Calvert County has been adding sheriff's cruisers and public works trucks at such a rate that the county vehicle fleet has ballooned from 40 in 1989 to 206 -- a fivefold increase in 10 years.

"Looks like everybody has a car but the county commissioners," said Commissioner John Douglas Parran (At Large).

The county's maintenance facility, staffed by three mechanics, can no longer keep up with the work needed to keep all those cars and trucks running, according to KFH Group, a Bethesda consulting firm hired by the county commissioners. Increasingly, Calvert has turned to outside mechanics to perform preventive maintenance and other repairs at a cost nearly double the rate of its in-house mechanics. If the county built a new $2.2 million facility on 5.5 acres and hired some additional mechanics, it could save $250,000 to $320,000 a year in operating costs, the consultant said.

The commissioners said this week they will consider the plan, although some said they were skeptical about the scope of the facility. "Plans that you're talking about call for six or eight bathrooms," said Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large). "That's a lot of bathrooms, don't you think?"

Sherrod Sturrock, the county's capital projects coordinator, tried to reassure. "I don't think building the Taj Mahal of maintenance facilities is where we're headed here," she said.

St. Mary's Backs Hughesville Bypass

St. Mary's County commissioners have endorsed a proposal to build a Route 5 bypass at Hughesville to alleviate a bottleneck through the Charles County community near the border between the two counties.

In a May 18 letter to state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, the commissioners said St. Mary's commuters are being delayed by traffic congestion in Hughesville.

"Many of the commuters from St. Mary's County who pass through the area each day have found the narrow travel lanes, the numerous access points to and from Route 5 in Hughesville, the traffic congestion, and the high accident rates in the area indicate a significant need for improvements in the roadway," the commissioners wrote.

St. Mary's officials favor a four-lane divided highway passing around Hughesville to the east of existing state Route 5. A second proposal, a widening of Route 5 along its path through town, also is being considered. The State Highway Administration will decide which option to pursue later this year, state officials have said.

"The project is a top priority for our county in light of the expansion of Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the growth in our area," the commissioners wrote Porcari. "Currently, the Hughesville area is a significant traffic safety problem for our citizens and we hope that this matter will reduce the risks associated with driving through Hughesville."

La Plata Building Moratorium Loses Support

La Plata's Planning Commission recommended 4 to 1 Tuesday that the Town Council reject a moratorium on new town houses and apartments.

The moratorium, which was proposed by Mayor William F. Eckman, is set for a council vote June 8. Eckman said Tuesday's vote "will be one of the factors considered."

Planning Commission members said the moratorium would unfairly penalize property owners, and was improperly directed against the proposed 676-unit Agricopia Farms development that the commission approved earlier this year.

Proponents say the moratorium would steady growth as the town next year creates a plan for future development.

North Beach Plans Welcome Center

The North Beach waterfront soon will have its own welcome center, Mayor Mark R. Frazer announced last week.

The facility is part of the town's effort to control the large crowds drawn to one of the few public beaches on the Chesapeake Bay's western shore. As a statement from Town Hall delicately put it: "On weekends this area is subject to crowds that often fail to obey even the minimum standards posted on signs around the beach and boardwalk."

To help improve that situation, the new center will have modern bathroom facilities and a beach patrol substation. Frazer is seeking applicants with law enforcement experience for beach patrol officers.

The welcome center, scaled back from original plans, will be a gabled structure of about 610 square feet of space. Once it opens, the portable toilet facilities on either side of the Fifth Street pier will be removed.

Staff writer Todd Shields contributed to this report.