Planners stand by budget proposal $89 million recommendation comes with message

December 04, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The Planning Commission clung to its earlier recommendations yesterday and voted to send the County Commissioners an $89 million capital budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The panel also sent along a four-page budget message aimed at getting the county to pay attention to concerns that the panel felt were ignored last year.

The letter is sharply critical of the way the county handles computer system requests, the design and construction of county buildings, and evaluation and acquisition of school sites.

The county's dependence on bond financing also was seen as a concern. The panel urged the commissioners to "move to a pay-as-you-go approach as quickly as possible" and limit the amount of borrowing to what is "absolutely necessary" for long-term capital projects such as road repairs and construction of schools.

The panel cut budget requests to underscore its concerns. Every computer request was rejected because no one person reviews the requests. The planners want a designated expert to oversee computer software and hardware requests.

"Without such an individual responsible for these matters, we are not confident that tax dollars are being wisely requested or spent," the panel said in its letter.

Similarly, the panel cut utility buildings requested by the Department of Recreation and Parks.

"We are concerned that there is a lack of uniformity in different

buildings requested for like users," members said in their letter.

They called for standard designs for all county buildings. If a department head complains that a standard design is not suitable, the panel wants "specific justification" for any variance.

The Planning Commission annually reviews projects that department heads want included in the county's capital budget or Carroll's five-year capital funding plan.

Department heads asked for $100 million for fiscal 1997, but the panel recommended only $89 million. They sought $475 million for their five-year plans, but the commission agreed to $391 million.

The County Commissioners are not bound by the recommendations.

The panel justified delaying funding 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, saying that "funding of the new schools requested would result in a county-wide over-capacity at the elementary and middle school levels."

The panel said it recommended delaying funding for a new $25.2 million Westminster High School because "it is more cost efficient to expand capacity at Liberty and South Carroll High Schools."

The panel criticized the school board for not doing a better job in site evaluation and acquisition. It said the recent discovery of rock beneath the surface of the proposed Westminster High School site and the failure to obtain easements for a school site are signs of a flawed process.

"When business buys land, you can bet the land is going to meet its needs," panel member Robert H. Lennon of Westminster said. "The county should do the same."

Panel members agreed. "We are generally concerned that the procedures for evaluating and acquiring school sites may not be adequate," they said in the letter. They recommended and sought a role in "a comprehensive review of those procedures."

Planning Director Philip J. Rovang sought unsuccessfully to have the panel amend its budget recommendation before its vote yesterday. Revenue estimates show that the county expects to have $2.7 million more for its next capital budget than the planning panel had proposed, he said.

Rovang recommended that the panel restore $989,229 cut from the road repair request, the $877,526 cut from the technology in schools proposal and the $984,500 sought for Sykesville Middle School media center. In addition, he asked the panel to include $180,000 for engineering, design and land acquisition for new Ladiesburg Road.

The panel rejected the recommendations. It voted 5-1 to send the budget proposal to the County Commissioners, with whom the panel will meet at 9 a.m. Dec. 17 to discuss the capital plan.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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