WESTMINSTER — 1991 will be a tough year for Carroll government, as the County Commissioners grapple with one of the worst economic downturns in nearly a decade.
During their annual State of the County Address yesterday afternoon, Commissioners Julia W. Gouge, Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy Jr. all said the recession will put a strain on the county's ability to maintain services as it tries to hold the line on a nearly$3 million deficit in its $116.3 million operating budget.
"Together, we will tackle these rough economic problems," Gouge said to the 150 or so people who packed the main banquet hall at Martin's Westminster. "As a team, we will find the answers and solutions that will keep Carroll County a wonderful place to live."
While each of the commissioners touched on his or her own set of priorities during the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce forum, the speeches were alike in their references to the economy and to the environment.
Last year, Carroll's eight-year economic boom ended, as development, new employment and retail sales slowed almost to a halt. As a result, the county's coffers are much less full than anticipated.
"Obviously, the thing on everybody's mind is recession," said Commissioner Vice President Lippy. "There are many painful economic decisions we have to make."
Among those painful decisions, Lippy said, would be slowing the pace of making Carroll County Community College independentof Catonsville Community College and holding the line on education and other county expenses.
Commissioner President Dell, who spoke last during the nearly 2 -hour lunch, said that no matter what, this Board of Commissioners was not expected to raise taxes to meet any budget shortfalls.
"To quote what someone once said, 'We don't need no more taxes, we need less spending,' " he said. Education was one of the areas where money will have to be kept tight, he said.
"I amproud of Carroll County's education program," he said. "It is near the top in performance, but down near the bottom in per-pupil expenses. I think that means the schools are managed efficiently."
In addition to mentioning the economy, all three commissioners pushed personal agendas. Gouge, the lone incumbent, stressed the need for volunteerism, for environmental protection and for continued support for education.
Lippy, who served three years as Manchester mayor before being elected commissioner, called for increased conservation, more recycling and more open communication between elected officials and the public.
Dell, widely considered to be the most conservative of thethree, voiced his opposition to the county's recently enacted landscaping ordinance. He also called for a more peaceful budget negotiation season, hoping to avoid the bitter exchanges between the commissioners and the Board of Education that have marked the last two budget seasons.
Tucked away in the gloomy report on the economy, however, were prospects for a strong Carroll recovery. Gouge said that economic-development efforts in the county have never been stronger.
That department's director confirmed Gouge's remarks.
"The situation you have right now is the same one you have if you are going to buy stocks," said James C. Threatte, the economic and community developmentdirector. "You try to buy when the price is low. I think you will see some short-term effects of the recession here, but Carroll's diversity is its strength."
The afternoon was not without its light moments. Lippy, who has become the commissioners' unofficial court jester, began his 25-minute speech by saying, "You know, life doesn't beginat 40, it begins at 70."