2 Democrats want newcomers to pay Commissioner candidates tackle issue of growth CAMPAIGN 1994

October 23, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Two of the three Democratic candidates for Carroll County commissioner said people who move to the county should pay more to help provide the schools, roads and other services they demand. The third Democrat said her opponents' solutions for handling growth are too simple.

Many people are moving to Carroll County to get away from the pressures of more populated areas, such as crowded schools and traffic jams. But the problems have followed them here, and residents are asking the commissioner candidates how they would curb growth.

Three Republican candidates also are in the race. The top three vote-getters overall will be elected Nov. 8.

The Democratic candidates are incumbent Elmer C. Lippy, 74, a former Manchester mayor who is seeking a second term as commissioner; Westminster City Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein, 52; and former Carroll County Sheriff Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh, 67, of Westminster.

Mr. Lippy and Mr. Sensabaugh advocate increasing the county impact fee to raise money to build schools and expand other services. The fee is charged to builders and dedicated to schools, parks and water projects. Builders pass the fee on to home buyers.

Raising the fee would take some of the burden off current residents and might even slow growth by increasing the price of new homes, Mr. Sensabaugh said.

"It should not be up to the general public to pay for those facilities," he said. "Growth ought to pay for itself. We've got to have some revenue coming in besides tax dollars."

An outside consultant has advised county officials that they could justify raising the impact fee to $5,100 from $2,700. Mr. Lippy was the only commissioner willing to do so this year.

The commissioners shied away from raising the fee, in part, because developers oppose it, Mr. Lippy said. The fee has always been a political issue, he said.

The fee raises about $3 million per year. It is not a major revenue source for the county and its proceeds would not pay for a new school. A new elementary school costs about $7 million; a new middle school costs about $12 million.

But raising the fee would generate more revenue, which would enable the county to borrow more money to pay up-front to build schools, Mr. Sensabaugh said.

Ms. Orenstein said the commissioners should consider raising the impact fee because the consultant has recommended an increase, but that move alone will not solve the problems.

No simple answers

"I feel nervous when I hear my opponents give a simple answer," she said. "People should be looking for a candidate who recognizes it is a complex issue, who has the courage to address the issues and will act incisively.

"I don't have all the answers on how to pay for all of this," she said. "I think we pay enough taxes."

Westminster has handled growth better than the county, said Ms. Orenstein, who is in her first term on the City Council. She said city officials have tried to appoint a broad base of citizens to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which reviews plans for new developments.

She said some appointments to the county Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals have been too political, although she would not give an example.

Ms. Orenstein said residents with no political ties or agendas should be appointed to planning boards.

"I rely on citizens to help me," she said.

Ms. Orenstein said she wants to review the county's master plan, which was developed in the late 1960s. The plan outlines zoning throughout the county, limits development in agriculture districts and calls for clustering new residential development around the county's eight towns.

The plan has not halted sprawl in the agricultural districts, and its authors may not have foreseen the "explosive growth" of the past 20 years, she said.

"The master plan should be a living document. Are we doing the most responsible thing to assure the quality of life for the people in Carroll County?"

Ms. Orenstein said she would like to establish a commission with members from municipal government, business, academia and other areas to study the plan.

She also said she would like to develop a growth policy that would allow services to keep pace with growth. County planners have population projections and other information that would allow the county to plan.

"Why do we always have to be in a reactive phase? Growth is coming to us."

For now, the county should pay up-front to build schools. Current low interest rates and the county's excellent bond rating make it a good time to borrow money, she said.

Builders should be involved in the process of finding ways to control growth, she said.

Mr. Lippy said the county could better deal with growth by strengthening its adequate-facility law to trigger building moratoriums when schools become crowded.

Currently, the law suggests guidelines, but doesn't call for mandatory moratoriums.

Also, state law says only the Planning Commission may impose a moratorium. Mr. Lippy said it might be more effective if the commissioners could do so.

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