Baltimore Sun’s BEST party in 2 weeks

Abolition of hearings office urged County audit cites delays, high costs


Carroll County charges too little, takes too long and spends too much money to handle zoning appeals and liquor license issues, according to a county audit completed recently.

The audit recommends the elimination of the Office of Administrative Hearings as the principal way to cure "inefficient processes and procedures."

By slashing the office -- with an annual budget of $89,000 -- and turning its unctions over to the county attorney's office, Carroll could save more than $50,000 a year, the audit said.

The recommendation, which the county commissioners are considering, would cost Jim Norvell his job as administrator of the office.

Mr. Norvell, whose salary is about $45,000, declined to comment on the audit or its recommendations.

A spokeswoman for the county commissioners said they had read the audit but are still deciding which, if any, of its recommendations to implement.

The Office of Administrative Hearings handles clerical and technical aspects of cases before the Board of Zoning Appeals and Board of License Commissioners.

According to the audit, the office is an inefficient operation that spends too much time processing Liquor Board and Zoning Appeal cases. Public notices are often "unnecessary and lengthy," decision letters too wordy, schedules are inflexible, and liquor license renewals are done inefficiently, the audit said.

The office takes too long (an average of 47 days) to complete cases, the audit said.

The audit said wording on public notices could be condensed, schedules could be loosened to allow last-minute applicants the chance to be heard and that form letters could replace wordy, individually crafted decision notices.

The audit also said fees charged for zoning cases and liquor licenses are among the lowest in the region and amount to only a fraction of the costs incurred by the county.

The audit said Board of Zoning Appeals cases cost an average of $1,600 each. An applicant pays $150. The audit suggests increasing the application fee to $500.

Similarly, the audit said that cases before the Board of License Commissioners cost an average of $1,000 each, and the applicant pays $150. The audit said a fee of $500 would be appropriate.

The audit strongly urged the Board of License Commissioners to overhaul the liquor licensing process. It suggested condensing special uses such as catering and wine tasting under all license types, eliminating the beer-only license type, permitting Sunday operating hours for package stores and considering an increase in license fees to equal or exceed the average fees charged in Maryland.

Alcohol license fees in Carroll County have not been increased since 1979, the audit said.

More than 2.1 million gallons of beer, 138,000 gallons of liquor and 175,000 gallons of wine were sold in Carroll County last year, with retail sales estimated at about $23 million, the audit said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad