Time to Redo Economic Development

May 12, 1994

For nearly two years, Carroll County's economic development office has lacked a full-time director, and it shows. During a period when other Baltimore metropolitan counties have been landing large projects, Carroll, by comparison, has little to show in the way of new enterprises or expansion of existing businesses. Economic development in the county deserves much more attention than it has been receiving.

Without business and commercial growth, Carroll's homeowners are living on borrowed time. Property taxes provide about half of the revenue for the county government's budget, but most homeowners don't pay their way. For every dollar of property tax they pay, residential taxpayers require $1.22 in services, according to the county budget office. Commercial and business taxpayers, on the other hand, more than pay their way. For every dollar they pay, businesses and stores require about 85 cents' worth of county services.

To build a balanced property tax base, most experts on local government finance believe business, commercial and industrial properties should comprise about 25 percent of the jurisdiction's totaltaxable property. At present, Carroll's business property base is at about 15 percent. To maintain the current level of services while accommodating residential growth, this portion of Carroll's tax base must grow. If it doesn't, homeowners and farmers face the prospect of a much higher property tax rate in the future.

With the recent resignation of economic development administrator William Jenne, the county has a decimated economic development office that needs rebuilding. The time has come to appoint a full-time director and give that person full authority over the county's business development initiatives and programs. The current arrangement of having the commissioners' executive assistant oversee economic development telegraphs a signal that job growth isn't important enough to merit the undivided attention of a department head. That is the wrong message to send to existing and prospective businesses.

Retaining current companies and attracting new ones should be among the top priorities of this government. The commissioners should give the county's economic development office the appropriate resources the task demands.

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