Surplus may go toward roads School construction, land preservation among other ideas

December 27, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

In Eldersburg, roads -- some so congested that motorists must wait through two lights before crossing the area's main intersection -- would be improved to ease the traffic crunch.

In the Little Pipe Creek watershed, 35,000 acreson the county's western edge, hundreds of acres of farmland would be protected.

In South Carroll, the county would help pay for a new $28.5 million high school without borrowing a cent.

Sound like a holiday wish list? It is, but with a $9.4 million surplus in the county coffers, some of those wishes may come true.

"Our top three priorities are roads, schools and agricultural preservation," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "I am especially interested in looking at the county road systems and seeing what connections can be made to relieve traffic on those roads."

Proposed road improvements in Eldersburg would divert traffic from the intersection of Routes 26 and 32, an area traffic experts believe will have major delays in the next few years.

At peak hours, motorists often wait through two lights at that intersection. Daily traffic counts reach 34,000 vehicles on Route 26 and exceed 21,000 on Route 32, a road many use to commute to Columbia and Interstates 70 and 95.

"What the planning commission has recommended, and I strongly endorse it, is that emphasis be given to new road construction projects that will help complete road systems to alleviate traffic congestion in that area," said Philip J. Rovang, the county planning director, noting planned improvements to Obrecht Road and MacBeth Way.

A 20-year wait

"We've been waiting, in some cases for as many as 20 years, for developers to build those roads," he said. "In some cases we've been successful, but in others we were not even partially successful."

About half of the $9.4 million surplus will be saved, said county Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman. A portion of the remaining $4.7 million may be used to pay off bonds, but most of it will likely be spent on capital improvement projects.

'One-time deal'

It is expected that none of the money will be used to hire employees or create programs that would require future funding, Curfman said, because the surplus is a "one-time deal."

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Julia Walsh Gouge said they would like to use some of the money to preserve agricultural land, especially in the Little Pipe Creek watershed.

Carroll's agriculture preservation program allows the county to purchase development rights from farmers who want to continue working the land but need money for operating costs.

Since it began the program in 1978, Carroll has preserved nearly 29,000 acres.

The previous board of commissioners dedicated $2.2 million to preservation in the county budget this year, but additional funds are needed if Carroll is to reach its goal of protecting 100,000 acres by 2020.

At current funding levels, it would take about 35 years to preserve that much farmland.

Farmland preservation

"We could protect a lot of farmland with this money," Dell said.

During a recent meeting with Curfman, the commissioners also discussed using the surplus money to pay for school construction.

The current six-year capital improvement plan calls for the county to issue bonds to pay for a $28.5 million South Carroll high school.

Curfman and Steven D. Powell, the county's director of finance, will make recommendations to the commissioners on how to spend the surplus money after the holidays.

The commissioners are expected to make a final decision in March, when they adopt a new capital improvement plan.

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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