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Carroll County officials looking at how to fund infrastructure going forward

Carroll County Times

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners and Department of Management and Budget talked this week about the costs of renewing and maintaining county infrastructure in the coming years.

Management and Budget Director Ted Zaleski told the commissioners Thursday that the first things to consider are: How do we get our arms around the idea of the stuff we own? What does that mean for us? What’s the goal?

With 154 bridges, 980 miles of roads, 40 schools, six libraries, five senior centers, a community college, county offices and a fleet of 300 vehicles — with more than 260 pieces of equipment, nine vehicle lifts, fuel tanks and pumps to go with it — and more, Zaleski said an “organization-wide inventory for infrastructure,” will be vital, to get a list of everything the county owns.

Also needing to be determined is the expected life-span of various pieces of infrastructure, and how much it is going to cost when they need to be replaced or renewed. Then the county will determine the average amount it will need annually to fund them.

The end result, Zaleski said, will be implementation plans for funding and moving forward.

“I want to come out of this, a process,” he said, “an ongoing process of discussion about how are we going to fund this and how is renewing our infrastructure going to work.

“I won’t get too deep into this, but my guess is that we will develop these things and we might not be in a position to simply be able to act on them,” said Zaleski. “And ‘might not be’ is really pretty generous. We will not be in a position to act on them [right away].”

The discussion comes in the wake of recent findings by the county’s Long Term Advisory Council that technology and infrastructure maintenance and improvement will be of increasing importance as the county looks to the future.

LTAC members said the two topics are critical to each cluster it studied — agriculture, education, business, public safety, health and arts, recreation and parks — and that the importance will only continue to grow.

For years Carroll County has been focused on creating new infrastructure to accommodate its growth, Zaleski said. Now it must turn its attention to renewal.

Bridges

Zaleski said the county owns 154 bridges, and the maintenance and renewal of them ranges from $500,000 to $3 million.

Although 133 of those bridges are eligible for some federal funding, the amount the county receives generally stays the same regardless of projects.

“The amount has stayed the same since about 2015,” Heidi Pepin, Management and Budget project coordinator, told the board. “About $1.1 [million] or $1.2 million after the inspection funding that comes out.”

The county would be responsible for the rest.

“There’s going to be a lot of bridges coming due, and the costs are going to go up,” he said. “And the amount we are putting in is not going to be anywhere near enough.”

The first spike will come in 2023 when $4 million will be needed to fund bridges. By the peak of bridge replacements in 2050, the amount will reach $16 million.

Zaleski told the board many bridges were replaced after Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and less maintenance has been required in recent years.

But the time to renew all of those bridges will be coming, and even if the current board and current budget staff won’t be there — someone will have to deal with it.

“This is scary,” Zaleski said, “and I don’t know what the answer to this is. But I feel a lot better knowing that this is in front of us, we’ve seen it, we know about it, we’ve made decisions knowing this is here — without continuing on and us not even realizing what is waiting out there for us.”

Parking lots

Zaleski said that a perhaps less interesting topic, parking lots, is also important to consider when discussing future infrastructure maintenance plans.

“You really don't think much about parking lots until you pull into one and say, ‘Boy, this one is really in bad shape,’ ” he said.

But across the county there are more than 2 million square feet of parking lots to be maintained — 194,000 square feet at libraries, 164,000 square feet at senior centers, 492,000 square feet at the community college, 855,000 square feet at parks, 291,000 at the former North Carroll High School, and more than a million at other county government facilities.

More parking lots are being added all the time, said Zaleski, and the $158,000 the county has in its 2020-2024 CIP for parking lots leaves needs unmet for the next five years — as the project timeline will call for a minimum of $274,000 in 2022, and $860,000 in 2024 at its highest point.

Without including North Carroll High School, the costs are expected to approach $1 million by 2025, and exceed $1.5 million in 2026.

With the former school property, that number exceeds $2.5 million by 2026.

Parks

The county has 29 inventoried county parks, 76 athletic fields, two nature centers, 18 playgrounds and eight play areas, almost 50 miles of nature trails, a 300-acre lake with boat rentals and more recreation and park amenities.

Management and Budget determined that in order to have enough funds to maintain all of it, the county will need to allot $700,000 to parks annually.

This amount, based on the county’s CIP, would only be met for three of the next six years.

“When we consider capital projects in the future, we need to more consciously think about these costs in the future,” Zaleski said. “Every time we build something, every time we have one more mile of something, we have now committed to renewing that someday or getting rid of it — even though you had it at one time.

“You're already familiar with us coming to you with capital projects talking about operating impacts — we need more people, utility costs going up and down — that's been a part of our thinking for a long time,” he said.

“What we are thinking about now is: How do we bring these numbers to you when you think about building a new school, or adding a road, or new tot lot to say, ‘That's what it’s going to cost us today,’ but we need to be thinking what are we going to add in the future as well.”

At the meeting Zaleski said that the three parts of the presentation that day were just the beginning of information his department will be compiling over the next year or few years, depending on how long it takes.

A total of $2 million was set aside for infrastructure maintenance last year, and the board could choose to do something with that money this upcoming budget cycle.

“I'm a real strong advocate for putting together contingency funds for the long-term projects,” Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4 said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us to buy things now. It takes discipline … It’s a tough decision to make.”

Zaleski agreed.

“Any time you have money sitting on the sideline that could be used today, there will always be perfectly legitimate arguments to use it today,” he said.

The Management and Budget Department will continue coming to the BOCC with its assessments of budgetary needs for infrastructure as the information is compiled. Thursday’s entire meeting can be viewed on the Carroll County Government website’s meeting portal and video archive, Carroll County Government YouTube channel, and on Comcast Channel 24.

jennifer.turiano@carrollcountytimes.com

443-488-0369

twitter.com/jturianoCCT

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