Local economy needs industrial growth, officials say

September 12, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Carroll County needs more industry. But how to attract it? And how to convince residents it's needed?

"How do we grow with grace?" Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown asked.

"We're about moving forward and maintaining a sense of who we are," said Carroll Budget Director Steven D. Powell.

Residential growth in Carroll has boomed in recent years, but industrial growth hasn't. Some residents say that's OK, but county and town officials who met Friday and yesterday said they want to convince residents that industrial growth is essential for a healthy economy.

"We need a financial base to keep this county viable and strong," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge. "We need a tax base that's going to be stable."

About 80 county and town officials and business people met at Carroll Community College for the third annual Town/County Conference. They discussed economic development and how the county determines whether public services are adequate.

"I'm really encouraged you're coming together and focusing on the fact that you've got to have industry for a growing economy," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md.

Throughout the United States, communities are realizing they can't survive with just a service-based economy, he said.

More industry will lessen the tax burden on residents, said Michael L. Burden, controller at Ridge Engineering Inc. in Hampstead and vice chairman of Carroll's Economic Development Commission. If residents have to carry the tax load, the county won't be able to avoid tax increases, he said.

Businesses use fewer services than residents, he said.

"An office doesn't send kids to school," said Richard W. Story, a former Carroll economic development director who recently was named director of the Howard County Office of Economic Development.

A 1992 study by the Carroll County Department of Management and Budget found that for every $1 in property tax revenue received from residential land use, the county spent $1.22 to provide services. For every $1 received from commercial and industrial uses, the county spent 55 cents for services.

"You want to increase where you're making money," Mr. Burden said.

Carroll's goal is to increase its commercial-industrial tax base from 14 percent to 17 percent by the year 2000.

The 3 percent increase would bring in $4.2 million more in taxes annually, Mr. Burden said.

Counties generally want 20 percent to 25 percent of their tax base to come from commercial and industrial properties, said John R. Sundergill, director of development for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

To attract business, Carroll and its towns must build sewer and water systems and roads on available industrial land, said William E. Jenne, administrator of the county's Office of Economic Development.

These improvements often are more important to companies than tax breaks, he said.

Mount Airy Mayor Gerald R. Johnson Jr. said the town is negotiating with BG&E to bring natural gas lines to town as an inducement for business.

Access to good roads is especially important, Mr. Jenne said. Carroll benefits from being close to several major roads, including Interstates 795 and 70, he said.

But the county suffers because no major road runs through it, such as I-95 in Harford County, said Walter L. Patton, a developer and broker with Kayne-Levin-Neilson-Bavar in Towson.

Hampstead Mayor C. Clinton Becker and Manchester Mayor Earl A.J. "Tim" Warehime Jr. said it's crucial for a bypass to be built around their towns to improve access to industrial land and ease traffic jams.

Most of Carroll's commercial and industrial growth will come from existing businesses, Mr. Jenne said.

"Growth in the future will come from the small entrepreneur," he said.

Kelly's Stationery Store in Westminster is a good example, said Thomas B. Beyard, the city planning and public works director. The business started on Main Street, expanded and moved to Carroll Plaza on Route 140, and later moved to the Englar Business Park when it needed even more space, he said.

Several town mayors said they need the county's help to attract business.

"Clearly, we can't do it alone," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.

Vernon Smith, director of school support services for the Carroll Board of Education, said school officials also are concerned about growth and watch closely to ensure adequate capacity.

School officials expect about 7,000 more students over the next 10 years, he said. Current enrollment is about 23,000.

Growth "is coming, ready or not," Mr. Smith said.

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