Ruling from the Twilight Zone

January 16, 1995

The businessmen and women attending the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the "State of the County" last week must have thought they were serving as extras on an episode of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone." The suggestions offered by the commissioners for managing and financing the county's growth were at such variance with reality that many in the audience must have been left wondering if they had been transported to a strange world where the normal rules of logic, economics and development no longer apply.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who opened his remarks with a joke more appropriate for a stag dinner, was the first to head off in a bizarre direction. In discussing the problems of managing growth, he launched into an analysis of housing insulation with the suggestion that building inspectors should not only concern themselves with health and safety issues but also with the quality of construction. Many in the audience found this advocacy of more government regulation contradictory to Mr. Yates' campaign position to shrink local government.

He then veered into an arcane discussion of split water, black water and Swedish dry septic systems. Why? Because he wanted to make a case for increasing the amount of residential development outside the master plan's growth areas. Let's move some of this residential growth into rural areas, Mr. Yates said. After the meeting, Mr. Yates denied his suggestion would increase sprawl, which flies in the face of experience by professional planners and government officials across this country.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown also picked up on this spirit of unreality. As he did in his campaign, he argued that development impact fees need to be raised to fund public infrastructure. It would be nice to have new development pay for itself, but fundamental laws of mathematics would have to be repealed first.

Even if the fees are doubled, as Mr. Brown wants, they would raise about $6 million, based on last year's volume -- enough to build maybe half of one middle school. The county needs nine new schools by the end of this century.

Unless the county enters some new dimension of time and space, the commissioners' ideas leave much to be desired.

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