Presentation of capital plan is delayed

Officials decide to wait until Feb. to compile more thorough list

November 26, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Carroll County officials have decided to delay presenting their six-year community investment plan to the county planning commission until February to offer a more finalized list of the buildings, roads and schools the county hopes to fund.

In past years, the commission reviewed the plan in November.

"My hope is that it will take some of the pressure off the commission, giving them a little more time to think things through," said county Planning Director Steven C. Horn.

County agencies send the county capital requests Sept. 1 and the Board of Education forwards its request Oct. 1 every year, said Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget.

With the county's adequate public facilities ordinance and increased requirements for water and school capacity, the November deadline didn't give the budget office enough time to prepare a thorough draft plan for the commission, Zaleski said.

"This buys us November, December and January to continue our work, which we would have continued anyway, but now they get the fruits of all our work," Zaleski said.

Then in January, the county will make its bonding authority request to the state delegation. There are numerous new community investment plan requests for the fiscal years 2008 through 2013, according to Zaleski's office. The fiscal year begins July 1.

For the first time, $49 million is requested for a multi-story, 102,500-square-foot human services building complex that would house the county Department of Citizen Services, the county Health Department and the Department of Social Services.

Both Larry L. Leitch, the county's health officer, and Jolene Sullivan, county director of citizens services, said all the agencies would benefit from working under one roof. Since the Department of Social Services and the Health Department are state agencies, state funds are expected to be available.

"We'd even like to get the local office of Social Security in there," Leitch said. "Ideally, we could get everybody together, from the federal, state and local level."

Residents who don't drive would particularly benefit from the consolidation of services, Sullivan said.

The bulk of the Board of Education's capital requests for next year are for populous and growing South Carroll. Zaleski said there are three major projects to modernize existing schools: South Carroll High School, Mount Airy Middle School and West Middle School.

Together, the projects could cost about $150 million, Zaleski said. The South Carroll High School renovations could include the much-discussed need to build a fine arts addition and auditorium at the school, he added.

There's always a tension between modernization versus new school construction, Zaleski said.

"If we can take a building that we've had for 40 to 50 years and fix it up for another 40 to 50 years, that's generally preferable to building a new school," Zaleski said. "But when we're faced with the need to provide new seats, it's generally difficult to say we're not going to deal with capacity."

Providing sufficient classroom capacity -- making enough room for all the students expected to enroll -- has become the school system's chief priority in recent years.

Soaring construction costs are also affecting school projects, Zaleski said.

He said the county is also struggling to keep pace with the rising value of farmland it hopes to preserve.

About $10 million a year has been allocated to agricultural preservation recently, and that should continue, he said. Other county requests include a $6.1 million parking garage at the county government complex on Center Street.

"Anyone who comes in here regularly would probably not argue with the need for additional parking," Zaleski said. "But can we take that money from other things to do it?"

Ultimately, county revenues and state funds will determine the fate of each requested project.

"Our starting point and finishing point has to be, what are the resources we have available?" Zaleski said. "It's not about how much we cut from people's requests."

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