Already Facing Deficit, County Told State Cuts Will Increase Red Ink

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December 30, 1990|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

January traditionally is the month when county budget officials begin catching heat from government agencies claiming urgent financial needs for the upcoming fiscal year.

But this January the budget analysts likely will be distracted by a more pressing fire, the product of the downturn in the economy this year.

In late November, Department of Management and Budget director Steven D.

Powell announced the county was running a projected $2.5 million deficit.

The County Commissioners implemented several cost-cutting measures, including a 60-day hiring freeze, which is likely to be extended.

More bad news came several weeks later, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed cutting $32.9 million in aid to counties and Baltimore to compensate for the state's growing budget deficit.

About $450,000 in reductions for police protection, libraries and Carroll Community College have been proposed for Carroll.

The commissioners have yet to mandate restrictions other than the hiring freeze, instead asking county departments to cut costs and recommending conservation measures be followed. But the commissioners say more drastic measures likely will be implemented in 1991 -- once the latest revenue figures are reported -- to balance the budget.

In contrast to the current upheaval, the process of shaping this year's $166.8 million operating and capital budgets, in effect until June 30, 1991, was a relative breeze. Budget negotiations proceeded without the feud between the commissioners and the Board of Education that had characterized the last few years.

The commissioners did not raise taxes for the first time in four years, keeping the rate at $2.35 per $100 of assessed property value. It was an election year.

However, the commissioners were not in agreement over how to use nearly $1 million in additional revenues identified by the budget office late in the process. Former Commissioner president John L. Armacost proposed applying the money toward a tax rate decrease. Commissioners Julia W. Gouge and Jeff Griffith favored keeping the rate at $2.35 and restoring money previously cut from public schools, volunteer fire companies and other agencies.

In one of its final decisions, the departing Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance placing a 10 percent cap on annual increases in property tax assessments. Counties are required to pass a tax cap at 10 percent or below by a state law passed this year to provide relief from rapidly increasing assessments.

Some surrounding jurisdictions have passed caps below 10 percent, including Howard, Baltimore and Harford counties. Regardless of the cap, the amount a homeowner pays in taxes depends on the tax rate set by the county.

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