Howard County, accustomed to starting each new budget with the discovery of a healthy, unanticipated surplus, finds the cupboard bare as it starts making spending plans for next year, Budget Officer Raymond S. Wacks said yesterday.
Mr. Wacks said estimates showed the government finished the fiscal year that ended June 30 with no unanticipated surplus -- something that hasn't happened in Howard County since the recession of the mid-1970s.
That means the county will start drafting a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins next July 1, with no money left over. For the current budget, the county had $8.6 million, equal to 17 cents on the property tax of $2.45 per $100 of assessed value.
To make matters worse, Mr. Wacks said, even the surplus built into the current budget is expected to be $2.9 million less than the $24.5 million that had been projected, largely because of a shortfall in income tax revenues.
Earlier this week, County Auditor Ronald S. Weinstein projected that the county would take in about $3 million less from recordation and transfer taxes than it expected -- bringing the total shortfall to just under $6 million.
Mr. Weinstein's report prompted the administration to ask department directors to make contingency plans to cut their current operating budgets from 5 percent to 10 percent, which would trim between $6 million and $12 million from the $286.4 million spending plan.
Mr. Wacks said he was "surprised" by the falloff in tax revenues because "it was out of character of what we have experienced for the past 15 years." He noted, however, "What we are experiencing is region-wide.
"It is too soon to tell the impact on next fiscal year's budget," said Mr. Wacks. "It depends on how fast the economy recovers and how the budget is structured."