Unlike the federal government, which has mortgaged its future by borrowing beyond the nation's means, Carroll government may be in the process of starving the county's future.
Next year's proposed budget of $32.6 million for capital improvement projects is about $9 million more than was budgeted this year, but may still be insufficient to keep up with the county's needs.
There is a difference between frugality and neglect. The results of repeatedly delaying projects are no more evident than in South Carroll, where overcrowding at Sykesville Middle School threatens to get worse in the next few years. Twenty years ago, plans were being made to build a second middle school, but shortsightedness eventually killed that project. Teachers, parents and children, sitting in inadequate portable classrooms, are shouldering the consequences of that delay.
In fact, the county Planning Commission has called for a contingency plan for school overcrowding over the past two years -- with little response. Such a plan, the commission has suggested, should detail "how [the county] will cope in the next four or five years in the likely event that it cannot afford to build all the new schools that will be needed."
Not only is school construction far behind, but road projects are as well. Major road improvements and bridge repairs have been deferred repeatedly. Other projects, such as upgrading the county's emergency radio system, have also been put off.
Carroll has reached the point where serious thought should be given to increasing the amount of money available for capital improvements. The county has considerable unused borrowing capacity. It could issue more bonds without jeopardizing its solid bond rating. If the county raised the piggyback income tax from its current 50 percent level -- while maintaining the lowest property tax rate in the Baltimore metropolitan area -- it could also continue its traditional "pay as you go" financing of public works and service more debt.
Interest rates are historically low, so it would make sense for the county to embark now on projects that have been too long deferred.
Increasing the debt load would also ensure that future generations pay for today's capital improvements that they will be using and enjoying for years to come.