Preserving farms is goal for this year

Officials also want to lower fees for new business development

Commissioners' priorities

Land protection project needs more money to reach 100,000 acres

January 07, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners gave the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce a preview yesterday of the goals they hope to accomplish this year, including farmland preservation and an expanded industrial tax base.

The three commissioners told a luncheon crowd at the Westminster fire hall that they would like to step up the pace of agricultural preservation. Commissioner Donald I. Dell, serving his third term, said tongue-in-cheek that he would like to issue bonds to pay for farmland protection.

"I think a lot more people would apply to the [program] if we had more money," Dell said.

Carroll's agricultural preservation program allows the county to buy development rights from farmers who want to continue working the land but need money for operating expenses. Since local leaders initiated the program in 1978, Carroll has preserved nearly 31,000 acres.

Board President Julia Walsh Gouge told the business group that the commissioners have set aside more than $4 million in the county budget for land preservation in fiscal 2000, which ends June 30, but said that additional funding is 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 protect that much farmland.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said she would like to see more businesses move to the county to increase the industrial tax base. But, she noted, Carroll's fees for commercial and industrial projects are higher than those levied for similar development in other counties.

"I don't think that's where we want to be," Frazier said.

Dell has suggested the county slash all fees for commercial and industrial building projects. It is an issue being studied by the county Department of Permits, Inspections and Review.

Frazier urged department head Ralph Green to "keep bringing up the issue" until the commissioners restructure the fee schedule.

Each of the commissioners spoke of the impact their administration has had on county government, most notably the reorganization of several agencies. The commissioners cleaned house in February, eliminating the Bureau of Environmental Services and streamlining several other departments. The changes, they said, have made county government more effective.

The commissioners said they plan to tackle planning issues in the months ahead and noted the allocation of nearly $3 million for road construction this fiscal year. The proposed road improvements would relieve traffic congestion in South Carroll and on Routes 30 and 140.

Plans for the Eldersburg area call for work on Obrecht Road and MacBeth Way and would divert traffic from the intersection of Routes 26 and 32.

Frazier said she also hopes to change zoning laws to allow county residents to create and rent in-law apartments to nonfamily members. Such an amendment would help meet the need for affordable housing in Carroll, she said.

The commissioners also plan to work on the proposed master plan, which would direct development to designated growth areas, set goals for preserving 100,000 acres of farmland and change the zoning designation of five properties totaling 223 acres to foster economic development.

Work on the plan -- the first revision since 1964 -- began in December 1995. The county planning commission approved the document in July 1998 and forwarded it to the former board of commissioners, which shelved it just before the election that year. The current board is reviewing the plan section by section.

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