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Citizens asked to give more to nonprofits Commissioners see somber times ahead


Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown yesterday urged everyone to dig "deeper in their pockets" next year to help local nonprofit groups, which are likely to bear the brunt of county budget cuts.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates asked everyone to call the county's delegation in Annapolis to voice opinions on a proposed referendum on a new tax that would finance farmland preservation and infrastructure improvements.

And Commissioner Donald I. Dell urged nothing. That's because Mr. Dell didn't get a chance to address about 180 people -- business owners, professionals, county administrators, educators and others -- who attended the annual State of the County address at Martin's Westminster yesterday.

Mr. Dell decided to forgo his speech because the two-hour limit had been reached by the time the other commissioners finished speaking. Mr. Dell told the audience it could read his speech in the local newspapers.

"I planned to talk about growth, schools and taxes," Mr. Dell said, echoing themes tackled by the other commissioners.

Coincidentally Mr. Dell missed last year's State of the County address because he was fogged in at an airport in the Midwest, where he had been attending a farm convention.

The dominant theme on the commissioners' minds was achieving managed growth and preserving the county's farmland.

Among the reasons the commissioners have not been able to keep up with growth -- providing adequate schools, roads and water and sewer improvements -- has been a failure to impose impact fees at the "level where they truly belong," Mr. Brown noted in his lengthy speech.

"We're suffering from omissions of the past," he said.

Mr. Yates pointed out that the commissioners have attempted to gain some control by expanding the county Planning Commission from five members to seven. He complained that a proposal to give the commissioners veto authority over the Planning Commission was rejected by the county's General Assembly delegation.

In his written remarks, Mr. Dell said a major deterrent to managed growth has been the annexation of agricultural lands by the towns. He said county officials have "little or no say" in annexations but "are held accountable by the public for the new residents and the growing pains."

Mr. Brown struck somber notes in his address, pointing out that the county is facing a $5 million shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1. He predicted county government would be pared down to the basics and nonprofit groups and the public library system would face cuts.

"We have to live with less," Mr. Brown said. "The state of the county at the moment is sober."

Commissioners said they didn't plan to call for new taxes to support county government. Instead, they plan to continue to boost economic development to lure more businesses to the county.

"We need to encourage more businesses to move here or our tax rate cannot remain the same," Mr. Yates said. "Help us encourage businesses to locate to Carroll County. It's the best-looking county anyone could want to locate to."

Mr. Yates urged residents to call Carroll's delegation in the state legislature -- at (410) 841-3371 -- to voice opinions on the proposed referendum on a new tax, a measure lawmakers have refused to support.

County officials have estimated that a 1 percent real estate transfer tax would generate about $2.5 million for farmland preservation and infrastructure improvements.

Mr. Brown noted that in the past five years, Carroll officials, using a mix of county and state dollars, have been able to preserve about 900 acres a year. With the county facing a budget deficit next year, Mr. Brown predicted that figure would drop about 200 acres next year.

"I don't see us having another dime to put in [to farm preservation]," he said.

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