Board's changes raise fears

Commissioners cut department, combine others to streamline

February 26, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners' attempt to streamline government by eliminating one department and consolidating several others has raised concerns of environmentalists and transportation planners who fear the changes will detract from the quality of life in Carroll.

The three-member Board of County Commissioners announced Wednesday that they were slashing the bureau of environmental services and restructuring the department of planning, and cutting two transportation planners, the county's commuter coordinator and three management positions. The changes took effect yesterday.

"I don't see how eliminating the transportation planning section is going to streamline development," said Janet Gregor, one of the transportation planners who were laid off Wednesday. "The comprehensive planning staff was overworked. It's hard for me to understand how already overworked people can take on more responsibilities."

The commissioners' actions mean the planning department will concentrate on comprehensive planning. The planners will be responsible for all aspects of their assigned geographic areas, including transportation issues.

In the past, planners had fragmented responsibilities. Some dealt with planning and policy issues, while others focused on development review, permits and inspections, or zoning matters.

"My biggest concern is not the short-term impact of these changes," said Gregor. "It's the long-term effect. The quality of life in this county may be compromised. If development is not properly managed, we run up the cost of providing schools and other services. Taxpayers must bear the cost of road improvements and endure increased traffic congestion."

The shake-up in county government could foster residential and commercial growth, Gregor said, "but not industrial development, the type that is going to create good, substantial jobs." Industrial sites provide slightly less than 12 percent of Carroll's tax base, the lowest business-to-residential ratio in the region.

Road projects

Gregor said she also fears that the changes might adversely affect Carroll's ability to complete planned road projects that require federal funding, including the Hampstead bypass and improvements to several South Carroll streets, notably Route 32.

"In order to receive federal funding for road and bridge projects, the county must be active in Baltimore Metropolitan Council programs," said Gregor. "Involvement in those programs takes a great deal of time. I don't know how the comprehensive planners, given the very busy schedules they already had, will have the time to do what is necessary to meet the county's obligations to the regional planning process."

Thomas Hiltz, a member of the county planning commission, said the reorganization might affect the commission's ability to complete several plans in a timely fashion.

`There could be delays'

"It remains unseen how it affects all the irons we have in the fire," Hiltz said. "There could be delays, or some projects may drop off the priority list, particularly the Finksburg plan and resolving the Freedom plan. The commissioners have had no meaningful dialogue on the proposed county master plan. There were already a lot of uncertainties, and the reorganization made things even more uncertain."

Steven Horn, the county's new planning director, said that "anytime there is a reorganization, there is a transition period. The commissioners' intent is that the reorganization will result in more efficient service to the citizens and greater attention to policy and planning documents. With that said, we must remember that the commissioners are about to tackle the budget, so it may be some time before these projects are given consideration."

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said, "This board is very interested in transportation planning. Steve Horn, who was the bureau chief in charge of transportation planning, had everything to do with the reorganization of the planning department. In fact, he made most of the recommendations."

Horn said one of his recommendations was a more comprehensive look at transportation issues. "We need to consider transportation projects in terms of their interrelationship with other issues, such as land use and economic development activities," he said.

County spokeswoman Maggy MacPherson said the planning department's new focus will aid development efforts. "Many, many of our efforts are tied to promoting economic development, both industrial and commercial," she said. "The reorganization makes the overall function of the planning department much more succinct. That should benefit the entire process."

The reorganization also has drawn criticism from environmentalists, who fear that the elimination of the bureau of environmental services will make it difficult for county officials to protect Carroll's open spaces.

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