Linear foolishness Carroll County: Commissioners throw away park money in ill-conceived savings ploy.

April 17, 1996

CARROLL COUNTY'S commissioners will be hard-pressed to explain to voters how they threw away a $121,000 federal grant for a proposed linear park because they did not want to spend $20,000 -- after they had already spent $30,000 in county taxpayer money on consultant work for the project. It was a foolish decision that showed no grasp of governmental leadership or financial management. Their flimsy excuse of "no new spending" should be exposed for what it is: addle-brained cowardice.

All told, state and federal grants would pay $262,000 of the $360,000 cost of the 2.3-mile hiking-biking trail in Westminster. Carroll's remaining share would be mostly met through in-kind services of employees already on the county payroll; less than $20,000 would have been needed in cash. Land would have been donated by businesses. The annual maintenance cost is less than $4,000 a year.

What a bargain for a highly desired greenway that's been on the county's wish list for a decade. This open-space corridor had the backing of civic and recreation groups, and of people who have seen the dangers of using highways for jogging and cycling. Some landowners along the route objected, but these fears have not been realized in similar projects elsewhere. Ask Sykesville about its greenway trail.

No, in the end it was the "penny wise, pound foolish" judgment of Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell that the grant should be returned. That's a first in recent memory, unless you include when Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett eschewed emergency federal aid after the Blizzard of '93 with similarly bizarre logic. Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, the former Westminster mayor, voted in favor of the park.

The need for a property tax increase amid a fiscal crisis that projects a $5 million shortfall in the next budget is certainly cause for the commissioners' concern. They want to avoid "extras" while slashing existing services.

But this was not such a choice; most of the money was in hand, considerable effort and expense had already been laid out. The commissioners approved the plan last December. They could have looked for other funding sources for a "quality of life" project that would seem to be able to generate private support. Instead, they panicked and turned down the wrong trail.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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