These are budget-cutting times in Carroll County. One by one, county department heads appear before the three commissioners to defend their spending plans. Since about 80 separate budgets have to be considered, each review merits only about 15 minutes.
"It's tough. We're really desperately trying to make this work without any layoffs," said new Commissioner Donald Dell of the panel's efforts to cut this year's budget by nearly $4 million to reflect falling revenue.
Since Carroll's three-member governing body has ruled out a rise in taxes, the only way is to keep cutting expenses -- and hope that this will produce a manageable budget by the April 5 deadline.
What the commissioners are doing now is line-item fine-tuning.
At the outset, county departments were under orders to submit budgets that were two percent below the current year's spending plan. But while some departments can reduce their budgets by such a magic percentage without much problem, others cannot. The county commissioners want to make sure no really devastating cuts are made. Yet the reductions are sharp enough that some services are certain to suffer.
The county commissioners have imposed a hiring freeze; the new budget would also freeze salaries of government workers. That would save an estimated $775,000. Through reduced county contributions to local fire departments another $316,000 may be conserved. Capital expenditures will be postponed and some planning studies scrapped, commissioners say.
This just may enable the panel to balance the books for this year. But the commissioners must realize that the closer to the bone they come with these cuts, the more likely the chances are that a tax increase will be unavoidable in Carroll County next year.