Planning studies for the future Commissioners must weigh cost, staff load in hiring outside consultants.

June 19, 1996

THE COUNTY'S INTENSIFYING obsession with planning is taking on all shapes and forms: New interim development controls, master land use plan overhaul, countywide citizen wish lists, traffic route studies, adequate public facilities standards, "threshold goals" work teams. To say nothing of the routine work of the Carroll planning commission and zoning appeals board.

How to handle the demands for more planning study and analysis? Last week Commissioners Donald I. Dell and W. Benjamin Brown disagreed about a request from the county planning department to hire an outside consultant on financing needed public facilities. Mr. Dell wanted the eight-person county department to do the work, in concert with revising the master plan. Mr. Brown said outside expertise is required, because the staff is occupied with other projects.

Two months ago, the commissioners debated the same issue on a traffic study of the congested Freedom District corridor: do it in-house, or hire a consultant? They compro-mised by cutting the cost of the proposal 30 percent and farming out the study. In this case, prompt completion of the project was necessary to accelerate state spending on that area's highway construction.

As Carroll County deals with citizen demands for planned and regulated growth, and with fiscal demands to pay for facilities to support this growth, there will be greater pressures on the planning department staff. Unmanaged growth has led to many of the county's current problems, in the urban communities and in the rural areas. So it is expected that more outside specialized help may be needed.

At the same time, Carroll residents have just been hit with an 11.5 percent increase in the property tax rate, plus a piggyback-income-tax hike of 16 percent. They have good cause to question additional spending for outside studies, after being told that this year's budget was a bare-bones operation.

The commissioners need to look closely at each proposal for a planning consultant. Some will produce genuine cost savings for the county. Some studies are merely desirable, not essential. The commissioners must make decisions based on budget as well as staff wishes. Sometimes, the best plan is to do it yourself.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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