Fearing $2.5 Million Shortfall, County Slices Spending

November 28, 1990|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

The Carroll Commissioners cut costs Tuesday in response to a $2.5 million revenue shortfall projected for this year's budget.

"The county faces strong fiscal concerns, and I use that term deliberately rather than 'crisis,' " said Steven D. Powell, County Department of Management and Budget director. "We have to address the situation and be aware of it, but we don't need to overreact."

The new commissioners, who take office Monday, must deal with the sticky financial situation.

"I'm not worried at this point, but we have to be realistic," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, the lone incumbent board member. "We had a budget that was balanced to begin with, and with what we're doing now, we should be able to keep it balanced."

To compensate for the expected shortfall, the commissioners:

* Imposed a 60-day hiring freeze on all new and vacant positions, which "will most likely be extended" for another 60 days to accrue additional savings.

* Announced that energy conservation measures, such as reducing heat consumption, will be enforced "much more rigorously than in the past."

* Requested agencies to cut back on spending so unexpended balances can be carried forward to the fiscal 1992 budget.

* Placed capital expenditures, such as computers and furniture, on hold within the operating budget, and said they would review plans for outside contracts.

* Discontinued indefinitely all overnight travel.

Powell also has recommended deferring several road projects and transferring about $750,000 from the capital budget back to the operating budget "to ensure we end up in the black."

In addition, the budget office has asked outside agencies receiving financial assistance from the county, such as volunteer fire companies and the Board of Education, to trim spending so a cash surplus -- generally several million dollars -- will be available for the next budget year.

School Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said the Board of Education wants to be "part of the solution and not part of the problem." He said he will recommend the board "look at our budget and identify things we might be able to put on hold until we know for sure if money will be a problem."

The shortfall is anticipated largely because of a slowdown in the growth of state income taxes, projected to constitute $36.2 million, or 31.2 percent, of the county's $116.3 million fiscal 1991 operating budget.

The budget office projected that income taxes would increase by about 10 percent over fiscal 1990. November reports from state officials show those taxes increasing by only 5 percent to 6 percent, a $2 million deficit when projected over an entire year and well below the average 12 percent to 14 percent annual increases over the last decade, Powell said.

Anticipating little revenue available to carry over from the current budget, the budget office has asked county agencies to submit operating budget requests for fiscal 1992, beginning July 1, which allow increases only for salaries, said Powell.

"I don't see it turning any worse or getting any better," Powell said, noting Carroll is in better shape than several other Baltimore regional counties with deficits.

Staff writers Darren M. Allen and Greg Tasker contributed to this story.

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