As the economy takes a marked downturn, Carroll agencies have submitted by far the highest capital budget request in county history, almost doubling last year's preliminary proposal.
Future economic conditions are hard to predict, say the county's budget director and a county commissioner, but they can make one forecast with certainty: The $91.7 million requested by the agencies for fiscal 1992 for new facilities and improvement projects will undergo major surgery before a budget is adopted next May.
The request represents a 78 percent increase over the $51.5 million requested in 1989 for the current fiscal year.
The approved capital budget for this year is $50.5 million.
The highest capital budget request previously was $78.2 million for fiscal 1990, of which $55.6 million was approved.
Just four years ago, the county's capital budget was $18.8 million.
The considerable increase in the 1991-1992 request reflects inflated costs and the county's postponement of numerous projects even as rapid growth strained existing facilities, said Steven D. Powell, Department of Management and Budget director.
"It tells me agencies perceive a lot of needs," he said.
"We've only really had an aggressive capital program for the last three or four years. It's not alarming, but we need to maintain an aggressive program so we can address projects over time."
Up until five years ago, the county relied heavily on available revenues to finance projects, such as schools and senior centers, to avoid incurring debt.
But since then, as costs for backlogged projects have soared beyond residents' ability to pay, it has turned more to selling bonds for long-term financing. Powell said that approach will continue.
Although the revenue outlook remains uncertain, Powell said he does not expect the 1991-1992 capital budget to exceed this year's $50.5 million spending plan -- meaning about $40 million worth of projects would have to be cut or postponed.
The $91.7 million proposal includes a projected $70.6 million in county revenues, of which about $40 million would be borrowed, $15.4 million would come from the state and $5.7 million would come from federal and other sources.
The request is part of a flexible six-year capital improvement spending plan outlining financing schedules for an estimated $557 million in projects.
"There will be a lot of rearranging," said Powell. "The six-year program may turn into an eight- or nine-year program.
"It will require a lot of difficult decision-making."
Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said the economy "will play a large part in the next few months dictating what we can and can't do."
The county relies primarily on local property taxes, income taxes and state assistance for revenue.
Property tax revenue is expected to increase at a declining rate in coming years as growth slows.
Agencies have asked that a number of projects either be moved up or included in the long-range plan, contributing to the $91.7 million request.
The adopted 1990-1991 capital budget book projected a $69.8 million spending plan for 1991-1992.
For example, the total projected for roads construction for 1991-1992 in the adopted budget is $8.3 million; the total requested is $20.4 million.
No money was designated for a Westminster library expansion; $2.6 million is being sought. Only $210,000 was projected for portable classrooms; $594,000 has been requested.
"There will be a tremendous amount cut to get down to a reasonable level to work with," Gouge said.
The requests include $7.2 million for a new Taneytown/Uniontown Elementary and Special Education Center, $3.9 million for a Mechanicsville Elementary expansion, $959,000 for regional health department offices and land acquisition for a future health facility and $4.2 million for landfill closures and expansion (see accompanying chart).
The budget office prepared the requests for the County Planning and Zoning Commission, which ranks them based on priority.
It is expected to return recommendations to budget analysts in December, who then will advise the newly elected commissioners.