What you'll have to do to stay in Carroll County

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October 22, 1995|By Brian Sullam

BEGINNING NEXT year, any person or business moving into Carroll County will have to pass a fitness test that high-level county officials are now developing.

This test has nothing to do with physical characteristics, such as a person's percentage of body fat, or how many push-ups or sit-ups they can do, or miles they can run.

The test will focus on whether prospective residents have sufficient income and the proper family size. They will be asked how many books they borrow from the library, how often they picnic in public parks or play softball on public ballfields.

One part of the questionnaire will be devoted to driving habits and commuting patterns. People who rely on county roads will have to pay an extra fee when they register their cars.

The multi-department task force has been meeting in secret at the County Office Building in Westminster for the past several weeks in an effort to develop the standards by the end of the year.

Even though these standards are incomplete, county Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown has already inadvertently leaked a couple of the income standards.

CCIS vs. CCBSH

Families with between $45,000 and $55,000 looking for new homes had better look elsewhere if they are looking for moderately priced housing. This will be known as the Carroll County Income Standard (CCIS).

Carroll has no room for such freeloaders because they don't buy homes valuable enough to generate taxes that cover the cost of providing them with services.

The only people fit to live in the county are those who buy houses worth $250,000 or more, which will be known as the Carroll County Base Standard for Housing (CCBSH).

There is a real shortage of those people in Carroll, according to 1990 census data. Only 953 houses -- or 3.4 percent of the 28,023 in the county -- met the new stringent financial standards five years ago. County officials familiar with the data believe the current numbers are not much better.

The task force also determined that although 96.6 percent of the population doesn't meet the new housing value criteria, current residents can remain in the county. There is, however, a proviso that states if current residents want to move and remain county residents, they must move into houses that meet the CCBSH.

Standards for families with school-age children are equally tough. Financial analysts with the county education department have calculated that since the county's per pupil expenditure is about $2,400, families with more than one child will have to buy houses that cost more than $250,000.

For each additional child who needs schooling, the family residence will have to be worth at least $125,000 more than the $250,000 base price. In other words, if a family has three children, they will have to buy a house worth $500,000.

If a family with one child moves into a house worth $250,000, but has a second child after settling in the county, an annual surcharge of $2,400 will be imposed on their tax bill. Residents whose children graduate from high school get no credit.

The fitness test for businesses moving into the county will be even more stringent. Anyone earning less than $55,000 can't generate enough county taxes to meet the CCIS, so only businesses who pay all their employees who live in the county more than $55,000 will be allowed here.

Importing fast food help

Realizing that fast food restaurants, retail stores, manufacturers, warehouses and professional offices employ people who earn considerably less than Carroll's new standard, the task force has created an exception.

Businesses will be able to move into the county only if the lower-priced help are non-residents.

To enforce the law, all employers will be required to check the residency of their workers. Because federal law requires employers to check the citizenship or immigration status of their workers, the task force figured another question would not be an added burden.

County residents can fill only those positions that pay $55,000 or more.

If employers need lower-priced help, the businesses can import lower-priced labor from other counties and states. However, each of those imported employees will have to sign affidavits attesting that while they work in the county, they don't sleep in it.

If Carroll residents want to fill these lower-paid jobs, they will have to relocate outside the county. With the county's median income at about $48,700, a lot of residents will have to think about whether they can remain here.

Under this new policy, the majority of the county government employees will have to leave the county if they want to keep their jobs. The task force would like to put this policy into effect immediately, but there is one obstacle:

They can't figure out how to keep the current Board of Commissioners in office since they earn about $32,000 a man and cannot meet the county's new income standard.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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