Is This Smart Shopping?

May 03, 1994

When it comes to spending taxpayers' money, the Carroll County commissioners don't worry much about consistency. Last Thursday, for example, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy voted to move the county health department to a donated portable building to save money. That same day, without protest, they authorized payment of tens of thousands of dollars more than the appraised value to purchase 66 acres between Hampstead andManchester.

The inconsistency of these two actions is puzzling. In the first

instance, the commissioners are practicing their usual penny-pinching practices by looking for the least costly solution to house county departments. The health department, whose current building is being sold to Carroll County General Hospital, needs to relocate. Of all the possible sites, the commissioners made a point of choosing the option that is the least expensive, in the short run anyway.

Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy voted to place a 35,000-square-foot portable structure at the Carroll Community College's Business and Industry Center on South Center Street. Site preparation and movingthe building, which formerly housed Martin Marietta offices at Middle River Airport, will cost about $1.5 million. (This solution may also force the community college's retraining program to relocate, which may involve considerable expense.)

Contrast that with the commissioners' vote that same day to pay the estate of Agnes Josephine Stoffle $959,500 for 66 acres of land off Route 30 for a future high school site. The price was 7.3 percent more than was recommended by an appraiser retained by the county. Mr. Dell, who usually carefully scrutinizes every expenditure, dismissed a question about the inflated price. "I'm sure the land acquisition people negotiated the best deal they could get," he said.

If paying above the appraised price was the exception rather than the common practice, this explanation might even wash. But over the past four years, these commissioners have routinely paid hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the appraised prices for land. Why do these fiscal tightwads become spendthrifts when it comes to compensating landowners with taxpayers' money?

They certainly owe the citizens a better explanation than the ones they have been offering.

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