Conservation post could be in jeopardy


Carroll's commissioners may be backing off from their pledge to retain a forest conservation program manager on staff.

Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates said they would fill the position after Neil M. Ridgely, the county's first landscape and forest conservation program manager, resigned in January.

Now, however, Mr. Yates and Commissioner Donald I. Dell have voted to add the position to a list of possible budget-cut targets.

The job involves working with developers to assure that the fewest possible trees are cut down for subdivisions, commercial or industrial projects, and reviewing developers' plans to replace and add trees to meet county forest conservation ordinance requirements.

"The tight budget situation we're in, we're viewing any cost savings we can, and if we don't have to fill that job, we won't," Mr. Yates said.

Mr. Ridgely was paid $32,721 a year. The county's total operating budget is slightly more than $144 million.

Mr. Brown said he plans to rely on Mr. Yates' past votes in favor of retaining the position.

"I think we will fill the position," he said. "To do anything else sends a message that we don't care about the environment in Carroll County."

Mr. Dell would like the job abolished. He suggested contracting the reviews out to private engineers or landscapers if a backlog developed as other county staff members added forest plan reviews to their existing jobs.

Conflicts of interest could occur in contracting the work privately, Mr. Dell said.

"I don't know that we'd have to be selective, but whoever made application to do reviews for us would have to excuse themselves in certain areas or at certain times," he said.

Mr. Brown said Mr. Dell has made a series of proposals related to the job, starting with a suggestion to fire Mr. Ridgely when the new board took office in December. Mr. Brown and Mr. Yates refused.

Mr. Ridgely ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner in the 1994 election. He advocated the forest conservation ordinance. Mr. Dell opposed it.

When the county personnel director asked for authorization to fill Mr. Ridgely's job last month, Mr. Brown said he cast the only "yes" vote.

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