County Budget Deficit Keeps Getting Bigger

Cuts Expected

Tax Increase A 'Last, Last Resort'

February 27, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

Balancing budgets in Carroll usually means slicing up an ever-growing amount of money and dividing it among more programs.

But with budget deficits growing almost monthly, program cuts increasing almost as quickly and the amount of borrowed money climbing to record levels, Carroll's usually dreamy budget season is turning into a nightmare.

"We're going in for some marathon sessions," Management and Budget Director Steven D. Powell told the County Commissioners Monday afternoon. "It's going to be a tough couple of days."

In the last weekor so, what already had been a bad budget picture worsened. The county's $3 million deficit in its current $115 million spending plan mushroomed to $5.3 million. Powell has ordered across-the-board 1 percent cuts in agency spending this year, and a 2 percent across-the-boardcut in spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

A hiring freeze, energy-conservation measures, travel curtailments and a virtual elimination of cash spending for capital projects have been in place since a budget deficit emerged in early November.

As the budgetoffice and the commissioners begin to reconsider the revised agency budgets being submitted this week, they will look at ways to minimizethe impact on vital county functions.

But just what those vital functions are, or how much they will be affected, remain to be seen.

"We want to know the impact, we want to know how painful these cutsare going to be," said Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr. "If the impacts of the across-the-board cuts are severe enough, we might have to do some rethinking."

Time for rethinking, however, is running short. With that mandated 1 percent cut squeezed into the four months left in fiscal 1991, agencies effectively will feel a 4 percent cut. And with all of the shortfalls in revenue, the whole budget process for next year has to be started over.

In essence, the last two months of work -- several hearings, proposed budgets and commissioner reaction -- will be scrapped.

"This puts us almost a wholemonth behind now," Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said Monday.

The commissioners must have a proposed budget by April 1. They must approve a fiscal year 1992 budget and set next year's tax rate by the end of May.

All agency directors must have their revised budgets in thebudget office by the end of this week. Hearings will resume when thebudget office has reviewed the revised requests.

As it stands, the county's revenue for next year is expected to be about $112.07 million, about 3 percent below the amount originally projected for this year, and only 2 percent greater than the $109.9 million the county actually expects to receive this year.

This marks one of the first times in a decade when revenue projections have decreased from one year to the next. Powell said the county usually depends on growth in the 10 percent to 12 percent range in such areas as user fees, and income and property taxes.

This year -- and for the next one or two years at least -- those sources will stay flat or even decline, budget officials say.

And coupled with Gov. William Donald Schaefer's weekend proposal to trim millions from programs that directly aid counties and schools, the situation in Carroll could worsen, Lippy said.

"For 1992, the governor's proposal could mean a whole chunk of money(lost) for us," Lippy said. "The end result would be to give CarrollCounty a whack."

That chunk of money could amount to $600,000, hesaid.

One word that has not been mentioned much in the commissioners' budget-balancing discussions is "taxes."

While Lippy and the other commissioners had flatly ruled out any increase in the county'sproperty tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed valuation, nothing has been ruled out should the bottom fall out of county finances.

"It's there as a possibility, but it is a last, last resort that I hope we never have to take," Lippy said.

CARROLL PROPERTY TAX REVENUE

... Expected.. .. .. Actual.. .. Percentage.. .. .; Total

Year.. property.. ..tax property.. tax difference.. revenue

1991.. $49.211.. .. .. $48.949*.. .. -0.5%.. .. $111.583

1990.. . 43.573.. .. .. 44.516.... ..+2.2%.. .. . 107.801

1989.. . 37.166.. .. .. 38.339.. .. . +3.2%.. .. . 100.064

1988.. . 31.470.. .. .. 31.878.. .. . +1.2%.. .. .. 86.226

1987.. . 27.249.. .. .. 28.262.. .. . +3.7%.. .. .. 73.019

1986.. . 25.754.. .. .. 26.083.. .. . +1.3%.. .. .. 64.000

1985.. . 23.880.. .. .. 24.123.. .. . +1.0%.. .. .. 58.621

1984.. . 22.237.. .. ..21.996.. .. . -1.1%.. .. .. 55.454

1983.. . 20.517.. .. .. 20.728.. .. ..+1.0%.. .. .. 48.536

1982.. . 19.838.. .. .. 20.344.. .. ..+2.6%.. .. .. 42.886

* Projected

Note: All years are fiscal years, July 1 to June 30

Dollars are in millions

SOURCE: Carroll County Office of Management and Budget/CARROLL COUNTY SUN GRAPHIC

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