Planning Commission starts streamlined review process Budget staff screens capital requests first

November 13, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

In what officials hope will be a streamlined process, the county Planning Commission began reviewing a list of capital projects yesterday that if approved would total $41 million for the next fiscal year -- $10.5 million less than Carroll County will spend on large projects this year.

The requests are part of a $344 million package of items that county government department chiefs want included in Carroll's capital budget over the next six years

In the past, the Planning Commission was the first hurdle department heads had to clear to get a favorite project into the capital budget. But this year, the county management and budget staff scanned the requests first and trimmed them by 10.5 percent before sending them to the commission for approval.

"This is not the final product," Budget Supervisor Ted Zaleski told the Planning Commission. "But is it certainly a good indication of what the final product will be."

The proposal "reflects what we think are the County Commissioners' views" on capital spending, Zaleski said.

Under the revised format, the planning panel's role yesterday was similar to a budgetary appeals board. The school system, volunteer fire service, community college and library asked the panel to help restore cut projects.

The $18.2 million Board of Education request -- which amounts to 44 percent of the fiscal 1999 proposal -- is $2.7 million less than school officials want.

The cut was a surprise, said C. Vernon Smith, director of school support services, because the budget recommendations "were developed after the County Commissioners and the Board of Education met in June."

Smith said he had not seen the budget draft until Monday and that the board has not altered its original request. "We have a lot of questions and we need to understand how [the budget department] came up with these numbers," he said.

Zaleski said the draft budget calls for full funding within six years of every school the board requested, but that the timetable for releasing the money is different. The school board is more optimistic that the county budget office about the amount of state funding Carroll will receive, he said.

School officials are looking to the county to underwrite "forward funding" -- a procedure in which the county pays for a school now in hopes that it will be reimbursed by the state later, Zaleski said. "But for the most part, we're not forward funding; we're building schools" and the draft budget reflects that, he said.

Representatives of the volunteer fire service asked the Planning Commission to restore $122,302 for a training pool that they say is needed to teach firefighters how to control liquid spills though the deployment of booms, dikes and absorbent materials.

Carroll Community College President Joseph Shields sought restoration of $100,000 that would enable the college to replace a third of its computers every year. The college has asked for $300,000 in the draft budget, but the request was trimmed to $200,000.

If the cut stays, the college would have to set up a four-year rotation -- which Shields said is too long when replacing computers.

"We're faced with the rapidity of change," Shields said. Computer programs used to last three to four years, he said, "but they are becoming obsolete every 18 months."

Upgrades are essential, Shields said, because the college provides computer training for much of Carroll's work force, and their employers expect them to be conversant with the latest technology.

Library Director Linda Mielke found it a mystery that a $1.8 million project to transfer the library headquarters from the Westminster Airpark to the old Westminster post office was changed in a way that none of the principals want.

Mielke envisions the county buying the post office building and putting the library headquarters there along with the county government cable television operation.

But the project was rewritten as a $3 million renovation of New Windsor Middle School as a library headquarters and the site of the Board of Education's Alternative Education program, now based at the business park next to the county airport. Neither the library nor Board of Education wants to use the New Windsor Middle School in this way.

Each year, the commission reviews school, roads, water and sewer, and other major projects before their inclusion in the capital budget to ensure that they conform to the master plan used to guide the county's growth.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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