Budget: From Bad To Worse

Layoffs, Cuts In Services And Higher Fees Expected

March 06, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

The County Commissioners say they will resort to salary freezes, layoffs, service reductions, lower school funding and higher service fees before they raise property taxes.

And, as the county's financialcrunch continues to worsen, most -- if not all -- of those money-saving options may be employed by a county facing its worst fiscal mess in more than a decade.

"This year, as far as I'm concerned, we're going to cut whatever it takes," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge. "But we have to look at the very broad picture, and more taxes right now would be a mistake."

In place of a tax increase, layoffs of highway workers are possible. So, too, the layoff of social workers. Or classrooms filled with more children, or even the elimination of highway maintenance and construction.

"This is one tough year. What we're in for is really tough," she said.

As the recession began to take its toll on the county's share of income and sales tax receipts in November, County Management and Budget Director Steven D. Powell said the then-current $116.3 million budget was going to be $2.5 million short.

That hole grew to $3 million in late January, despite a hiring freeze, travel ban, energy conservation program and nearly a daylong furlough for mostcounty employees.

Last week, that deficit climbed to $5.3 million.

Powell said yesterday that it could even get larger.

And as it does, services county residents are used to will become harder to finance.

For instance, Powell said yesterday, many department headsare telling him that the 2 percent cut he ordered for the budget year beginning July 1 will mean layoffs. The Carroll County Library already has cut its budget so much that any further chopping will result in layoffs of part-timers and closings of several branches several days a week.

And, with an almost completely dry capital projects fund, many roads, bridges and other transportation needs will have to beleft unrepaired or unbuilt.

"Our philosophy is to, as much as possible, avoid layoffs and disruptions in service," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. "We want to avoid that as much as possible. A tax increase is a last resort, and now is not the time for higher taxes."

The budget process is usually more than half-complete at this point. But as numbers from the state keep dwindling -- Carroll officials learned yesterday that the state plans to cut nearly $2.3 million in aid to the county for 1992 -- putting a spending plan togetheris becoming more difficult. (Please see detailed cuts, Page 7.)

For this year alone, even small parts of the budget are being scrutinized for savings. Because of the travel ban, two county staff members will not be reimbursed to present professional papers at an international conference of government officials in Canada.

The savings? About $1,600.

The commissioners are hoping hundreds of other similarmeasures will add up to big savings.

As of last week, the county's revenue estimate for the remainder of this fiscal year was about $109.9 million. Next year's estimate was $112 million; with the $2.3 million in additional cuts announced yesterday, that could fall to under $110 million, forcing even more cuts in agency budgets already facing reductions from this year's funding levels.

No area of the budget will be left unscathed, the commissioners said yesterday.

And that includes the recently approved $110.3 million public schools budget. More than $61 million of that is requested from the commissioners.

"Once again, we have to make sure the school board realizes thatit is no different than any of us," Lippy said.

Superintendent R.Edward Shilling said that although he did not believe the school system was under the same financial obligations as other agencies, school officials are obligated to work with county officials to help resolve the financial crunch.

"We're opening two new schools, and that's part of our budget request," Shilling said. "But under these economic times, we need to sit down and carefully review what we're asking for and be in a position to eliminate some things as needed and show what the impact would be. We're working to put those thoughts together."

School board Vice President Cheryl A. McFalls said the system's budget request was not unreasonable with the planned opening of twonew schools and an expected enrollment increase of about 525 students.

Staff writer Greg Tasker contributed to this story.

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