Setting capital budget priorities CARROLL COUNTY

February 15, 1993

If President Clinton's economic stimulus package contains federal grants to pay for local government construction programs, which public works projects in Carroll County should be funded? When U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski paid a visit to the commissioners last week, she got an earful of suggestions but little agreement on which proposals should be at the top of the list.

A number of large public works projects -- ranging from airport expansion to road building -- could benefit from federal funds. The problem is that the goals of the Clinton economic plan and those of county officials may be at cross-purposes.

President Clinton's economic advisers indicate they want to finance those public works projects that are in the final stages of planning and are ready for construction. Their intent is to give the economy a quick jolt to stimulate employment. While the commissioners understandably would like to see a drop in Carroll's unemployment rate of 6 percent, their primary interest seems to be in obtaining federal financing for pet capital improvement projects, many of which would have little immediate impact on job creation.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, for example, said he would like to obtain federal funding for an extension of Interstate 795 into Carroll County and construction of a waste-to-energy incinerator. Both projects are at the conceptual stage; it may be years before the first spade of dirt is actually turned.

What Carroll and many other counties in the nation need is money to fund essential capital improvement projects that have been postponed for years due to budget constraints.

In Carroll, for instance, a lack of money forced the planning commission to put off important projects such as needed improvements to the county's emergency radio system, an upgrade of the schools' computer system and an assortment of road re-constructions.

If there is to be a federal stimulus package, President Clinton and congressional lawmakers should fashion a program that doesn't negate the value of such smaller-scale capital projects. Most of these are ready to go and will satisfy the twin goals of stimulating employment and paying for local improvements that otherwise might have to wait years for funding.

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