Reviewing development plans Carroll County: Hit by fee increases, towns look elsewhere for expert assistance.

September 17, 1996

CONSOLIDATION OF services does not always produce efficiencies of scale. A case in point: The review of municipal subdivision plans by the Carroll County government.

Hit by sharply higher charges from the county this summer, towns are looking for other, cheaper ways to make sure their new developments meet laws and codes. The county's fees aren't shouldered by the towns, but they are passed along to new homeowners, raising housing costs and affecting growth.

While town leaders accept the need for some fee increases, they are concerned about the magnitude of the new increases -- from $40 to $700 per unit. This comes on top of the $1,700 increase in per-unit development impact fees the county enacted last year.

The municipalities are exploring hiring their own engineers and consultants, or using limited county services for subdivision reviews.

Union Bridge was the first to take action, as it pondered a potential 320-unit development that would double the town's population. Committed to an affordable housing subdivision, Union Bridge officials saw the higher county fees as a hurdle. They're hoping to hire an engineering consultant jointly with Taneytown and New Windsor.

In addition to higher costs, duplication of services between town and county in the review process is at issue. Towns have to do some of the things they pay the county for. And there's the problem of decentralized county agencies dealing with various aspects of the plan, raising the cost of coordination.

Meantime, the mayors are analyzing the costs and time involved in review of a Taneytown subdivision plan by outside consulting engineers. The findings may prove enlightening, for the towns and the county.

While all the towns dislike the fee increases, some are reluctant to abandon an established, reliable review process for new, cheaper measures. Experienced county staffers may be worth extra money, town officials admit.

The challenge is for the county to find ways to cut costs and streamline the process, even as it argues that it has lost money on past reviews for the towns. It is better for all if the development reviews are consistent, as long as the price is right.

Pub date: 09/17/96

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