County rejects trail project Commissioners vote to return grant for Westminster park

April 16, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Unwilling to invest $20,000 in a proposed $359,000 walking trail in Westminster, the county commissioners killed the project yesterday, voting to return a $121,373 federal grant.

The commissioners -- concerned about reaction to a proposed property tax increase -- voted 2-to-1 against the Westminster Linear Park, which supporters had sought for about 10 years.

"It is probably less than $20,000," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "The issue is another 25 cents on the tax rate, and it's enough already. It is a nice, pleasant walk, but we are talking about cutting some agencies to the bare bones."

Richard J. Soisson, director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said that his staff devoted hours to the grant application and that he has never had to give back grant money.

"It is unfortunate that we won't be taking advantage of the grant," he said. "But if we can't use it, somebody else will."

Grant money, including $141,000 in state Project Open Space money (which can be used for other projects) and nearly $100,000 in development fees would have paid for most of the construction of the 2.3-mile trail from the Westminster Community Pond to Bennett Cerf Memorial Park. All the project needed was a fraction of the cost from the county.

"Grants come from somebody's pocket," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates. "It's tax money that they call a grant."

The county receives about $3 million annually in federal and state grant money.

"Grants have meant millions in services here in Carroll County," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who cast his vote for the park. "We would never have ball fields and recreation without them."

Development fees, often as much as $12,000 for a new home in Carroll County, also come from somebody's pocket, said Mr. Dell.

The project comes at a time when the county is grappling with a $5 million shortfall, but the grant money is only available now and only for the park.

"This is the only county recreational project designed for anybody of any age and any ability," said Mr. Brown.

The county would provide in-kind services, mostly labor from its employees, to match the grant. Random House Inc. has offered to donate land to the project, which would have meant savings of $22,500 planned for land acquisition, Mr. Soisson said.

A few residents whose property would adjoin the park had opposed the project.

Mr. Dell criticized the cost estimates for the project and a $30,000 consultant's fee, which the county has already paid.

"Kids could lay that trail out," said Mr. Dell. "We certainly had professionals in Rec and Parks who could have done it. I am still disturbed we spent the consultant money before the project was approved."

Pub Date: 4/16/96

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