Cuts and clashes loom over '98 capital budget Planners have message for Commissioners

November 17, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Now that they have slashed departmental requests for funding in the fiscal 1998 capital budget, Planning and Zoning Commission members want a face-to-face meeting with the County Commissioners to punctuate their message.

They had hoped it would take place Thursday, when they are to send their final recommendations to the commissioners, but neither the commissioners nor county Budget Director Steven D. Powell will be present to receive them.

The planning panel will take a final look at its recommendations Thursday morning before making them official. If earlier votes remain unchanged, the panel will recommend an $84.8 million capital budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Department heads had asked for $100 million.

The planning commission is the first hurdle for department chiefs if their projects are to be included in the county's 1998 capital budget or in Carroll's five-year capital funding plan. Department heads asked for $475 million in their five-year plans, but the commission agreed to only $390 million.

The recommendations are designed to help the County Commissioners prepare next year's budget but are not binding.

"We're making recommendations -- not decisions -- and we need to be candid in those recommendations," commission member Robert H. Lennon said.

Cuts have become a way of indicating displeasure with the way projects were proposed or funding requested. Schools, roads, computer technology, and recreation took the biggest hits.

The county does not need new elementary and middle schools, Lennon said, because figures supplied by the school board indicate an excess of seats for those schools in the year 2000.

A majority of commission members agreed. They moved proposals for an $8.5 million Valley Elementary School, a $9.1 North Carroll Middle School renovation, and a $984,500 Sykesville Middle School media center addition out of the five-year plan altogether and into a new category, "future projects." Anything designated a future project would not be considered within the next six years.

The commission also followed Lennon's lead in delaying funding for a new $25.2 million Westminster High School at least a year. The school system had requested $945,000 in the coming budget and $22.7 million for fiscal 1999.

Lennon argued that the real need is in South Carroll. He proposed that the school board abandon the proposed site of a new high school in Westminster and look instead at expanding Liberty and South Carroll high schools.

Commission members Joseph H. Mettle of Sykesville and Grant S. Dannelly of Marriottsville unsuccessfully sought to delete $465,000 in relocatable classrooms from the school board request.

Mettle also disagreed with the proposal to redistrict middle and elementary school children rather than build new schools. Redistricting means busing, he said. "I don't like busing kids all over the county. The school board has done a poor job of locating schools, and if they get our drift, maybe they'll do a better job."

Cuts in other areas were also designed to send messages:

The road repair proposal for fiscal 1998 was cut 10 percent because members think the county should not sell municipal bonds to pay for repairs or resurfacing.

All computer requests were cut because the panel wants the county to channel requests for computers and computer equipment through an expert who would ensure new hardware and software was needed and compatible with existing equipment.

Virtually every utility building request was cut from the recreation department's proposal because commission members want standardized buildings that have a uniform cost per square foot.

After the commission finished its work at 10: 46 p.m. Thursday, Planning Director Philip J. Rovang recommended that they develop a cover letter outlining their concerns to the commissioners. Otherwise, it would be "just dropped on their desk with no meaning," Rovang said.

But Mettle said the commission had done that last year and nothing happened. He wanted this year to enter a dialogue with the commissioners about specific planning panel recommendations.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell has criticized the planning commission for overstepping its mission. But Commissioner Richard T. Yates, who sat in on the discussions but did not join in the debate or vote on the recommendations, said the panel had done a good job in setting the stage for the Commissioners to craft a budget.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said he too appreciated the FTC review done by the planning panel. "I'm always interested in hearing what they propose," he said. "Their role is advisory."

Pub Date: 11/17/96

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