmers could build one house per acre. Now, agricultural zoning allows only one house for every 20 acres.

Mr. Dell may feel that his fellow farmers were treated unfairly because of the zoning change. Trying to rectify this perceived injustice by using public money is inappropriate. The county is favoring one class of land owner over another.

The people of Carroll County would be much better served if the commissioners paid the appraised value or the value set by a court. By doing otherwise, the commissioners can be criticized for squandering scarce public money.

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